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How to use Bloglines

Can you explain again, please, what an RSS feed is?
As I explained here before ( Web, 20 January), an RSS feed from a website tells you when that site has published new content. This can save you a great deal of time: you don't need to keep visiting websites every day or every week to see if they have changed.

But you can't easily read RSS with the naked eye. It is designed for computers, not humans, to read. Therefore you need to use some software designed for that purpose, called an RSS reader.

Do I need to install any new software on my computer to do this?
No. I have written about how to read RSS within Firefox, but there are easier ways to do so, still using only your web browser. Several RSS reader services are available that involve no software installation. You simply use the web browser you already have (even Internet Explorer if you have nothing else). Two popular ones are My Yahoo ( my.yahoo.com) and Google Reader ( www.google.com/reader ).

Much easier to use are either NewsGator Online ( www.newsgator.co.uk/ngs ) or my favourite RSS reader, Bloglines ( www.bloglines.com). In each case, you have to set up an account at that service in order to use it, but they are entirely free of charge. (NewsGator also has some premium services for a fee.)

You then have to tell your chosen service to feed you websites you want to subscribe to. Each of the services offers lists to select from, and a search engine, so you don't even have to visit the target sites to set them up. And most services offer you a one-click link to add to your browser bar, making it easy to subscribe to the website you are currently viewing - see, for example, www.bloglines.com/help/easysub?tip=6.

On the one hand, you have to be online while using a service of this type, but, on the other hand, you can do it from any computer, anywhere in the world, as your account information is stored by the service, not on your computer; so there are pluses and minuses to this approach.

Is there a way to read feeds that someone else has already selected?
Yes. You can read, for example, www.bloglines.com/public/churchtimes. There you can see a selection of church-related (and a few other interesting) RSS feeds that I have set up. It includes (among many other things) all the links mentioned in last month's clergy-bloggers article, plus many more British clergy blogs that I have discovered since.

What has this got to do with blogs?
RSS is a general concept that applies across the board to many kinds of websites. Blogs, by their nature as online journals, are updated frequently, but often at irregular times. So RSS is particularly useful, and every blogger should consider providing a feed of some kind. Serious bloggers might also wish to provide a separate feed for the comments left by readers on their blog. See the bloglines feedsite mentioned above for some examples.

Simon Sarmiento is UK and Europe editor of Anglicans Online

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