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Computing with Bifocals - The Bifocals Guide to RSS
by - May 26th, 2006

What is an RSS Feed, why do I want one and why does everything have to be so dadgum complicated all the time?

For the uninitiated, dadgum is the Southerner's polite form of a word that one doesn't say in polite society.  It is the same kind of thing as preceding criticism with "bless her heart."  As in - "bless her heart, she doesn't have the sense God gave a goose."

But I digress...

I haven't quite figured out quite how my retirement has gotten to be so busy.  I'm getting less sleep than when I worked full time and I don't get paid for any of it!  I think it is all related to computers.  One way to combat this is to make use of RSS feeds.

RSS is a format for syndicating news and the content of news-like sites that provides summaries of web content together with links to the full versions of the content.  If I have an RSS feed from the New York Times it will deliver headlines and summaries of stories and articles to my desktop via my Web browser.  I open my feed software, review the article titles (and a two-line summary if included) and decide if I want to read the article.  If I do, I can click on a link that takes me directly to the article.  Obviously, this saves me lots of time.  The RSS feed also lets me know when my favorite sites have been updated.  I have mine set to check every 4 hours and then alert me to updates.

What Is It?

RSS is a family of Web feed formats, created in XML, used for web syndication.  The most common definition of RSS is "Really Simple Syndication"  If you are interested in a technical description of XML you can find one on Wikipedia at.

Who Offers It?

Everybody?  Well, most online publications do.  To find out if your favorite site does you just have to search for an RSS link.  Some publications offer more than one RSS link.  For instance, a newspaper may offer a generic link to their "front page" with another link that just covers sports articles.  I have an NPR link and an NPR Morning Edition link.  Sometimes an item will be listed in both links. 

There doesn't seem to be much consistency in how the RSS links are identified on a web page.  As an example here are the links as they appear for The Mac Observer, National Public Radio, and the New York Times.  You have to hunt.

The Mac Observer's RSS Link

New York Times's RSS Link

How Do I Get It And Is It Free?

You get it by installing an application that lets you access (subscribe to) the feeds and the applications come in all shapes and sizes, including free.  If you have installed OS X 10.4 (Tiger) you have a built-in RSS application that is called News and is listed on your Bookmarks Bar.  It comes with several major news sources built-in.  It couldn't be easier to use.  Just click and read.  You can subscribe to a new RSS feed simply by saving it like any other bookmark.

There are a number of standalone newsreaders available, too.  Some are very commercial and very expensive and designed for specific types of business use.  Others are for the generic user, but still charge a fee because they offer specific benefits to the user that makes his or her life easier.  Others still are free and are for the more casual user.  Almost any of them will require you to set up some kind of user account. Following is a short list of the ones that I know about.  You can investigate them and/or search for others on the Internet.

NetNewsWire.  NetNewsWire by Ranchero Software, is a Mac-specific newsreader.  It comes in a beta lite version, which is free and a regular version which is usually US$24.95, but which is currently on sale for U.S.$19.95 with a 30-day free trial version available.  NetNewsWire requires OS X 10.2 or greater and will run on Tiger.  Both the lite version and the regular version are available through VersionTracker, where they each have a rating of 5 out of 5 possible stars.

NewsMac Pro.  NewsMac Pro by ThinkMac Software, is also a Mac-specific newsreader.  It sells for $24.00.  I could not find any reference to a 30 day trial period for this application, but I did note that it received a 5 out of 5 rating on VersionTracker. NewsMac Pro requires OS X 10.3.9 or greater and will run on Tiger.  Some of the attributes offered by NewsMac Pro are probably beyond the needs of the beginner Mac user.

Vienna.  Vienna is a free RSS newsreader, though the author willingly accepts donations from anyone who uses it on a regular basis.  It requires OS X 10.3.9 or greater and will run on Tiger.  This application has a 4 out of 5 stars rating on Version Tracker.

Each of these applications will come with easy to install instructions and preferences that you can set.  Some things you may want to consider are:

  • Can you adjust the font size?
  • Can you direct the pages to in a specific place?
  • Can you direct how items are marked, how long they are kept, or how they are sorted?
  • Can you direct how frequently new items are downloaded?
I suggest you try a newsreader just to see if you like using one.  They are benign, yet helpful and give you new avenues to information on the Internet.  They can be very simple to install and use.  You can add and delete news sources any time you wish.  Any readers who want to recommend other reliable and simple to use readers are encouraged to do so in the comments section.  As always, your input is appreciated.

Copies of Nancy's book Tips, Hints, and Solutions for Seasoned Beginners Using Apple Macintosh Computers With OS X are available in PDF download versions  for US$9.57 and in print version for $18.15 plus $4.00 shipping.   To view sample pages and get ordering information visit the September 14, 2004 column.

Post your comments below.

Check out Nancy's complete index of all her columns for the most complete list of tips anywhere. The list is categorized and is a great reference when you are looking for help!

A Capacious Catalog Of Computer Tips

Talking to a generation that remembers what the world was like before there was color, covers issues for people who don't care how their computer works, but rather what their computer and the internet can do for them.

Nancy has a Master's degree in Human Services Administration and prior to her retirement she worked for almost 30 years in field of mental health and mental retardation. She has been a Mac user for 11 years, and has recently developed an avocation of teaching basic computer skills in both group and one-to-one settings.

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