Information overload is a challenge that all of us face in this internet information world. In this blog entry, I am going to talk about one method of easing this burden while still allowing you to stay current on things that are important to you. The best part is that this process is VERY simple to do and, once set up, requires very little of your time to maintain.
Whether it is our in-boxes overflowing, trying to keep up with various blogs or twitter as well as stay on top of all of the changes that seem to occur on a daily basis in this business. It's a challenge that all of us face every day.
The number of blogs and forums that I track on a daily basis is, to be honest, mind boggling. Yet, every day, I am able to quickly discern what topics are being discussed and focus on those that are of immediate need or interest. The way that I do this is by leveraging 2 technologies:
RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. It provides a method for blogs, forums and other sites to provide a simple update feed to some other application (typically a web browser). So, for blogs, it will provide updates to a browser when a new article is posted or on forums when new topics are started or a particular topic is getting a lot of traffic.
The way that this works is that the web site of interest will generate some XML that follows the RSS format (or schema) whenever the site determines that enough changes to the site's contents have occurred to justify a refresh of the RSS data. Someone that is monitoring the RSS will detect that it has been updated and pull the XML down from that site and display a nicely formatted summary of the changes. When you use an RSS feed, it is called subscribing.
So, who uses RSS? Almost all forums and blogs offer this service. So, now we know how RSS works, how can we use it? Enter...
I use Google's RSS monitoring tool. It's called iGoogle and it's VERY easy to use. You can find guides on how to use it HERE. iGoogle is not the only game in town for reading and monitoring RSS information. Most browsers have a reader built into them but I prefer iGoogle because of it's ease of use and the ability to customize it. But, before you settle on iGoogle, I highly encourage you to look at all of your options to find one that best meets your needs. Wikipedia has a comparison article on a bunch of readers HERE.
The number of sites that cover filmmaking is huge. iGoogle allows me to see what sites have updates and what the topic is that was updated. I have divided my iGoogle into about 13 pages and each page corresponds to a particular area of interest for me. I have one for stocks and finance, one for music, one for filmmaking and so on.
Then, on each of these pages, I have added what Google calls a gadget. Each gadget is just an RSS feed for a particular web site. Here is a screenshot of my iGoogle page that I have setup for filmmaking:
Each of the items on the page are customizable and I added them by clicking on the add gadget button at the upper left. When you click that you will see a bunch of gadgets that Google is recommending for you. On the left pane of that screen are links that will narrow the suggestions and below that is the link that I use to add a new feed (or gadget). Clicking this will give you a popup so that you can put the URL in of the site that you are interested in.
Once you have added whatever sites you want (iGoogle will complain if it cannot find an RSS feed at the URL that you enter and disallow the creation of the gadget), click the link on the left panel at the top that says "Back to iGoogle".
You can then set how many lines of updates the gadget will display (up to 9 each) as well as drag and drop to arrange the gadgets on the page. I do this arrangement process to ensure the sites of greatest interest and activity are at the top of the page.
So, how do you know if the sites you are interested it offer RSS? Many sites will sport the RSS logo like this:
You can right click that logo and copy the URL associated to it and add it as a gadget. If you do not see the logo on the blog or forum or whatever, you can still try to add the site by just pasting in the URL when you add a gadget. If the site has RSS, iGoogle will tell you that it has added it. Otherwise it will complain that there is no RSS found at that URL.
If you find a site that you think should have RSS but appears to be lacking it, email the site owner or webmaster and ask them. The link for it may be on another page or what have you and the webmaster should be able to point you in the right direction.
And, finally, iGoogle will let you export your pages so that you can share them with other users of iGoogle. As such, I am happy to offer my Filmmaking RSS page to anyone that would like it. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will zip up my page so that you can import it to your iGoogle account and adjust as you see fit.
Thanks for reading this!