I first discovered RSS feeds about 4 years ago when I was recommending an online comic I had discovered to one of our tech folks at the library. I was looking for library-related cartoons for a PowerPoint presentation and stumbled across a fun and quirky daily cartoon about a library called Unshelved. It spread like wildfire through my branch, with several of the staff going back and making our way through three years of archives to get caught up on the misadventures of the Mallville Public Library staff. After shooting the ones that we found especially funny back and forth by e-mail for a while, I thought it would be cool to share it on our staff intranet, so I sent the information off to the person in charge of the intranet. She responded saying that it looked like we’d be able to embed the RSS feed into the intranet. I had no idea what that meant, so I poked around. Turns out RSS is a Really Simple way to Syndicate new information from a website. That is, whenever you add something new, anyone who’s watching the feed will see it.
I didn’t think much more about RSS until I upgraded to Firefox a couple years later. I had been following several of my friends’ blogs just by bookmarking them, but with Firefox I was able to use live bookmarks to put the RSS feeds in my browser toolbar. Now I could see when they updated their blogs just by clicking on the live bookmark.
This made things a lot easier, but now that I had a way to view RSS feeds, I started adding more and more. I poked around a bit on Technorati and some of the other feed search engines, but most of my feeds just came to me as I stumbled across sites that I liked. Before long my live bookmarks overflowed the toolbar and went clear down the screen when I expanded the toolbar. Suffice it to say, I was back where I started. It was too difficult to keep track of everything I wanted to read.
I had tried Bloglines once before I discovered the live bookmarks. For some reason it never clicked with me. I’ve been thinking about why since then, and I think that it’s just got more bells and whistles than I really need. I want my feed reader to be dirt simple. Tell me what’s new and what I have and haven’t read, and give me a simple way to flag the articles I especially like. Google Reader finally gave me what I was looking for. Now I’ve got an absolutely absurd number of feeds in my Google Reader, but at least with the organization it provides I can skip ones that are less important, and skim over my unread articles very easily.
At some point in this process, I realized what the feed reader was doing for me. Essentially, it was allowing me to create my own newspaper. I could include the news, commentary, sports, and humor that I wanted to see. This was especially important for me since I’m not a huge fan of the local paper or most major media outlets, and I am a huge fan of a certain northeastern baseball team and a sport that’s barely covered in the United States. All this means that it’s very hard for me to get the news I want from traditional outlets. With a feed reader I can build my own “newspaper” and keep on top of the things that interest me. That sort of customization is the huge advantage that the Internet has given us, and technologies like RSS make it easier than ever to get to that level of detail in what we want to read.
So even though I abandoned my Bloglines account, for the sake of this exercise I went in and updated it with a selection of the feeds from my Google Reader. So if any of you are interested in what a progressive New Hampshire ex-pat cyclist living in Ohio wants to read, here’s my public feed. Enjoy!