Visit all your favourite websites in a fraction of the time… (RSS)

Keeping up to date is important to me, and because of this, I have a number websites which I try read every day. Pretty soon however, I ran into the “So many websites, so little time” problem (which plagues every web user sometime or another).

What RSS (Really Simple Syndication) technology allowed me to do was to see what’s on all my favourite websites from a central location, instead of visiting each website individually.

In the example pictured below, I can see the updated stories on four websites at a single glance.

Because my favourite websites were coming to me, instead of me going to them:

I was spending time reading articles I want, rather than spending time finding the articles to read.

Which sites can this work with?

Most of the major websites are RSS friendly (CNN, BBC, WSJ, Wired, Fortune, Forbes, NYT etc.) – even this website has RSS feeds!

How do I subscribe to a feed?

I will quickly go through 4 methods from easiest to most difficult.

Method #1: Live Bookmarks (Requires Firefox Browser)

If you’re using Firefox, you will see this orange symbol on the top of your screen, when you visit an RSS compatible site. Click on the button to subscribe via Liveboomarks (built into Firefox).

Method #2: RSS Reader Chicklets

On some websites you may see a number of mini banners called chicklets.

Once you have signed up for an RSS reader, click on the relevant chicklet to subscribe to the website. While this one click solution is easy, not every site supports them.

Method #3: Copy and Paste the RSS Address

This is the original, failsafe method but takes the most number of steps to accomplish. Look out for just a text link saying RSS, on a webpage.

Just right click the icon, copy the link location, and just paste it into your RSS reader where it says something like “Add feed address”.

RSS Reader Recommendations

It’s hard to recommend any single RSS reader because it all depends on what kind of user you are. In any case, if you just want to try out something quickly, I recommend Microsoft or Google IG

I have picked six of the RSS readers I’ve had good experiences with, and I have prepared a quick web-based sheet which should help you decide.

Of course this is just a quick overall evaluation model, and there are other factors that you may want to consider. Livebookmarks for example, resides on your PC browser. Most of the other pages described here, resides in the Internet, where you can have access to your feeds from any computer. Some readers check web-based email (Yahoo, MSN, Google) . Some will provide US stock quotes, weather, etc. Take a look around.

All things considered…

What is described here is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what RSS can do, and I will cover more in a later post. Give RSS a try, and you will change the way you use the Internet forever.

This writer is currently using Netvibes.

Update: April 19th 2011. This writer has since switched to Google Reader. It’s amazing back-end integration with many mobile apps make it in-disposable!

A better way to search your documents and email (Desktop Search)

Search tools in Windows and Outlook have always been suboptimal to say the least. It always bugged me that I was able to search billions of web-pages in seconds, but had to wait considerably longer if I wanted to find something on my PC.

That changed about a year back when I first discovered “desktop search tools”.

Just enter a keyword or phrase, and Desktop Search would instantly retrieve any relevant email or files. In fact, searching my hard disk is now even faster than searching the web… a sharp contrast to the clunky search functions built into Windows and Outlook.

When would I use it?

Aside from finding past emails and misplaced files, I have found it especially useful when I need to organise information.

For example, if I need supporting material for a client satisfaction survey. I just type in “client satisfaction”… and all the presentations, spreadsheets, email, and word documents where my client’s name appears will be retrieved for me. (I can of course filter them by document type).

Why is it faster?

Imagine flipping through an entire book to find what you want (which is what your computer does by default) then imagine how much time you’d save just by referring to the index.

What Desktop search does, is it indexes your email and files so your computer can refer to it and find information faster. Searches that used to take minutes, now take less than one second. Save a few minutes here, a few minutes there… it all really adds up.

Which desktop search tool should I use?

I’ve tried Google, Windows Desktop Search, and Yahoo Desktop Search tools, but Yahoo really stood out to me in terms of terms of ease of use, power, and flexibility.

*Update* : Yahoo no longer offers this service. Do try the the other free services or X1 which is a paid software but worth every cent

Go ahead, give desktop search a try, and take the information on your PC to the next level.