Monday, January 23, 2006

Wanna Do A Line?

One of these days I'll get back to the business of writing rambling and meaningless blog posts again. I'm not short on inspiration; simply time. Lots of shit going down at the moment, and plenty of it is stuff I'll hopefully be writing about in the near future. In the meantime, trust me when I say things are simply nifty... really.

So, since I'm short on time these days I figured I'd write about something which has saved me lots of it. A few posts ago, I adjusted the font size (made it larger.... obviously) and mentioned that I'd explain why in an upcoming post. That time has finally arrived. I'm sure the suspense was overwhelming. Anyway, as many of you may have guessed by my Friday link posts, I am a rather prolific web surfer. Actually, prolific is the wrong word. So, come to think of it, is surfer. Let's start again.

As many of you may have guessed by my Friday link posts, I am a rather lethargic web addict. I think I've read the Internet. Much of it sucked. But there are a few sites that I visit regularly to get my daily dose of news, pop culture, music happenings, weather reports, etc.. In days of yore, this took ages. I've never been one to bookmark my sites because they quickly get out of control and because, frankly, I've never been good at organizing them. Too often, I'd bookmark an article telling myself I'd get back to it when I had more time to read it, and then forget about it entirely. Months later, it's still in there as a bookmark even though the link goes nowhere. So, each morning, I'd go through the ritual of checking the three sites that were easy to remember (,, and then spend the rest of the time trying to think of what other sites I like to visit and their accompanying URL's. If I couldn't remember, I'd have to go to Google and do a search. Not terribly inconvenient, but it occurred often enough that it started to get irritating. Plus, I'd spend a lot of time going back to the pages I could remember simply to see if any new content had been posted. Yawn to the third.

Enter Bloglines, a fantastic and free service which consolidates all my favorite sites on one page and keeps them far more organized than I could ever do myself. Essentially, Bloglines is nothing more than a glorified news reader....

"OK, I'll bite. What's a news reader?"

Very good question, Farmer Dan! Let's see... what's an awful metaphor I can use to explain this? A news reader (or RSS reader if you prefer the term) is a car radio with unlimited preset buttons. Further, most websites out there broadcast a signal (an RSS feed) which your news reader can tune into and assign a preset number - so you can go back to it whenever you like without having to remember the call letters or frequency and then fiddling around the dial to get to it. The only difference between how they operate? On a real radio, you're limited to one station at a time. On a news reader, you're able to see all your feeds simultaneously, and select which one to listen to (or read.) Bloglines takes this one step further by allowing you to organize your feeds in any manner you choose, plus it keeps track of which feeds you've visited and lists the feeds with new content in bold text. So, let's say for example, I subscribe to the feed (which I do) and I check the feed for stories on Monday morning. If I go back again on Wednesday and there is no new content on the site, Bloglines will give me nothing to read when I select it. But if there is, say, two new articles posted, Bloglines will list that feed in bold text with a (2) next to it indicating that there are two new articles that I haven't read. When I select that feed, both articles are right there and I can read them then. Further, if I like an article enough and I want to save it, I merely have to check the "Keep As New" box next to the article in question. It will be listed as new the next time I log in. So - not only is it a radio with unlimited presets. It's a radio that only plays the newest and most current songs released. If I would like it to play golden oldies however, I can do so by selecting the song and keeping it part of the repertoire. Lastly, the service is entirely web based, so not only is there nothing to install, but I can access it from any computer and it remembers my settings regardless of where I am. Now THAT'S swell.

Are there drawbacks? Of course. It's a little to quick to get rid of the information it gives you. Today I logged on and went to the ESPN feed, then without thinking clicked on the Salon feed before I was finished. When I went back to ESPN there was nothing listed because Bloglines had assumed I'd read all the new content. It's easy enough to get it back however. I just chose to have it list all the content on ESPN within the last 24 hours, but it's still kind of an annoyance to have to sift through it. Also, not all websites broadcast signals (publish feeds.) So there maybe some sites you like to visit, but because they don't publish an RSS feed, Bloglines can't add them to your list (By the way, you don't need to know the feed address in order to add it. Bloglines has a nifty search feature where you simply input the website in question and it will bring back the rss feed if it has one - the vast majority of them do.) Lastly, it doesn't include a lot of the stuff on the periphery of the site. For example, this blog has a sidebar which features links to other sites, as well as links to downloadable music files and such. Bloglines doesn't include that information. It will only show you the content of the new posts. So if you want to see if I've written anything new and read it, Bloglines is awesome. If you want to download the available MP3 file or search for a particular post, you're better off going to the site itself. Lastly, everything is kind of uniform. A site's design is not copied over along with the articles or posts, and it modifies the text a little. This is why I adjusted the font size. When I was writing in small text, Bloglines made it look miniscule. I'm sure the whopping 3 people who subscribe to the feed were pissed.

All of this is very confusing, I know, and half of the people who started reading this post have surfed elsewhere by this point. However, I wouldn't make you suffer through all of this and not provide an example of what I was talking about. That would just be cruel. So, in an effort to give you guys a better understanding, I've made my list of feeds public. This way you can see the layout, get a good idea of what web feeds you can subscribe too, etc.. You can also delve into my warped little mind and see what types of things make me tick (notice the huge amount of feeds in the Music folder. No, I don't read all of them all the time. And sorry about the Netflix queue. For whatever reason, it lists only some of the movies in my queue - not all - and it lists them in no particular order. I can't figure it out.) Special thank you's go out to my friends Chris & Sean who not only turned me on to the service, but also allowed me to wantonly steal feeds off their own public lists and add them to my own. So - here you go:

Eric's Public Bloglines Page

(Note: Because this is my public feed and not your own subscription, it won't show you only the new content. It will merely display everything in each feed that was posted within a certain time frame. Secondly, the feeds don't come all alphabetized and sorted into appropriate folders automatically. I did that myself when I originally set up the account. It makes it much easier to use if you keep it somewhat organized, but there's certainly nothing wrong with just subscribing to a bunch of feeds and then using the hunt and peck approach.)

So..... there is the long answer to a question that you never really asked. However, I know enough of you are obsessive enough web surfers that you may appreciate this gem of a web application. If any of you are using Google Reader or use the incorporated news reader through Safari, I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on how they compare. I've never used them meself. And for those of you who don't care and were hoping to read more about my exploits with swear words and tarot cards? Well, look at the feed and make up your own blog entry... or whatever.... Later folks. See you in a bit.


Blogger Sean said...

Nice explanation of readers and feeds. If you incorporate your mp3 links into posts themselves (which i think you've done before?), then the readers should pick them up.

Also, you could play around with a service like FeedBurner. That's how i publish my feed now. They have an additional feature to set up some kind of media enclosure so it gives a little more visibility to the feed when it detects an mp3 file (or any kind of externally linked file).

I don't know much about it. Still playing around, but thought I'd send along the info in case you're interested.

In other news, I created my own iTunes sig file. Crazy. I'll post it on my site in the near future. Ta!

2:28 PM  

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