More uses for your RSS Reader

The RSS LogoIn Consuming Media I mentioned that with very few exceptions the content I read on the web comes to me through my RSS reader.  I prefer Google Reader, but there are tons of other options.  In The Feeds I listed some of the blogs and news sites I subscribe to.  And in Hacking Media I started talking about changing the way you use your media, and making your media your media.  Today we bring is all together and focus in on some more creative uses for RSS.  I’ll be using some real examples from my feed reader.  At the end I’ll list some things I don’t do, but you might.  Or at least they might get you thinking about ways you can use RSS.  I’m just going to scratch the surface here.

Of course I use my feed reader to follow my wife’s blog, and some of my friends (Val, Klint, Jen, etc…)  I follow some columnists and professional bloggers (Cory Doctorow, Thomas Sowell, Freakonomics, etc…)  And I get the news (Slashdot, Graciemag.com, Wired, etc…)  But now lets looks at some other uses.

Vanity Searching (AKA Ego Surfing)
I have several Google Alerts set up for things like my name, my wife’s name, my company’s name, “Brazilian Jiu Jitsu”, “Submission Grappling” and things like that.  Each one has an RSS feed, which I subscribe to in Google Reader. I have them set up as Comprehensive searches which search the news, the web, and blogs.   I have an Alert that searches Google Video for “Brazilian Jiu Jitsu”.   I used to get these via email but I’ve converted all of them to RSS.

I have similar searches on Yahoo! and MSN Live or whatever it’s called this week. These are a little less sophisticated, IMO.  Just do the search and the results page has an RSS feed.

Find new music and podcasts
Apple has an RSS generator that allows you to track new content in the iTunes store.  You select what you want to track from 5 dropdown boxes (Music, Podcasts, Audiobook, etc) and it generates an RSS feed URL for you. Subscribe to that feed in your feed reader and they’ll let know when there’s something new matching your criteria.  I personally do not buy anything from the iTunes store, but this is still useful because it tells me when something new comes out.  If you use iTunes just follow the link in the feed and iTunes will launch and take you to that item. Alternatively, if you don’t hate freedom go someplace that doesn’t have DRM and buy the music there.  I have searches running for Science and Medicine Podcasts, Comedy Podcasts, and History Audiobooks.

Weather Advisories
I don’t exactly follow the weather, but it is nice to know if suddenly we’re going to get slammed with half a foot of snow.  I use these feeds to get weather advisories.  I don’t want daily reports, just the important stuff.
New Kent County, Virginia

Richmond, Virginia

Virginia Beach, Virginia

If you do want a regular weather feed they are available from The Weather Channel or Accuweather.

Shopping
Amazon has a system for for creating feeds for tags.  The system is awkward, but it works. For example, you can create a feed for any items newly tagged “blu-ray”.  You have to manually create the URL.

RSSAuction is a site that allows you to create feeds for  keywords, seller IDs, or item numbers on eBay.  It can also create feeds for keywords or item numbers (category and price restricted) on Buy.com, Half.com, and Books.com (B&N).  Buy.com also has a ton of feeds of their own by category.

Check your favorite shopping sites and look for the the orange RSS logo in your address bar, or check the footer for the words, “Subscribe”, “RSS”, or “XML”.

Craigslist
I follow two feeds on Craigslist –  Free Stuff in Richmond, VA & Motorcycles in Richmond, VA. Just go to any category on the site and there is a feed on the page.

Web Comics
I read xkcd through its feed, as well as The Chalkboard Manifesto. Most of your popular web comics will probably have RSS feeds.

Word of the Day
Parry: deflect a blow.  The Word of the Day today is lame.  I mean it’s parry, but that’s lame.

Job Searches
The best way I’ve found to search the jobs sites is with Indeed.  Just specify what you’re looking for and where, and it returns aggregated results from the major jobs sites.  The results page has an RSS feed.  You don’t need to create an account and you can create a whole bunch of feeds for different searches.

My favorite job search site, Dice, also has it’s own custom RSS feeds for searches.

Search Twitter
This is useful as a more focused vanity search.  There are tons of Twitter searching tools out there, but I’ll just talk about the one I use – Tweetscan.  I use pretty much all the same search phrases I covered above in the Vanity Searching section, but in this case I’m not searching the entire web, just the Twitter public time line.

Blog Searching
And speaking of more focused searching, there are also some good tools available for searching blogs.  The Google Alerts search blogs, but believe it or not, Google really doesn’t see everything.  Technorati and Blogpulse are both useful here. On Technorati just do a search from the home page then click on the Subscribe link for the RSS feed. Blogpulse works basically the same way, but instead of Subscribe and the orange RSS logo look for the XML logo.  I find it’s worth using both, especially if you’re doing searches for obscure topics.

Wikipedia
You can also track changes on Wikipedia, although it might not be immediately obvious.  Every page advertises an RSS feed (the RSS logo pops up in the address bar) but that is some sort of generic, site-wide change feed that I don’t know why anyone would want.  To track a specific article go the page you want to track and click on the history tab.  Follow that page in your RSS reader.  This is particularly useful if you’re involved in an edit war, or if your company has a page and you want to track what people are saying.  (So it seems the point of my blog entry today is that RSS is the single greatest ego surfing tool ever created.  That’s not what I set out to do.)

Movie Reviews
I’m generally not big on movie reviews (I’ll make my own decision) but I do tend to like Rotten Tomatoes.  They offer a bunch of different feeds, but I like Opening Movies feed.

Feed Blending
This is a cool trick that will become useful as you get more into RSS, especially if you’re using a crappy feed reader. Sites like rssmix and feedjumbler allow you to combine several feeds together in to one feed.  rssmix is very simple and easy to use.  feedjumbler is slightly more complicated, but also more useful.  As an example, let’s look at my weather advisories.  I subscribe to the following feeds to get the weather around where I live:
http://www.weather.gov/alerts/wwarssget.php?zone=VAZ083
http://www.weather.gov/alerts/wwarssget.php?zone=VAZ098
http://www.weather.gov/alerts/wwarssget.php?zone=VAZ076

I plugged those 3 feeds into rssmix and it returned this new feed: http://www.rssmix.com/u/99632/rss.xml.  Three for the price of one.

Some things I don’t do with RSS

  • Read Horoscopes
  • Get traffic reports
  • Follow travel deals on Travelocity or Expedia
  • Read the Bible
  • Track Flight delays
  • Follow Sports on Yahoo! or ESPN
  • Package tracking – I’m told that Fedex, UPS, and the others offer RSS package tracking. I’ve never tried it.
  • Track Forum Headlines – I don’t find this particularly useful, but most forums have an RSS feed that delivers new threads.  Since forums are interactive you need to go there anyway, and the forum’s own interfaces are typically better at managing that particular flow of information.  Also, a popular forum will flood your RSS reader.
  • Anything that requires authentication – I don’t subscribe to any RSS feed that requires your reader to sign in with a username and password because 1) Google Reader does do that and 2) I don’t know of any.
  • Audio and Video – this is better managed by a podcatcher like iTunes that is designed to play the content.
  • Youtube – You can follow a subscriber via RSS, but since I don’t particularly like watching video in the feed reader I don’t bother. I sign in to my YouTube account to check on the people I follow.
  • Social Bookmarking – Just as I was starting to get in to the social bookmarking thing they made some changes at delicious that locked me out of my account.  I don’t use it any more.  But if you do this could be useful. I believe you can follow individual users or tags via RSS.
  • Flickr allows you to follow another user’s photostream with RSS.

And this is just a healthy start.  Using your RSS reader in new and creative ways is an easy media hack that anyone can do.  Spend a few hours tweaking the settings in your favorite feed reader and you’ll get that time back 100 fold.  Each morning when you wake up the whole digital world should be neatly bundled together and ready for you to peruse.   Once you have all of your feeds set up export your subscriptions as an OPML file.  This will allow you to switch feed readers without having to do all the set up again.

As I’m reading my feeds I occasionally share items I find interesting.  You can view my share page, and of course it has a feed you can subscribe to.

Drop a comment to tell me how you’re using RSS feeds.

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