HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns

September 25, 2006, Herald Journal

News delivered to your computer

By MARK OLLIG

Did you ever wonder if there was a better way to find the most current and reliable information over the Internet?

Sure, you can Google or Yahoo it, but that takes up your time and can bring back a mountain of links to stories and information that might not be from trusted sources or is not up-to-date.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the information about your favorite hobbies, sports, politics, news, or other interests would simply find its way to your computer, and alert you when it did?

Or, say you want to stay up-to-date on certain products that you use, but do not want to be visiting the website constantly for the latest information?

Have no fear. RSS is here.

Alright, I know that you might be asking yourself “what the heck is he talking about now,” but just hang on – this is really a sweet program, and best of all, it’s free.

I was on one of the big news websites, (no, not our newspaper’s; the other one, called CNN”) and I always notice on the bottom of the webpage, an orange, rectangular hyperlink that says “RSS” or “XML.” These were hyperlinks that I never bothered with as I did not know what would happen to my computer if I clicked on them. I mean, I do not think my computer would go into a meltdown or anything like that, it is that I just did not know anything about RSS, so I left it alone.

I decided, at that moment, my next Bits & Bytes column was going to be about RSS, so I clicked the orange link and went where no columnist has gone before.

The RSS stands for “Rich Site Summary.” I have also heard it can mean “Really Simple Syndication.”

RSS is like getting a direct news feed sent to you on the subjects you pick from the website that you want the information from.

The RSS program coding is created using XML (extensible markup language), which is somewhat like the HTML that’s used to create websites, but XML allows the authors or publishers of it to incorporate more of their own customized “tags” and do things HTML code doesn’t allow.

The first thing I needed to do was get the RSS feed reader program, which was easy enough to do a www.rssreader.com. The reader is “freeware” made by Microsoft.

When I went to the website, I was given the option of either downloading the zip format or the self-executable program; I choose the latter. The RSS reader is only about 1.5 MB’s so I chose the executable option, meaning after I downloaded it to my computer, it would automatically “self-start,” which is always a good time saver.

The RSS reader is a Windows program that is very user-friendly. It reminds me of a mail reader program, which in a sense, it is.

With the RSS reader installed successfully (took just a few minutes with no trouble), I was ready to find some news feeds that I want to be kept updated on. I went out to the CNN website and clicked that orange RSS button (you could also click the XML button).

The website then opened a new window that displayed their 17 different RSS listings, by topic.

I wanted to be kept up-to-date on the latest in technology, so I clicked “technology.” This was the name of the topic or type of “news feed” I was going to choose at this time. I proceeded to highlight the topic’s “link” and did a right-click on the mouse to copy. The link I copied and would paste into the RSS Reader program would be http://rss.cnn.com/rss/cnn_tech.rss

I then went over to my RSS Reader program, right-clicked on “my feeds,” and then created a new “feed” (add feed). This opened up an area (dialog box) where it asked me to enter the URL or “link” of the source feed. If you read my columns from a long, (and I mean long) time ago, you will recall that URL stands for Uniform Resource Locator, the line in your browser where you type where you want to go.

I then “pasted” the http://rss.cnn.com/rss/cnn_tech.rss into it, clicked “next,” and once validated, the reader asked me to give it a name, or a “feed title.” We could just leave the default title that was sent by the web source, or we could change it to what ever we wanted to call it. Then I was asked to select the group you want it to belong to, I placed it under my collection of “technology news feeds.” I clicked “OK” and I was done.

You will notice that the number of stories in each news group feed is displayed, much like when you use your voice mail, and it will say how many “IN” messages you have waiting to be read.

Now when I am sent technology news fe,eds from CNN, I will see an alert message pop up on my screen (along with an audible doorbell chime) inform me. I can choose to ignore it and the alert message (from the RSS Reader), which will disappear after 30 seconds, or I can access the RSS Reader by clicking the icon for it on the bottom toolbar.

You can access the RSS Reader and see what the latest information is anytime. The information is what you want to be kept informed on, weather it is information you need to run a business or information about your favorite hobby.

When you look at the RSS Reader’s top banner, you will see columns saying “Headlines,” “Received Dates” “Published Dates,” and “Authors.“ The headlines are presented in a “pre-view” like you would see your Email messages in. As with your Email messages, you can delete and copy. It is easy to add, remove, or change the feeds.

There are too many features of the RSS Reader to go through in this column, but one of the ones I do like is the “date filter,” that allows me to filter out selected news feeds by the day, hour, or minute. So, say I just want to see the RSS feeds that were sent out over the last 15 minutes. I can do that. I can set it to see the RSS feeds sent to me the last hour or the last day. Very nice.

So, instead of having to go to, say, CNN, and then click over to their technology page, I have my RSS Reader all set to bring the latest information that matters most to me 24 hours a day.

You might be asking why this would be free? Why would publishers of websites want to have RSS feeds available?

One reason is that it is a much easier way to have their information and stories published and seen by more people. The user will see the content from that particular website and will be more prone to use it for other information or check out the advertising content that would be directed back to the originating website that provides the RSS feeds.

Someday, you might be reading my column online and see a little orange button below it that says “RSS,” so go ahead and click on it.