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Handy-Dandy Guide To Automatically Reading Blogs

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I keep coming across people who are not familiar with RSS and how it can simplify your life if you’d like to keep current with a range of blogs.

When you open a morning newspaper you read stories from around the world assembled by editors from hundreds of sources (wire services, reporters). The paper prints the same news for every reader - you choose which stories to read. Instead of relying on a editor to choose the news, how would you like to have a ‘morning newspaper’ delivered each and every day with stories on topics *you* choose? With a free “Blog Reader” or news aggregator you can create a personal page on your web browser loaded with the freshest news about the things you love.

The way you set up your ‘personal newspaper’ involves a few steps and can seem a little tricky. Follow my step-by-guide below and you’ll be reading information about your topic from all over the Internet on one web page. A little investment of your time will pay off.

You’ll need about 30 minutes to follow the steps below. Ready? Let’s go!

Introduction - What is a Blog?

Basically, a blog (WeB LOG) is an online diary. There are millions and millions out there! The trick is finding the ones that have information you need and flagging them when they post updates. Advantage: you get the ‘inside scoop’ before most people in your industry. The good news about blogs is that there are probably dozens you will find interesting, the bad news is that means there are dozens of bookmarks you must keep, and since bloggers don’t post on a regular schedule you never know when you need to check back to read updates. That’s why you need a “blog reader”. Technically it’s known as an “RSS Reader”.

So Why Read Blogs?

There are as many reasons to read blogs as there are people. Each person's reasons are different. Here are a few reasons I read blogs:

1. I get a direct line into the thinking of important people in the field. In technology this could be Jonathan Schwartz (Sun) or Irving Wladawsky-Berger (IBM). In the media it might be Dan Gillmor (San Jose Mercury News). Or perhaps it’s people with their finger on the culture like Craig Newmark (craigslist). It's unfiltered and in their own words.

2. Reading from a news aggregator is a much quicker way of reading news. For example, when I log in in the morning and hop over to Bloglines, in one interface I can see what many people are commenting on, along with news outlets like the NY Times, Washington Post, and Boston Globe. This beats visiting the websites individually to see if they might have some updated content to read.

3. You get a much better picture of the individuals involved; what they're working on, what their concerns are, sometimes even what their favorite restaurant is. Most bloggers like to read Comments you can leave. This is a great way to build relationships. It’s not a replacement for personal interaction, of course, but one that has its place and has a lot more scale to it.

4. Announcements are often made first in blogs.

What is an RSS Reader?

RSS stands for ‘Really Simple Syndication’. Just like your morning paper relies on syndicated news from AP, Reuters etc, so your blog reader will rely on the fact that most blogs ’syndicate’ their news - they can ‘feed’ it to your blog reader for you to review.

A news reader or aggregator checks a list of feeds on your behalf and displays any updated articles that it finds. It is common to find web feeds on nearly all blogs as well as many websites such CNN.com. RSS programs are available for various operating systems.

How do I find an RSS Reader?

Simple - Google ‘RSS Reader’. The most popular are Newsgator, Google Reader, Rocket. I use Bloglines. The rest of this guide is customized for Bloglines, but the same principals will work for all of them.

Step-by-step Guide:

[1] You’ll need to open two browser windows.

[2] In the first browser window, link to my blog: http://www.exec-comms.com/blog - I’ll use this as an example blog to add to your feeder - hey! it’s a great blog!

[3] In the second browser window, go to http://www.bloglines.com and choose Subscribe - it’s free.

The next bit is tricky, but stay with me:

[4] In browser where you have Bloglines, Under ‘My Feeds’ choose ‘Add’ find where it says ‘Blog or feed URL’

[5] Go back to my blog in the other window, look down the right column until you see where it says ‘Subscribe me’ and underneath you’ll see a line that says ‘RSS XHTML CSS 508′. Now, RIGHT CLICK on RSS and choose ‘Copy Shortcut’ and then go to the bloglines window and Paste this into the space where it says ‘Blog feed or URL’. If you’ve done it right, this should go into the window:


[6] Hit ‘Subscribe’ and then again ‘Subscribe’ on the bottom of the next screen (which allows various options such as folders for multiple blogs - don’t worry about it for now.)

[7] Result - You now have a ‘feed’ to my blog and whenever I post an update it’ll show up in Bloglines and you’ll see it. OK?

[8] Now you can look at some other blogs you might like to add in Bloglines. This is how you keep your eyes on multiple sources of blog info without having to go fetch it from each website in turn. You just have to find the RSS or XML (same thing) button on each blog. Usually you’ll find this button on the left or right column. It might have a graphic that says ‘XML’ or ‘RSS’. You just bookmark Bloglines.com. It’s your one stop shop on the internet for dozens of sources of information on your topic. How cool is that!

How to find Blogs that interest you:

[9] Start by searching in Bloglines where it says ‘Search all Blogs’ at the top of the page. Once the blog shows in Bloglines click on the title to go to the actual blog and find the RSS button. Then repeat steps [4] - [7] above to add it to Bloglines. If you have different topic areas then I suggest you use the option [Create Folders] to organize the blogs under different headings. You don’t need to just read blogs on your speaking topic, there’s blogs on every topic out there.

[10] Other places to find blogs:

- Google -> More -> Blog Search
- http://www.technorati.com -> Search

[11] The single best place to find quality blogs is to check out the sidebar on any blog that interests you for blogs that author recommends. It’s usually listed as a ‘Blogroll’. Look down the right side of my blog and you’ll see a half-dozen on speechwriting and PR. Click and check out any that interest.

[12] Final tip. You can search Google News on your Topic. Guess what? You can grab this as a feed as well! Look to the right side and do the right-click thing where it says ‘RSS’ and add it as a feed to Bloglines. Hint: If you are searching for all the news on the topic “National Speakers Association” be sure to put it in quotes before you Google, or you’ll get separate news on each word, not the phrase. This also works if you search on Blogs using Google.

That's all folks! Happy blog reading.

About the Author:

Ian Griffin is a speechwriter and communications consultant. He blogs at http://www.exec-comms.com/blog


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