Tool of the Week: Using RSS to monitor news, craigslist, and journal articles

RSS is a way to subscribe to updates to websites.  So, weather there are a couple of blogs you follow, you want to stay on top of current news headlines on a certain subject, or you just want to stay on top of whenever someone posts a new bike in your size to craigslist, RSS is for you.

The first step is to get an RSS reader.  I prefer Google Reader, but there are others.  Head there and log in, and get all comfortable with the layout.  Now, all you need is content.  Head to a blog you like (Like www.mikesoltys.com) and look for a button that looks like this:

Sometimes, people will put these links on their page.  If you're using the chrome browser, you'll want the RSS grabber extension so the button (almost) always shows up in the address bar.

Clicking on that orange button will bring up a page, asking you if you'd like to subscribe to feeds.  If there's a drop-down, select "Google" and then click "Add to Google Reader."  The last step is to click subscribe on the top.  Now, any time that site is updated, you'll get an update in your google reader!  Just visit reader.google.com to see the updates to all the pages you're following.

Ok, now's where this get's really handy.  Say I collect bikes (Which isn't far from the truth), and I want to know every time somebody posts a 54 cm bike to Boulder's craigslist.  I could check back on craigslist every day, or i could do the search once, grab the rss feed from the orange button in the address bar, and anytime someone posts a 54 cm bike to craigslist in boulder, I'll know about it!

Similarly, you can use this for news searches.  If i'm really curious anytime there's breaking news about Jens Voigt (My favorite professional cyclist, hands down), i can head to google, do a news search for Jens Voigt.  Here, the RSS button isn't as obvious.  You have to scroll to the bottom of the page to find it, but once you do, anytime time Jens shows up in the news (for something like crashing and then borrowing a kids bike to finish the race), you'll be in the know!

This also works for journal articles (to keep up on relevant breaking news in your field), or to keep tabs on changes on your favorite websites.

A final word of warning: Be careful with RSS, because it's only as useful as you make it.  If you subscribe to news updates for something broad like "football," the next time you check your google reader it will be filled with hundreds of articles, and it'll be hard to sift through the ones that are truly interesting to you.  On google Reader, you can manage your subscriptions by clicking "manage subscriptions" in the bottom left, or "subscriptions" in the settings page.

Anybody else have any good rss tips?

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