Tuesday, November 10, 2015

RSS and the forgotten art of getting the news without social media

The old-timers of the internet might recall the RSS protocol. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, a protocol that makes it easy to aggregate summaries from the websites we frequent the most. The summary consists of the headline and a part of or all of the first paragraph of the article.

RSS is useful for blogs, news sites and other sites with frequent updates. This was promoted quite a bit in years past, but since has been on the wane. Many websites still provide RSS and they can be found by looking for the following symbol:

The RSS information provided by a website is called an RSS feed. To read an RSS feed, you need a program like FeedDemon, Feedreader and RSSOwl. I found a list of available RSS readers here. Most of them are free to download and to use. Outlook, Evolution, Thunderbird and other email clients, also include RSS feed readers. There are also feed readers for your iPhone or Android phone.

I happen to like Feedly. It's a free web-based app for Android and iOS (that's Apple). I was a Google Reader user until I got wind that Google was going to eliminate their reader altogether. Feedly came along and made it easy for me to replace Google Reader by importing all of my feeds at once. Now Feedly is where I go to look for my news.

Here's a screenshot of my RSS feeds from Feedly:

Here you see a list of articles from the websites I like to read for news. To add a website, I get the RSS feed for that site. For example, I'm a fan of Ars Technica, a great website for tech news. Here is the RSS feed address for their entire site:


You can enter that address in any news reader and then see summaries of all their articles. Ars even offers feeds for sections and even topics. Just about all the big websites offer this. By the way, you can do the same for this blog, The Digital Firehose. Here is the RSS feed address:


RSS was conceived in 1995 and put into programming practice in 1999. The concept evolved over the years to what we have now, a really simple way to read the news. Nowadays, most people are not aware of all of this behind the scenes action on their favorite websites. The reason for this is that without anyone really noticing, social media has become the news reader of choice.

What is social media? It's any website or web-based platform that allows people to share information freely as a collection of posts to their account. Posts can include text, video and images. You can control how he information is shared by selecting the groups you want to see your posts. From the world down to a select group of friends, you decide who sees it.

I am on Facebook, Google Plus and Twitter. I use all three frequently. There are more like Tumblr, Pinterest and Foursquare, most of which are more recent than the others and maybe even more trendy. But I'm "old school" and there are only so many hours in a day, so I don't have time for it all. Too much of this leads to "information overload", anyway. Suffice it to say that there is a social media network for your tastes, you only need to do some digging to find it.

How did social media replace the news reader? Nearly all the major news sites have a Facebook page, a Google Plus page and a twitter account. A search of your social media site of choice will reveal if, for example, Ars Technica has a Facebook page (they do). Then you can like their page and their posts will show up in your Facebook Timeline.  Gather enough of these pages on Facebook and you have a news feed with posts from your friends, family and acquaintances mixed in.

Twitter is a bit more informal, but if you follow the Twitter accounts of the news sites you read, you'll see links to their articles. Same is true of Google Plus and whatever other social media you like to use. A news site can post across multiple social media platforms to alert their readers of new stories and to make it easier to share stories across social media platforms.

I use social media myself when I post a new blog to promote my blog and keep it relevant. When I post on Blogger, it's instantly shared on Google Plus. Then I copy the article address and post it on Facebook with a comment and then I post it on Twitter. I could probably do more, I know, but that means, creating yet another account and so on.

Despite all of this social media activity for me to peruse, I still like to fall back on Feedly for the news. It's a nice, simple summary of the news from all of my favorite sites without me having to go to each site to read them. RSS may be ancient, but still is an amazing example of how simple it is to share something on the web.
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