Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Commentary: Using RSS and Search Engines

I have a love/hate relationship with the Web. Sure, it has all the information I could ever want. But then again, it has ALL the information I could ever want. Somehow having so much information is almost as bad as having no information at all. I recently did a Professional Development workshop on using search engines. This went beyond the Google ' Results 1 - 10 of about 114,000,000' response to the less is more approach employed by meta-search engines that allow Boolean Operators such as Clusty (http://www.clusty.com/) or Surfwax (http://www.surfwax.com/). Cha Cha (http://www.chacha.com/) even allows you to ask a real person for help. Of course, knowing how to use a search engine is as important as knowing what you are looking for. The advantage of these newer search engines is that they offer a lot of clues into how to search effectively. Those that deal with Blogs and Wikis (such as http://www.technorati.com/ or Del.icio.us http://www.del.icio.us.com/) show tags and keywords to help you refine your search or search for related aspects.

RSS (Real Simple Syndication) feeds also help you cut down on the clutter. First of all, you have to love technology that starts with the words 'real and simple'. If a Website that you like has one of the little orange boxes with RSS or XML on it, or gives an RSS address, you can get an RSS feed, or list of new articles and content (usually with just a title and short content description line) to decide if you want to learn more. You click on the little orange button or enter the RSS address, and you have a link to that feed. Then simply subscribe to that feed with your email address. The new content is automatically sent to you when it appears. For someone like me, who trolls the Internet incessantly searching for new and better sites, this allows me to know immediately when one of my favorite sites has been updated.

The process is simple. First you need an RSS reader program. Go into your favorite search engine, type in 'RSS Feeder' and try a few out. Once you have selected a reader, right click on the orange RSS button and choose 'Copy Shortcut' (or on a Mac, control-click and select 'Copy Link') . Open your reader, and select 'New Subscription'. Paste the link into the subscription box and press 'Enter'. (Sites such as Google and Yahoo! allow registered users to create custom home pages using feeds, which have your selected feed listed right on the home page. )

Now your reader gets to work by following that link and posting a list of new articles and content. If one of the articles interests you, simply click on the title and your Web browser opens the full article. You can subscribe (and unsubscribe) to as many sites as you wish.

To get a sense of how a feeder works, check out the 'Blogarithm' site at the bottom of this Blog. Type your email address into the box, and you will receive an email with the newest posts daily. If I am taking a break, you won't get a mailing until I post again. The RSS address for this Blog is : http://wccniuesl.blogspot.com/atom.xml. Start using the Web more effectively!

Also look in the right column of this Blog (it's a handy place) to find lists of recommended search engines, reading lists, other Blogs and Wikis I recommend, a translator to translate this page into another language etc. There's even a word of the day. It's a little gold mine of information.