Some of the more net aware people probably know what a Feed Reader / Aggregator is but I know a lot of my friends that could really benefit from one, don't. So, I thought I'd post an example for them to see.
A Feed Reader / Aggregator is a program that takes an RSS feed, a file on a webserver with info about new articles, and presents them to you allowing you to see at a glance what has been updated on that site. This can save you a ton of time and allow you to keep up to date on your topic of choice.
To give you a concrete example I use Oddpost.com for mine. I originally signed up because it gives me access to my personal e−mail at work. I could do that through Yahoo or Hotmail or maybe GMail but Oddpost does a better job at that. Oddpost happened to support RSS News Feeds as well and having used them for the last 6 months I am throughtly addicted. Or better yet, they make it easier for me to keep up to date.
Here's an example of what my Oddpost window looks like:
You can see on the left I have a folder with a list of my RSS feeds. Some of these are sites I used to try to check manually, probably at least once a day, sometimes more. Others are sites I wanted to check but I would basically forget about them and only check maybe once every 1 − 3 months when I happened to remember.
Now, every morning I log into Oddpost and I instantly know which sites have new stuff. For example, looking above I can see there is nothing new on "Joel on Software" so I don't need to go check. There is something new at GameDev.net and so I clicked on it and you can see on the top right the headlines show up. This means that at a very quick glance I can tell if there is anything interesting I want to go read. If not I'm done, I don't even have to go to that site at all. Oddpost treats the headlines just like e−mail meaning they get marked as read if you have them selected for more than a few seconds or you can manually mark them as read or unread. You can also delete them which is what I usually do. Just select them all and it's clean for the next day.
If there one I'm interested in I click on it and as you can see on the bottom right above the excerpt from the feed gives me more info. That info is entirely dependant on the website. Some sites give only a link to the article, other sites include the entire article in the feed.
Oddpost has the option to just immediately follow the link and show you the page it links to. Here's an example:
You can see I have one article selected and it's showing up in the bottom pane.
I can't believe how much time this saves me. At a glance I can tell what sites have new content and at a glance I can decide based on their headlines if I want to read further. This makes checking my morning news much much faster than in the past and it allows me to handle much more news than before.
Of course it does take some amount of self control. When I first started I would leave the display as you see it above and all day long when I looked at that window I would see each site get new articles as they were posted. This would distract me and I'd go check out what the article was. My personal solution for that was to put all the feeds in a folder as you see above. As soon as I've looked at the feeds once for the day I collapse the folder so I can't see it anymore.
Anyway, while I like Oddpost it is a subscription service. I would really like it all to work inside Outlook (my personal choice for e−mail). There is a third party plugin that does this called NewsGator. I tried it almost a year ago. At the time I had some problems with it but lots of people seem to like it and it's been updated so that might be an option for those of you using Outlook. Outlook 2004 will most likely have these features built in. PC World also has a review of several other Feed Readers. If you are a busy person especially you should find one. It could really shorten the time it takes you to keep up on stuff.