Last week at a NoCoNet meeting I gave a tip on using RSS feeds. I have been using RSS for several years to keep track of websites without having to go out and visit them on a regular basis. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. It works a little bit like a newsclipping service where you can direct a website’s updates into a common ‘aggregator’ so you can have awareness of what’s new without having to go out and visit the website every day. If you haven’t used RSS yet, you should give it a try. I recommend Google Reader for getting started. I’ve tried several other RSS aggregators such as Yahoo, Bloglines, and Newsgator, but Google Reader works the best for me.
I’ve found that RSS works best to keep up with blogs that are only updated periodically, possibly just once a week or less. It would be time consuming to visit a site like that each day because I’d usually find no new information. After doing that a few times, it’s easy to get out of the habit of visiting the site, which results in me losing touch with the website.
Just about all blogs have RSS feeds. You can recognize it when you see RSS
or this symbol which has become sort of a standard for indicating that the site has an RSS feed. If you scroll down the list over on the right of this page, you can find this blog’s RSS feed. Generally speaking, the URL for the feed has to be pasted into your aggregator’s list of feeds for it to work. Otherwise, you’ll just get a page of XML code which will just confuse you.
There are some uses for RSS feeds that do not work well for me. I have not found RSS useful to keep track of a high volume blog by subscribing to its feed. These blogs are all about volume, not necessarily quality or trying to provide unique content. In order to monetize blogging activity these days, it’s necessary to get people to keep visiting the site it all day long, and to do that, they serve up hourly content that appeals to society’s collective Attention Deficit Disorder. It seems that the topics of gadgets and gossip are a veritable cornucopia of fresh content assurance. Those topics seem to really create a lot of traffic on the web for some reason. Gadgets and gossip are the primary fodder for uberblogs like Engadget, Gizmodo, Boing-Boing, TMZ, and Valleywag. I’ve tried reading a few of those sites on RSS but gave up after a while because the content was so non-stop that it was life crushing. And that crushing feeling was not just because of the sheer volume of postings, but also because of some of the vitriolic writing style on a few of those sites and its effect on one’s psyche. Controversy sells. If you fail to read the RSS feed for any of those sites for a few days, it takes too long to catch up. It’s better to just tune out that noise. The same is true with political blogs. They just have too much noise and foment, and not enough useful information.
Recently I noticed that LinkedIn has an RSS feed for the Network Updates. These network updates appear on your LinkedIn Home page. As your LinkedIn network grows, network updates tend to increase in volume, so much so that it can sometimes look like chatter. Sometimes you really have to click a lot of links to get to the substance. And if you didn’t get around to it that week, it ages off of the home page, gone forever. I occasionally ran across some very interesting information on this page, such as a member of my network starting a new position, but much of the traffic was just hypernetworkers acquiring another 20 or so contacts that day. I wondered if the RSS feed might be a better way to wade through this torrent of activity. After experimenting with it for a few weeks, I’m happy to say that it is a great way to keep up with one’s LinkedIn network. I’ve found that funneling LinkedIn Network Updates RSS feed into my Google Reader makes short work of finding out about who’s uploaded a new photo, joined a new group, made a recommendation, or made a new connection. Best of all, LinkedIn had the good sense to filter out the hyperactive connectors from the feed, which I think most people will appreciate.
Another benefit is that if I don’t get to my RSS aggregator for a few days, the updates don’t age off the system like they do on the home page of LinkedIn, but will queue up for me until I’ve had a chance to read them. If you haven’t checked out the Network Updates RSS feed on LinkedIn, it’s time to give it a try. There’s not much point in having a network if you don’t keep track of it. By monitoring your network’s RSS feed, you’ll continually be aware of what’s happening in your network.
After finding the LinkedIn RSS feed so useful, I began to wonder if craigslist’s RSS feed would work equally well. Since job hunters can spend a lot of time on the Internet visiting the same websites each day looking for new postings, I thought that NoCoNet members might use the RSS feed on Craigslist jobs to achieve some time savings. I’ve been impressed with the number of people I know who have found jobs through Craigslist and so funneling job listings into an RSS reader seemed more efficient than visiting the site daily. After a week of experimenting with that feature, I’ve found it works very well in notifiying me about what’s available on a regular basis without having to make a special trip to Craigslist to find out. You can limit it to just a particular geography and job category since each category has its own feed.
RSS feeds are an effective way to set up a ‘virtual software agent’ to sort the Internet’s wheat from the chaff. Sure, RSS feeds can be misused by overwhelming the reader with too much information, but feeds are very easy to turn off when you find that the information source is no longer useful to you and so they have an advantage over email subscriptions where remembering the secret code to disable them can sometimes be a challenge.