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Stop Surfing, Start Feeding

If you use the internet as your primary news source, this new tool will help you save time and find more information.

By David Connell

How does this compare with your life—you get your third cup of coffee and sit down to your PC to surf for the morning’s news. Because you have a high-speed internet connection, you browse through sites from not only around the country, but from around the world. You hit The Washington Post for your political news, The New York Times for your in-depth coverage, CBS Marketwatch for financial headlines and maybe the BBC for an international perspective. Oh, right, and don’t forget ESPN for the sports headlines.

Think of it as Google News that you control.

If this is a fairly accurate description of your morning routine; I have to ask, wouldn’t it be nice to have all those websites delivered to your desktop? Rather than going out and getting those stories with your coffee, wouldn’t it be cool if they were sent to you, while the java’s still brewing? If the answer is “yes,” then you, my friend, must be introduced to the miracle of RSS feeds.

Don’t worry what “RSS” stands for—some say Really Simple Syndication, others claim Rich Site Summary, still others Ramen Sponge Slop (OK, I made that last one up)—what you need to know is that RSS feeds are highly-customizable news wires that are delivered to software that organizes the news so you can quickly scan headlines and summaries and decide what stories are worthy of your attention. Think of it as Google News that you control.

What you’ll need (free stuff here!)
The first thing you’ll need is a news reader, which gathers and organizes your RSS feeds, much like an email viewer gathers and organizes email. Most readers are free, and you can simply—and safely—download them to your desktop and install. Some of the better free readers for Windows include:

FeedDemon, a free download that looks a lot like Internet Explorer and Outlook. It basically organizes feeds in a window on the left hand side of the program, while displaying summaries to the right.

NewsDesk is also designed to look like Microsoft’s web products. However, it has the added bonus of actually displaying the webpage an article appears in, rather than a text-only summary.

Dogpile I love these guys! “Web Filter” featured their search engine last month, and this month we highlight their tool bar, which features a built in RSS reader. The tool bar integrates with Internet Explorer and one section displays scrolling headlines from your RSS feeds. Simply click on the headline and Explorer will open the article right up. This is perfect for the news obsessed.

For those of you who have thrown your Windows machine out the window in favor of a sleek Apple, try Rocketinfo, a free web-based RSS reader, or NetNewsWire, a stand-alone reader that costs $39.95 for a single license and $29.95 for multiple licenses. Like most made-for-Apple products, it’s a little more expensive (i.e., not free), but, as they say, “You get what you pay for.”

Get fed
Once you’ve picked your news reader it’s time to start adding feeds. The best place to start are RSS specific sites, Newsisfree and Moreover, which have feeds on subjects ranging from cricket (the sport, not the insect) to the war in Iraq, to the insurance and financial services industry (of course).

Peruse these sites to find the subjects you want to know about and simply add the feeds to the list on your reader. The readers listed above have varying, but simple, instructions for adding news feeds. Once the feeds are on your reader, they will be updated every time you open up the program, much like the way Outlook looks for new email. You can also tell the reader to update itself, again much like Outlook.

The little orange box
But these sites aren’t the only place to find feeds. Most major news sites also have several feeds. Usually, they will be listed on a specific page, but you’ll also see them in the margins of articles. They’re usually indicated by small orange boxes with the letters “XML” and are accompanied by keywords. When you click on the box, or the link, you’re likely to see a page crowded with gobbledygook—don’t worry, your reader knows what to do. Just copy the URL that appears at the top of the web browser and add it to your list of newsfeeds.

Setting up a newsreader with RSS feeds seems complicated, but trust me, it’s certainly easier than setting up an email account on Outlook. And once you have it set up, you’ll not only start getting all your news in half the time, but you’ll start seeing stories and ideas you never would have found otherwise. So, stop surfing and start feeding.


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