Using RSS to read blogs and follow news

Published February 23, 2013 by Sean

Prompted by a BBC Click item extolling the virtues of AppMakr, particularly from a publisher’s point of view, I wondered how familiar most web users are with feed readers. There seem to be a large number of apps which simply bring all the items published by a single blogger or channel, but for the reader there is a much more effective option available which brings your own choice of channels together under your control.

Most people now follow several different sites on the internet, be it daily news or satire, forums, twitter, and blogs of varying activity. For twitter and such like, most people are familiar with using an app on their phone to read the information and maybe get notifications about important messages. If you follow lots of sites, you probably don’t want to have multiple apps, so you might end up having a list of web bookmarks to check through regularly and see if anything new has been posted on your favourite new blog. This ends up being fairly time consuming, and not very efficient…

Most web sites now provide a notification service for new posts known as RSS. Think of this as an email sent for every new blog post, but under your control. The complicated part of RSS is needing something to make sense of these notifications – but it’s not really complicated. An example of how this can be used is Facebook checks my blog for new posts, and is set up to publish each post for me on facebook too.

The first step is finding a content aggregation service which you like/trust. As an example, I’ll use google reader. Start by signing up for this (hence the need to trust). This gives you a place to keep track of what is interesting to you, and what you have read. Then, if you are using Chrome as a desktop browser, install the Chrome Reader extension to make things a bit easier. When you start using Reader, it will probably try and help you to find some sites, but will ask for the URL of the feed. This is where the extension comes in – it gives you a button in your web browser to automate the process. Otherwise, you need to use either the site web address, or find a link like the ones shown here:

rss

 

The little orange icon represents RSS, and the posts feed http://www.houlihane.co.uk/blog/feed/ would be the one to use. Add that to google reader, along with a few others.

Now, you can use the google reader website to view the summaries of all the posts you have selected, sorted as you wish to group them, and filtering out posts which you’ve read already. Good enough, but you probably want to get this information on your phone.

Google reader has a mobile web view, which isn’t too bad.

Screenshot_2013-02-23-11-59-49

As you can see here, RSS splits articles into a headline and a some summary text. Often that text will be the full article content (and reading it as text might be better for you as a reader than viewing the full site in a web browser on a small screen). Always, you will be able to follow up and view the article in full on the original web site.

A further level of sophistication is to use a native app on your phone to display the feeds. This can be synchronised to the same Google Reader service, keeping track of the articles you read on your laptop or phone together. You can also set options for downloading articles whilst connected to WiFi, so they will be ready for you to read even if you don’t have a good signal or want to save on mobile data.

I use the android app ‘NewsRob’. As well as tracking feeds, it has a widget to show at a glance how many un-read articles are waiting, and can even alert you when new posts are seen on specific feeds (maybe useful for travel alerts or breaking news).

Screenshot_2013-02-23-11-58-48

NewsRob is very configurable. For each feed, you can select a default view of the summary, or the full article, and when to download full articles. Some sites, like BBC news only provide one-liners for their articles, so the original web view makes more sense there (or possibly a dedicated app which collects the article text only, like Jim Blackler’s UK & World news, which is far ahead of the BBC’s own offering in terms of usability and efficiency)

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