Tuesday, July 17, 2007

RSS through Email

RSS has obviously not hit the 'big time' the way that email has, so many people are still unfamiliar with the benefits of using it. There are a number of metaphors out there to describe what RSS does, but the one that I like best is among the least imaginative: Creating RSS subscriptions is like directing a robot to visit your favorite websites for you and to let you know if there's any new information there. I say that this metaphor is 'unimaginative' only because it's awfully close to how it really works.

The 'robot' in this scenario is your RSS reader (aka 'aggregator'). You give it a list of addresses you care about, and it will keep tabs on them for you. It's a great tool.

But there are some caveats: For one thing, an RSS reader cannot make much sense of web pages that have been packaged for general human consumption. Instead, readers must be directed to parallel pages that have been formatted in a way the robot can make sense of. Not all websites offer such parallel pages, so you are dependent on the content providers. Furthermore, it can take a bit of practice to find the parallel pages and then to know what to do with the address once you've found it. Finally, you have to choose a reader and then get to know how it works, all of which can make subscribing to RSS seem like a big undertaking.

If you want to subscribe to updates on our new arrivals, you'll find the link just above the listing of results. You can go to the link and copy the address out of the browser's address bar, or you can copy the link by right/control-clicking and copying the 'link location' or 'shortcut'.

If you're completely new to RSS, you can take one of the novel technologies (the 'reader') out of the mix by using RssFwd to deliver RSS updates to your email. Just get the address for the feed, go to RssFwd, enter the feed address and the email address you want to send the updates to, and you can start getting RSS by email. You can choose to have the updates clustered into a single message so that you won't clutter up your inbox. If you're not going to subscribe to many feeds, this is an efficient alternative to using a dedicated RSS reader.

Don't for get about readers, though, in case you find yourself subscribing to lots of feeds. There are plenty of free readers out there, many of them web-based, which is awfully convenient. If you're looking for guidance, I can recommend the Google Reader.

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