Tech Tuesday - Google Reader and the RSS

Over the last year and a half I've fallen in love with RSS. I thought I would focus today's post on this wonderful piece of technology and share how it has been useful. The approach I want to take with this post is to walk you through my own experience with RSS.

The Old Way of Surfing the Internet

Up until about two years ago I had a long list of different web sites that I would visit every day to see if anything had been updated. This list of forty sites included news sites, email, tech news, sports news, and church web sites. I would load each individual page and search to see if there was anything new. The routine took me nearly an hour. But I wanted to stay on top of things. I did not want to miss a software update or a breaking story for my favorite sports team.

Introduced to RSS and Google Reader

My routine changed once I found Google Reader in 2008. Before that time I knew it existed, and I think I had checked it out before, but it finally made sense in late 2008. I realized that I could take the RSS feed from my list of forty sites and go to one location when I wanted to see the latest news. Here is how it works.

First, I would load a web site like AppleInsider in my Safari browser. There is a little RSS button that appears in the address box once the site is loaded. If I click on this button it opens up an RSS feed preview.

I then cut and paste that feed address into my Google Reader. Once I click "Subscribe", Google Reader adds that feed to my list of feeds. Any time AppleInsider publishes a new story it appears in my list of feeds in Google Reader. Take this concept and multiply it times forty and I end up with all my favorite sites in one place.

The genius behind RSS is that it is a line of code that goes into a web page and allows a feed reader to subscribe to the page. Any time a web site with RSS adds a new post, my feed reader takes note and adds that new post to my aggregator. Google Reader is an aggregator, but iTunes is also a type of aggregator posts that include audio. This is how iTunes knows how to download the most recent podcast that has been published.

After adding my favorite sites to Google Reader I realized I could add more than just those top forty. The Google Reader format made it possible for me to scan a whole lot more content in a shorter period of time. So I found new feeds from Christian blogs, news, sports, and technology. Soon I had over three hundred subscriptions to different sites. Any time one of those sites posted new content it appeared in my feed list.

The next cool thing I discovered was that a google blog search could be turned into an RSS feed. What this means is that I can go and do a search through google for a specific word. I could narrow my search to just blogs, or new stories. Once I had the results of my search, I could scroll down to the bottom of the page where there was an option to view the RSS feed for the results. If I cut and pasted that feed into my reader I would be given an aggregated list of any blog that used that keyword. Each day I would get a new list of blog articles making mention of that keyword or keyword phrase. This became a powerful tool to monitor the internet and see who was talking about things I was interested in.

The most recent part of this RSS experience was the iPad, iPhone and Mac applications that were created for Google Reader. These applications took the information from Google Reader and presented them in a clean and beautiful format. Right now I'm using Reader on my Mac and iPad. I also have FlipBoard for my iPad which provides and excellent presentation of my various feeds.

Now I'm able to consume a lot more content because I can view it in one location with summary titles on my mobile device. This in turn allows me to curate web content, and push out good content to my friends on twitter and facebook.  In a future post I'll share some of my Google Reader subscription lists. Or you could just follow me through Google Reader and see what articles I'm sharing.