Thursday, 6 February 2014

Keeping Current: Blogging | Sign Me Up, Scotty!

With the plethora of information widely available on the internet and new content being created and published by the minute, it can be difficult to keep track of your favourite reads.  Second by second, gigabytes of information make it onto the world wide web, published, shared, edited, re-published. The problem occurs when there is so much information to comprehend - how do you keep track of it all?


Image Source: Link

RSS To The Rescue!
RSS feeds are a great solution to this issue. RSS (Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication) is a selection of web standards to form a feed, a stream of information that is regularly updated and can be delivered to a number of different locations. Generally, the site will display the RSS logo as an icon (pictured below) if RSS is supported. Most popular blog formats support this type of technology - Blogger, Wordpress, Tumblr are all popular examples that support RSS. But what do you do with it?


Look for the RSS logo!
RSS Readers
An RSS reader is a piece of software, a website, an app or in some cases a stand alone product that allows you to record the RSS feed URL (the address that contains the regularly updated information) and displays any posts from these feeds, generally in chronological order (although many readers allow additional sort options). The idea - you add all of your favourite news feeds, blogs, audio and video streams into your RSS reader thus allowing you to oversee all new articles, posts and uploads published from your favourite sources. As soon as a new article is posted online, it is available within your reader to view in one, centralised location.

What Services Are Available?
The now closed-down service "Google Reader" was a very well known, well used product in the Digital landscape that allowed you to follow all of your favourite feeds in one place. Google unfortunately shut this service down in July 2013, claiming low usage by users (which was argued by a large number of hardcore Reader users). However, when one service fails, an opportunity arises in the marketplace for a replacement. Here are some alternative services to stay up to date with your favourite feeds.
  • Feedly (www.feedly.com) - Recommended to me by +Donal Phipps, this has proven to be my favourite RSS reader at the moment. Simply sign-in with your Google credentials and start inputting your favourite websites or blogs. Feedly searches the website for any available RSS/Atom feeds and displays the results. Click "Follow" and all new posts will be tracked. Additional options such as sharing articles to Buffer, Evernote or your favourite Social Media sites are also available. Your feeds are also syncronised in the cloud and Feedly offer a free mobile/tablet app to keep up to date on the go. Feedly has a clean, simplistic design, allowing you to focus on what is important - the content! 
  • BlogLovin (www.bloglovin.com) - Designed specifically for you blog lovers, this site is aimed at helping you keep track of your favourite blogs. I feel it is targeted at those who don't already have favourite websites in mind, as during sign-up you are encouraged to follow some top-performing blogs before you are able to add in your own. However, still a fairly straightforward, free service, allowing you to stay on top of the content that matters to you.
  • FeedReader (www.feedreader.com) - Similar to the likes of Feedly, this free service allows your track your favourite RSS feeds on desktop, web and mobile. The service has recently undergone an overhaul, refreshing its look and has become more in-fitting with the likes of Feedly.
Atom vs RSS?
You may find yourself asking the question on the quest to keep current, "What is the difference between Atom and RSS?

The Atom standard was developed more recently and intended to replace RSS, to consolidate the programming languages used and to 'iron-out' some of the bugs or difficulties experienced with some RSS feeds. There are different versions of RSS in use. RSS 2.0 is the most common. It is used for news/blog feeds as well as for Podcasting. Atom, is a more standardised way of providing XML content updates. However, it has not received wide acceptance yet outside of the blog communities. (Again, almost all blog tools can generate an Atom feed on the fly.)

The answer - either format is perfectly acceptable to use, it is really down to personal preference as you should not really see any major noticeable differences between the outcome of two technologies.

Credits & Squared Online
Credit must be given to +Donal Phipps, who inspired me to write this article. As part of our course requirements for Googles' Squared Online course, each 'Squared' member has to write a blog, outlining their thoughts and experiences of the #SquaredOnline Course. This is a fantastic task, the explosion of blogs popping up from classmates as a result has been astonishing - never has my Google+ feed been so active! Every story is different, Digital means something different to every person (see my blog post: "Digital + Becoming T-shaped" here.) I love reading them, I like to get an insight into the inner workings of each and every person on the course and through the blog posts produced, you can learn a lot about everyone. Syncronised into my Feedly account, I can now sleep happy knowing I shouldn't miss any future blog articles!

Do you have a favourite RSS reader? I would love to hear your views and comments!