My Web 2.0

by Christopher Paul on July 29, 2006

I just realized that with all this Web 2.0 talk of late, that I don’t surf the web anymore. Yes, I visit websites from time to time but most of time on the Internet is not surfing. For me, I’ve taken technologies that make Web 2.0 what it is – Web 2.0 – and transformed it into the next net based experience. In effect, however, I’ve removed myself from the very sites these features are meant to support.

What changed my browsing habits is RSS. Most of us techies know that RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication (or Rich Site Summary – as I just learned). For those non-thechies, it’s a way for authors & publishers to deliver content without (necessarily) having people visit a site to do so. An RSS reader is employed to go to the site with the desired content for that person and fetch the latest story, post, weather forecast, or whatever automatically and periodically for the reader to scan at their leisure. These readers keep track of the read and unread messages and provide a way for the public to manage their data in different ways. RSS (and the related RDF) standards are already based off of XML (a standard itself) so its very easy to work around. After subscribing to a few RSS feeds, one can see how helpful it is to not only stay on top of the latest blog post but it also helps control and manage the information out there for the world to consume.

Before I found out about RSS, I would read maybe 5 or 6 sites regularly and each have a tab setup in Firefox for that website or blog. Soon, my list of sites ballooned to 12 and it was slowing down my computer whenever I would refresh the tabs. When I downloaded Thunderbird, I tried their built in RSS reader and found out what everyone else was talking about and, more importantly, why RSS was so helpful.

Within moments, I had subscribed to 50 feeds with fantastic ease. I downloaded the latest headlines and casually waited for new stories to come in. I subscribed to all types of sites with all sorts of topics – one of these days, I’ll take my favorites and add them to my Blogroll. Nevertheless, I read automotive blogs, computer/technology blogs (of all kinds – Mac, Linux, Windows, I don’t discriminate here), gossip, and news. I use RSS to get the latest weather forecasts and even keep track of my own information; I subscribe to my own Calendar RSS feeds so I’m notified of any changes my wife makes.

And those 50 feeds eventually became 75 and 100 and now over 130. I’ve organized them into different categories to help make reading easier with Technology, Lifehacks, and Lifestyle being my most read categories. Technology is self explanatory. Lifehacks are sites that offer tips on how to GTD, simplify your life, and offer a better mouse trap for those who need a cleaner existence. Lifestyle is where I put my automotive, TV, movie, and video game feeds.

How did I get all those feeds? Well, I used the traditional search and surf method to find a site which linked to sister sites of the same company or another site that carried the original scoop which they were citing. I’d look up that other site and subscribe to its RSS feed. And with that, I would find yet a few more sites to subscribe to. Now-a-days, I rarely find a site to subscribe to by the old Googling method; I think I did it once when I started looking up gossip blogs for, um, my wife… yeah…

Do I read every feed? No. Do I read every article? No. I scan the sites that interest me the most on a regular basis. But I will read the headlines and open only the articles I want to read and mark the others I don’t want read (after I’m done with the site) so I don’t get too many unread posts cluttering up my reader. When the other sites are not posting new things, I’ll read the other sites and, again, scan them for something interesting.

So before, I read MSNBC, WSJ, Engadget, LifeHacker, Autoblog, and TUAW in tabs on my desktop. Now I read their articles through my news reader. What news reader do I use? Bloglines. It’s a web based system that allows me to read all my feeds wherever I go. They offer a Java Script button for Firefox that makes subscribing to feeds easier than it ever was (and it was always really simple… pardon the pun). I’ve tried many different news readers for the PC and the Mac and Bloglines (although not pretty) is the best one for me and my many feeds.

I do miss the search and surf model of Web 1.0 and enjoy seeing the AJAX features of these 2.0 sites. But I can’t do it for long. I’m too frustrated with browsing, now, to spend the energy. I’m so glad that RSS came to exist. Its the best Web 2.0 technology and, I think, it will be hard for someone to top RSS in making the web what it is for me on my terms.

I’m always looking for new ways to use RSS, however. If you have any interesting uses, please let me know. and if you don’t use RSS, please let me know why as well. I am certainly not the most tech savvy and I could be missing out on a Web 3.0 technology that will make things even better.

Previous post:

Next post: