Sunday, July 29, 2007

Welcome to the blog!

As you can see, the new format is up, up, and away! I've brought my Noogler writings over here, of course, and you'll be seeing more new content as the muse strikes.

Let me start by giving you the executive summary for this post. If you don't care about technical details, or getting things just right for your tastes, then just go to reader.google.com, sign up if you need to, click "Add subscription", then in the box that pops up, type "www.piquan.org". Then, add another subscription, this time for (and you'll need to copy/paste this) http://www.google.com/reader/public/atom/user/10100467309635594692/state/com.google/broadcast
(whew; got that all)? Add subscriptions for all the other sites you might go to frequently to read news (Slashdot, CNN, other blogs, etc). Then, instead of going to each of those sites each day, you can go to Google Reader to see them all together, easily read. There you go, now you don't have to read the rest of this post.

Whew. We've got the type A personalities out of here. Now the rest of us can relax and enjoy the new blog.

Now, if you've taken the time to look over the sidebar, you might think this website is the height of vanity. Besides my last ten posts, and monthly archives, you've also got my bookmarks, my news clippings, my music, my friends, my photos, my art, me, me, me! Yeah, okay. I guess the way I figure, it's my blog; it should have a lot of my personality in it. You've got links to loads of personality, right there in the sidebar. And naturally, you should come back every day to check it!

Okay, no, that's not true. Most of us already have websites we periodically look at; I have about 30 different websites I like to check every day already! (You can click on the "daily" tag in the sidebar under "My Bookmarks" to get a list.) Surely there's some great technology to help us keep up with all the articles from these different sites, and show us just the new ones that we, personally, haven't seen.

Why yes, there is! It's called RSS, and it's all over this website. I'll talk about some of the basics of using RSS now, so later on I can just say that some feature "has its own RSS feed", and you'll know what I mean, and how to use it.

First, I want you to look at the right hand side of the address bar. Yes, the bar at the top where you type in "www.piquan.org". There may be an RSS logo there. Depending on what browser you're using, it might be the word "RSS", or might look like a silly orange logo instead. Chances are, it looks like the silly orange logo. (If you're using Internet Explorer 6, you won't even see the logo; we'll talk about that case in a little bit.)

Now, you could click on that, and I'll talk about how different browsers handle it.
  • Firefox: If you're using Firefox, you'll be shown the feed (a list of the recent articles) and given a chance to add it as a Live Bookmark, or subscribe (mark it as something you want to read) using one of a number of other possibilities (certain websites or programs). If you add it as a Live Bookmark, then you'll have a bookmark (by default, in your bar) that's actually a drop-down list of articles. When you feel like reading my articles, you can click on that bookmark, find a headline that looks interesting, and click it to go straight to the article. It's a quick way to scan headlines without having to visit the site!
  • Safari: When you click on the RSS icon, the web page will transform into a feed view. If you drag that to your bookmarks bar, it will turn into a bookmark that will always show how many new articles there are. If, for example, there's two articles since you last looked at the site, you'll see Piquan(2) for the bookmark. Clicking that bookmark will take you to back to the feed. Safari also has a lot of other RSS features, like the ability to show multiple feeds at once (put them in a bookmark folder), show just part of each article in the feed display (the control is on the right side), or turn your RSS feeds into a screensaver (it's in the Desktop & Screen Saver system preference panel, with all the other screensavers).
  • Opera: When you subscribe to the feed (use the Atom feed), it will be added to your Feeds menu. Within the feeds menu, you can click on an individual feed to read just that, or "Read Feeds" for all your feeds at once.
  • Internet Explorer 6: Doesn't support RSS. Use Firefox, or look at the section below for alternatives.
  • Internet Explorer 7: It supports RSS, but I don't really know anything about it. I'm afraid you'll have to play with it yourself, or use Firefox.
  • iPhone: The iPhone does support RSS, but its support is pretty primitive. The RSS icon isn't displayed, presumably because there's not much screen space. You'll need to click the Atom button at the bottom of the sidebar. You can view the feed that way, and it's easier to read and pick out articles that way, but it doesn't remember which articles are read, or let you aggregate articles. I recommend Google Reader instead; see below.
Lots of different websites have RSS. Pretty much, any website that has short, periodically added content will support RSS. Obviously, this includes blogs (both individual and corporate), but it also includes newspapers like the New York Times and San Jose Mercury-News (yes, even smaller local papers have RSS!), news channels like CNN and the BBC News, and even common social sites like personal photo galleries, music trackers, and even social bookmarking sites. If you have a personal site, such as a team high score list or baby diary, you may want to ask your administrator about enabling RSS, if he hasn't already.

Okay, everybody's using it, but why is RSS so great? It lets you keep up with a lot of different sites easily. Some feed readers (such as the one in Opera) let you read all your feeds at once, so you can read your day's news from a variety of different sites, all at the same time. Some (such as the one in Firefox) don't do that, but do let you quickly scan the article headlines without visiting the website, so you can quickly see if there are any articles you want to read.

There's also programs that let you see RSS news in other ways than your web browser. For example, the Mac ships with a screensaver that will read and display RSS feeds. Google Desktop for Windows has a widget that will display RSS feeds at the side of your screen.

Okay, you remember how I said that my website should have my personality? Apparently, that includes my tendency towards long-winded technical explanations. For just that reason, I'm going to recommend that you stand up, take a break, get a cuppa tea, and come back. But we're getting to my favorite part, so don't go too far!

Better? Okay, then, face front, true believer, 'cause here we go!

I mentioned before that there are third-party programs to view RSS feeds. I don't know what they are; you can search Google for them if you feel the need. (Firefox will automatically find several of these programs, and give you the option of using them to subscribe to RSS feeds.) But I have other ways I prefer to read my feeds.

My favored method is Google Reader. I hadn't really bothered with it before recently. The explanation they gave on the web page was far too vague for my taste, and I didn't really understand what it was. So now, I'm here to tell you.

Google Reader takes all of the RSS feeds you have from every different site and puts them all together. It keeps track of which ones you've read. It lets you mark some of them with a star so you remember to go back to them. It lets you share them with other people. It does all this in a very easy-to-use web interface. It also has a huge list of feeds available, so you can search for feeds on baby clothes, cowboy poetry, or whatever else tickles your fancy. Personally, I'll spend a few minutes each day scanning over my Google Reader inbox, and quickly pick out the articles that are worth reading.

If you use iGoogle, which is Google's customizable portal page, then you can also put a Google Reader widget there.

Okay, I probably sound like I work for Google or something. But seriously, I've really enjoyed using it. Now, maybe you go to Yahoo! every morning. Or perhaps you prefer Ask.com, because it used to be named after an amusing character from Wodehouse books. Well, you're in luck! Yahoo! has a similar service; you can put your RSS feeds on your My Yahoo! homepage. (I don't know how, but it's something they've been promoting a lot lately.) There's also a service called Bloglines that's owned by Ask.com; I don't know anything about that, though.

So maybe, just maybe, you're wondering what interesting stuff I'm finding while I'm looking over all my RSS feeds. Well, you're in luck! You see in the sidebar, where it says "Recent News I Found"? While I'm perusing my RSS feeds, I've got a button in Google Reader to share articles. That will put the article in the "Recent News I Found" sidebar. I've been doing this for several days now, and there's quite a few things I've found in that time.

Of course, the "Recent News I Found" section has an RSS feed. The articles I put in there aren't in the blog RSS feed, and vice versa. That way, you can choose to read just the articles I find interesting (but didn't write), without having to deal with my ramblings, or you can read all my wisdom without having to put up with the rush-a-day tidbits about killer badgers in the UK. The feed for the "Recent News I Found" section is a bit long, though... ready? Here goes: http://www.google.com/reader/public/atom/user/10100467309635594692/state/com.google/broadcast

Okay, that's it for today. That's plenty enough, don't you think?

1 comment:

Nancy said...
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