IHOWTO #1: Following Blogs

Your new internet word for the day is “RSS”, and is a key to this first Internet-HowTo – Following Blogs. Before we go further though, let’s make sure we are all on the same page – er, what is a Blog? Hey, it’s cool, it’s why you are here reading this, right? If you already are confident you understand the term, just skip to the next paragraph. Otherwise, a Blog (or Weblog) is a type or portion of a website where one makes journal or diary type entries. There are more specialized versions of blogs too – that focus on photographs (photoblog), videos (vlog) or audio (podcasts). Hey, everything has to have a cool term, right? Some examples:

www.tobeywayneswitzer.com – a website that is purely a blog. No content or pages were created outside of the blog software that drives it – WordPress.

www.ultimatelobsters.com – redirects to their blog, but is also setup to have separate webpages someday, like a section dedicated to Amy’s photography, or Brian’s flying, or maybe someday Kaelina Marie!

www.alanswitzer.com – this site, which is part website, part blog. The blog portion drives what you see in the “What’s New in Twizzler-land?” box, the rest are webpages, graphics and pictures I created.

Back to the matter at hand. You may have already heard the term “RSS“ – it’s been around since the late 90’s, but has become more of a mainstream term in the past few years. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. RSS is a large family of web feed formats specified in XML. Programs called aggregators or news readers are written to process this “RSS feed” and present it as full content or summaries with links to the original full versions of that content on the author’s blog. These programs are typically free and allow you to not have worry about the many different variations of RSS that I alluded to. One of the reasons that the detour to define a “blog” was worthwhile is that blogs and RSS go hand in hand. All blog software worth a grain of salt automatically create an RSS feed for you. People can easily subscribe to your RSS feed via a news reader and follow your blog. Sweet!

I’ve mentioned a few blogs that you may already be interested in following above, and I’ll add a few more at the end of this article. How do you keep track of them all? Wouldn’t it be nice if you had one easy-to-use place to track all the blogs and you could be alerted when one of those blogs had a new entry or update that you could read with your morning coffee or tea? (Or with an AMP in the evening if you are me!)

You can, thanks to a free browser based news reader called Bloglines. Bloglines is not perfect, but I’ve been using it for over a year, and now use it to track 122 blogs. I can safely say that it makes it quite easy to track even this many blogs. No, I can’t keep up with all 122, but Bloglines keeps a reference to the blogs with higher traffic that I only read on a blue moon. Here’s a quick peek at the interface, with some of the blogs I have subscribed to:

Image used in IHOWTO #1

Click on the image to see a larger view of it at Flickr. In the right pane you see “Our Adventures” – the title of Amy and Brian’s blog. Bloglines has automatically checked their blog for new or updated posts on August 3rd. Don’t worry – it does a great job of actively updating when Amy and Brian “publish” a new entry via their WordPress blog software. I have chosen to “save” 5 of their blog entries so that I can re-read them at my leisure. I do this by checking the “Keep New” box on the lower right corner of each entry I want to save. You can use this approach if you like, or just know that at any time you can click on the blog title at the top, which will open a new window directly at their actual blog. From there, you can search any of their past blog entries outside of Bloglines. In the left pane is my list of blogs. The key thing to know here is that after the title of the blog, the first number (in bold) is the number of new, unread entries. The second number, in subtle grey is the number of saved entries.

Ready to get your own Bloglines setup? Let’s walk thru the easy registration.

  1. Go to www.bloglines.com
  2. Click on the “Sign up now It’s free“ link in the middle of the page.
  3. Enter your email address and a password. Yes, I trust Bloglines – they don’t spam me and have a decent privacy policy that you can read. You can opt out of any communication from them.
  4. That’s it! You are ready to add some feeds!

As with most things on the internet, there are several ways to add RSS feeds. Let’s start with an easy one. If you go to www.alanswitzer.com, you’ll notice a small orange icon – this is the common icon used to identify RSS feeds. Here’s a picture:

RSS Feed icon - it's Orange!

Clicking on this icon will take you to a special page that allows you to subscribe to my RSS feed, from one of many different news readers. Of course, Bloglines is one of those options! This ability is created by another free service called FeedBurner, but that’s a subject for another entry.

  1. Click on the “Sub Bloglines” button and you will be directed back to Bloglines. You should already be logged in, but go ahead and do this now if you aren’t.
  2. You’ll then see the Available Feed – “What’s new in Twizzler-land?” Under Options, you can just put everything in “TopLevel” or you can create “folders” to categorize your feeds. I usually leave all the rest of the default settings alone.
  3. Then, click the “Subscribe” button to finalize your subscription to this feed. You should now see “What’s new in Twizzler-land?” appear in the My Feeds tab in the left pane. You will most likely see the number (10) which means you now have access to the last 10 entries I wrote in your Bloglines news reader. Click on the title of my blog in this left side of Bloglines, and the right pane will show the entries from newest to oldest. You can read them, save them, or click on the titles to go to my blog to read them directly from my site – whatever works best for you!

Another easy way to subscribe to blogs is directly thru Bloglines, and with a little of your new knowledge. The main page of each blog “knows” about its RSS feed. So, say you would like to subscribe to Tobey’s blog. We know his blog lives at www.tobeywayneswitzer.com. Back in Bloglines, in the right pane, at the top there is an option menu that says “Search for Posts”. Change this by clicking on the down hour to say “Subscribe to URL” – the last choice. Now, type or paste “http://www.tobeywayneswitzer.com” in the blankspace on the left, and hit Enter on your keyboard or click on the blue arrow button. You will then go thru the same process as above, where you can review the feed you are subscribing to, and where to put it.

Whew. That’s it! You are now ready to follow as many blogs as you are interesting in following! Add new blogs to your heart’s content – there is no limit with Bloglines. I hope you now have the tools and confidence to do this yourself. If you have any issues/questions – don’t hesitate to ask.

Here are some other great blogs to start with:

Growing Warriors – Deanna Butler’s (my cousin) blog. She’s a great writer, and frequently posts interesting stories about her life and her family.

Running with the Nuggs – my Denver Nuggets fansite blog

FlickrBlog – news, and great photos from Flickr.com

Note:
Bloglines is one of many, many great news readers out there. I recommend it because I think it works well, and I’ve used it myself for over a year now. Hopefully this entry gives you the tools to not only follow blogs with Bloglines, but explore other options down the road that might even work better for you!

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