Tuesday, February 8, 2011

RSS Feeds = EZ Reading

By riekhavoc (license)
About a year ago, I made a commitment to myself to spend more time on professional reading. At first, this seemed like a daunting idea. Sure, I had stacks of unread journals and books in the office, but reading them every day was out—I have to close the office door and set aside chunks of time that I don’t always have in order to really focus on that kind of material. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that internet reading was the way to go—I could go online to get short articles to peruse between advising appointments, maybe grab the odd podcast between meetings. But where would I find these things, and how could I figure out how to spend less time searching the internet, wading through junk to find the things I really wanted to read so I could spend more time actually reading? How could I avoid subscribing by email to lots of websites without bogging down my inbox? RSS!

RSS (really simple syndication) is a feature built into many websites. Basically, RSS feeds are like the ticker across the bottom of your favorite news program, pushing little notes out whenever the website is updated. As long as you can catch those notes somehow, you can know when a site has something new on it without having to actually go to every site you want to monitor. Now, I’m notorious for bookmarking websites I want to monitor and either promptly forgetting about them or checking them obsessively even when there’s nothing new to see, so I knew I’d need some help with this.

That’s where feed readers came in. RSS feed readers monitor websites for updates. There are plenty of options out there (feedly, FeedDemon, there’s even an RSS option in Outlook), but I chose to start with Google Reader (Google Reader in Plain English) because, honestly, I was already using Gmail and GoogleDocs (more on that in a couple weeks), and I liked the familiarity of it. And since it’s the one I’m still the most comfortable with, and probably the most popular RSS feed reader, it’s the one we’re going to practice with today. Ready?

Create your Google account
Step 1:
Go to www.google.com/reader
Step 2: Login if you already have a Google account. If not, go ahead and create one-it’s easy and you’ll have other opportunities to use your new Google account during upcoming Tuesday Tech Talks. Google accounts are used to access Google services. You can create your Google account using any email address, but it’s usually a good idea to use a Gmail account if you have one. Don’t worry-creating this Google account won’t give you another email address!

Set up your Google Reader account
Once you have your account set up, it’s time to start adding the websites you want to monitor to your feed. There are two ways to do this. Let’s start with the easy way, which works for any webpage that has the RSS symbol on it (You know that orange square with the three little lines that you’ve wondered about? That’s the one!)
Step 1. Open the NACADA Region 2 blog in a new window.
Step 2: Click on the little arrow next to “Posts” under RSS on the left side menu.
Step 3: Select “Add to Google”.
Step 4: Choose “Add to Google Reader”, log in, and presto! You’re following this blog, and anytime you log into Google Reader, you’ll be able to see if the blog has been updated. Anything in bold is something new for you to read.

Now, that was the easy way. Sometimes, however, website designers aren’t very good about putting the RSS symbol in a place that’s easy to find. Luckily, you can also subscribe to follow a webpage directly from Google Reader. Here’s how:
Step 1: Head back over to your Google Reader page (log back in if you need to) and click the “Add a subscription” button in the top left corner.
Step 2: Type inside higher ed in the search box and click “Add”. Now Google will search for any RSS feed that uses those keywords.
Step 3: Click the “Subscribe” button under Home-Inside Higher Ed et voila! You’re now subscribed to Inside Higher Ed.

Now Google Reader will check both the NACADA Region 2 blog and Inside Higher Ed for you, 24-hours a day. This means you just have to go to one page, instead of 2, whenever you want to see what’s new with either page. Add more sites and Google Reader will be even more of a bargain. I log in about once a day, scroll through the feeds from 13 sites, pick a couple posts to check out and maybe read fully, and I have guaranteed professional reading that fits into even the busiest day! I deleted those 13 sites from my browser bookmark list and no longer grumble about missing an article posted online because I checked the site too early or too late in the day.


  1. RSS is definitely a useful tool for academic advisors to check out & start using if they are not already. Great choice!

    It sounds very similar to a blog post by Eric Stoller back in Spring of 2010 "Student Affairs + Jobs + RSS + Email" http://ericstoller.com/blog/2010/05/23/student-affairs-jobs-rss-email/
    Don't forget to cross-tag him if you're borrowing some ideas - I'm sure he wouldn't mind. :)

  2. Thanks techknowtools-I haven't read Eric's post, but I'll definitely check it out!