You should be using an RSS reader

Dear Blog Fans:

I appreciate that you folks come out and visit me here online. I’ve got this blog set up so that Mom and Dad get emails of whatever I type. One problem with that is the emails strip a great deal of the layout. Dad’s email at work actually strips out all the photos I put on the blog. This week’s entry is completely lost without the accompanied photos.

Looking at the blogs online is a bit of a pain in the rear as well. If you do things the traditional way you may have to check more than 50 blogs each time you want to find out what’s going on. That’s a bit more than tedious. For a while though, that’s all we had, and that’s what we did.

Then we discovered these things called RSS readers. You’ve probably seen this logo on websites as you’ve been traveling the internet. Most blogs are written using blogspot or wordpress. Both of these formats create a RSS feed.

Without getting too complicated the feed is sort of like the flag on the mailbox. If it’s up the mailman needs to check for mail. What if there was a way to check your blogs and other news by simply looking for “red flags?” Because RSS feeds are so popular there’s several programs you can use as RSS feed readers. Let’s run down three that have different flavors.

Google Reader: The Online Category

Since work computers often come with serious restrictions about installing new software, an online solution is the only option left available. Leave it to google to put something together that makes sense. It basically creates a web page summary of the feeds you like paying attention to. All you need to have is google account–nowadays google doesn’t require you to change email addresses either. Just log in with your current email address.

Google’s stake in the whole thing? They put a few of their adds on the right hand side. Odds are you’re used to them by now and probably ignore them anyway.

Mozilla Thunderbird: The Mail Category

Email has changed the way we do things. Email came first, then RSS. While RSS was evolving a great deal of folks associated it with how we view email. So, they combined email programs with RSS readers. My personal favorite is Mozilla’s Thunderbird. It’s a free download, runs on MAC, Linux, and Windows. My first look at it included reading a quote from the Wall Street Journal. It surprised the author how functional it was. The quotes, awards, and other attention seem to continue. I’m still surprised with how well it works.

Most of the critics agree, the only thing missing is an integrated calendar application. That’ll be coming out in the next version. In the meantime you have to add it by selecting “lightning” among it’s many add-ons.

You don’t need to run Thunderbird as an email client if you don’t want to. You can set it up strictly as an RSS reader. The software asks you plenty of questions to guide you through the process.

Flock: The Browser Category

So after people associated RSS with email they decided it wasn’t like email. In fact, they decided it was nothing like email. It’s a very own category to itself. They still had the problem with how to get people to use it. Well, we surf the internet don’t we? Why not get our “red-flags” in our web browser? The only problem with that idea is that none of the browsers were doing it “right.” So flock took the code from “Mozilla Firefox” and made it social networking friendly–Including RSS feeds from blogs!

Picture your browser like a good cake. Normally you’d expect to have frosting, and in most cases frosting would be appropriate. Some people don’t prefer cake with frosting. Often times someone prefers ice cream, or maybe fruit. Flock is your browser (because it works very similarly to Internet Explorer & Firefox) with a different topping. The left hand side of your window gets turned into your notice board. Flock also works well with Flikr, Facebook, youtube, and many other sites that provide the “people information” you go online to read.

In conclusion:

Don’t get intimidated–this is supposed to be fun. Whatever reader format works for you, you’re going to have to take some time getting familiar with it. Once you’ve gotten familiar with it you’ll probably love how it checks things for you. On the Hill side of the family there’s close to 18 blogs to pay attention to. Having a reader is a great help. Let me know which one you go with in the comments below.