A Quick Guide to Reading Blogs Automatically

I keep running into people who are unfamiliar with RSS and how it can make life easier if you want to keep up with a variety of blogs.

When you open a morning newspaper, you’ll find stories compiled by editors from hundreds of sources from all over the world (wire services, reporters). Every reader gets the same news, but you get to choose which stories you want to read. Instead of relying on an editor to choose the news, how would you like a daily’morning newspaper’ with stories on topics *you* choose delivered to your door? You can create a personal page on your web browser with the latest news about the things you care about using a free “Blog Reader” or news aggregator.

The process of creating your own “personal newspaper” entails a few steps and can appear complicated. Following my step-by-step instructions below, you’ll be reading information about your topic from all over the web on a single web page. A small amount of time invested will pay off.

The steps below will take about 30 minutes to complete. Ready? Let’s get started!

What is a Blog? – What is a Blog?

A blog (WeB LOG) is essentially an online diary. There are millions upon millions of people on the planet! Finding the ones that have the information you require and flagging them when they post updates is the key. Advantage: You get the “inside scoop” on your industry before the majority of your peers. The good news about blogs is that there are almost certainly dozens you’ll find interesting; the bad news is that this means you’ll have dozens of bookmarks to keep track of, and because bloggers don’t post on a regular basis, you’ll never know when you’ll need to check back for updates. That is why you will require a “blog reader.” It’s called a “RSS Reader” in technical terms.

So, why should you read blogs?

As many reasons as there are people to read blogs, there are as many reasons to read blogs. The reasons for this vary from person to person. I read blogs for a variety of reasons:

1. I have a direct line into the minds of key players in the field. This could be Jonathan Schwartz (Sun) or Irving Wladawsky-Berger in the field of technology (IBM). Dan Gillmor might be the name that comes up in the media (San Jose Mercury News). Maybe it’s people like Craig Newmark who have their finger on the pulse of culture (craigslist). It’s uncut and written in their own words.

2. Reading news from a news aggregator is a much faster method of doing so. For example, when I log in in the morning and go to Bloglines, I can see what many people are talking about, as well as news outlets like the New York Times, Washington Post, and Boston Globe, all in one interface. This is preferable to visiting each website individually to see if there is any new content to read.

3. You gain a better understanding of the people involved, including what they’re working on, their concerns, and sometimes even their favourite restaurant. The majority of bloggers enjoy reading the comments you can leave. This is a fantastic way to foster friendships. Of course, it’s not a replacement for face-to-face interaction, but it has its place and is much larger in scale.

4. Blogs are frequently the first place where announcements are made.

What is an RSS Reader, and how does it work?

‘Really Simple Syndication’ is the abbreviation for ‘Really Simple Syndication.’ Your blog reader will rely on the fact that most blogs’syndicate’ their news – they can ‘feed’ it to your blog reader for you to review, just like your morning paper relies on syndicated news from AP, Reuters, and others.

A news reader or aggregator monitors a list of feeds on your behalf and displays any newly published articles. Web feeds can be found on nearly all blogs and many websites, including CNN.com. RSS readers are available for a wide range of operating systems.

What is the best way to locate an RSS Reader?

Search for ‘RSS Reader’ on Google. Newsgator, Google Reader, and Rocket are the most popular. I subscribe to blogs using Bloglines. The rest of this guide is tailored to Bloglines, but the principles are applicable to all of them.

Step-by-Step Instructions:

[1] Two browser windows will be required.

[2] Place a link to my blog in the first browser window: http://www.exec-comms.com/blog – http://www.exec-comms.com/blog – I’ll use this blog as an example to add to your RSS feed – hey! It’s a fantastic blog!

[3] Go to http://www.bloglines.com in the second browser window and select Subscribe – it’s free.

The following section is a little tricky, but bear with me:

[4] In the browser where you have Bloglines, go to ‘My Feeds’ and select ‘Add’. Look for the ‘Blog or feed URL’ field.

[5] Return to my blog in the other window and scroll down the right column until you see ‘Subscribe me,’ followed by a line that reads ‘RSS XHTML CSS 508′. Now, right-click on RSS and select ‘Copy Shortcut,’ and then paste this into the ‘Blog feed or URL’ field in the bloglines window. This should go into the window if you’ve done everything correctly:

http://www.exec-comms.com/blog/?feed=rss2

[6] Click ‘Subscribe’ at the bottom of the next screen, then ‘Subscribe’ again at the bottom of the next screen (which gives you more options like folders for multiple blogs; don’t worry about it for now.)

[7] Outcome – You now have a ‘feed’ to my blog, which means that whenever I make a new post, it will appear in Bloglines and you will be notified. OK?

[8] Now you can go through Bloglines and see what other blogs you might want to add. This is how you can keep an eye on multiple sources of blog information without having to go to each one individually. On each blog, simply look for the RSS or XML (same thing) button. This button is usually found on the left or right column. It could have a ‘XML’ or ‘RSS’ graphic on it. You simply save Bloglines.com to your bookmarks. It’s a one-stop shop for dozens of sources of information on your topic on the internet. What a fantastic idea!

How to locate blogs that are of interest to you:

[9] Begin your search in Bloglines by clicking on the ‘Search All Blogs’ link at the top of the page. When the blog appears in Bloglines, click on the title to visit the actual blog and look for the RSS button. Then, to add it to Bloglines, repeat steps [4] through [7]. If you have multiple topic areas, I recommend using the [Create Folders] option to organise your blogs under different headings. You don’t have to limit yourself to reading blogs about your speaking topic; there are blogs on almost every subject.

[10] Other places to look for blogs include:

– http://www.technorati.com -> Google -> More -> Blog Search Search

[11] The best way to find high-quality blogs is to look in the sidebar of any blog you’re interested in for blogs that the author recommends. It’s commonly referred to as a ‘Blogroll.’ Look down the right side of my blog for a half-dozen posts on speechwriting and public relations. Cilick and see if there’s anything that piques your interest.

[12] Finally, a word of advice. You can use Google News to conduct a search on your topic. What’s more, guess what? You can also subscribe to this as a feed! Look to the right side and right-click where it says ‘RSS’ to add it to Bloglines as a feed. Tip: If you’re looking for all the news on the topic “National Speakers Association,” make sure to put it in quotes before you Google, or you’ll get news on each word separately, rather than the phrase as a whole. This also works if you use Google to search for blogs.

That’s all there is to it, folks! I hope you enjoy your blog reading.

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