If you're a regular reader of blogs, or indeed of any kind of news website, you've probably been frustrated from time to time by information overload: the blogosphere creates way too much material for any human being to comfortably digest. Plus, there's no way of knowing when your favorite sites are updated. Some of the best blog writers publish once a week or less, and who has time to keep visiting these sites in the hope of finding a fresh item?
But there's a solution to these problems, and it's simple. Actually, it's called Real Simple Syndication, or RSS. You start by downloading free software called a newsreader. For PC users, we recommend Bloglines bloglines.com) NewsGator newsgator.com or You yousoftware.com) which plug into Microsoft Outlook. If you're using Mac OS X, try NetNewsWire Lite ranchero.com/netnewswire/) Each of these has a pay version, generally about $30, with more features, but beginners won't need them.
Then head over to your favorite websites and subscribe to their RSS feeds by clicking on any button that says RSS or XML (the computer language RSS uses). Your newsreader does the rest, a sort of e-dog that fetches new headlines as soon as they're available. All this happens in a single window that looks like an e-mail program.
Depending on the source, RSS will deliver the entire text of the story to your newsreader, or just the first paragraph or just the headline. In any case, clicking on a headline will take you straight to the full story via your web browser. Almost every major newspaper and news website has an RSS feed these days. (The Los Angeles Times and Denver Post are probably the most significant exceptions, and that's because they are working on advertising-driven newsreader software.)
RSS allows you to play news editor and zero in on the information you really need, even as you expand the number of sites you sample. You can subscribe to just the parts of the Seattle Times, for example, that cover biotech and the Mariners. Or you can go even deeper: instead of looking through all the new apartment-rental ads on Craigslist, say, you can enter your price range and your preferred neighborhoods, and save that search result as an RSS feed. The appropriate listings pop up in your newsreader every day, just as if you'd hired a real estate agent to do the legwork.
RSS is so easy to use, you might be surprised by how much more productive you become. Before I installed RSS, I was perusing some 20 websites a day. Now the figure is more like 70--yet the information is so targeted, I'm getting more of what I really want. Instead of inefficiently searching, I never have to worry if I'm wasting my time. Problem solved, simply. •