The invention of the Web browser added pictures to the Internet, but all those images still haven't made reading online a pleasant experience. If you're someone who uses the Web as your main source of news, you probably have 60 bookmarks that you never use, or you open 30 browser windows simultaneously to keep track of the articles you want to read-but you never get around to all of them. Never mind the killjoy, even on a fast connection, of waiting for some Web pages to load. Surfing within one well-designed site isn't so bad, but when you hop from site to site, there's nothing that replicates the appeal of scanning your local magazine rack or that pile of magazines splayed across your desk.
But there's a way to keep track of the IT Reselle Portal the New York Times, the BBC and CNN - most major newspapers and nearly all blogs-in a lightweight, speed-readable format that lets you scan dozens, even hundreds, of fresh headlines a day without the time-wasting tedium of opening one Web site after another. All you need to do is download and install an RSS reader, which is no harder than installing Netscape's browser was in 1994. You can then scroll through cleanly organized headlines and story summaries. The result is an executive summary of what's new on the Net today. When you see a story you want to read, you click on it.
RSS ("Really Simple Syndication" or "Rich Site Summary," depending on whom you ask) has three distinct advantages over Web browsing and e-mail, the two most popular ways to read news online. First, no ads or graphics clutter the headlines and article summaries. True, most news sites make you click through to the full Web page to read the whole story, but scanning an RSS reader is still more efficient than looking at, say, the front page of the BBC. And bloggers, who don't depend on ads for survival, usually stuff their entire posts into RSS.
Second, an RSS reader automatically updates itself with the latest items from the sites you tell it to watch, so it's always fresh. You don't have to hop from site to site, or constantly click "refresh," to know what's been published by the sites you frequent most. Lastly, you can include customized RSS "feeds" that cull material from multiple news sources into a single data stream.
How do you get started? The first step is to install an RSS reader (also known, somewhat clumsily, as an "RSS aggregator"). For PC users, my techie friends recommend RSSReader. It's free....
Once you've installed a reader, go back to your browser and open your favorite site. Most sites have a link that says "RSS" or an orange button that says "XML." Some sites have multiple links, one for each section of the publication. IT Reseller's RSS feeds can be found here. Choose and click on the feed you require from the list, cut and paste these URLs into your reader to read the site in RSS. Sorry, there's no one-click or "click here" method for this yet. After a few seconds, a list of headlines should appear. Click on SharpReader's "Subscribe" button if you want to add the feed to your reading list.
Most RSS programs have a Preferences option that lets you tell the program how often to check sites for updates. Once you've subscribed to a feed, SharpReader will update it every hour. You can fiddle with the Preferences menu to speed that up to as little as 15 minutes.
For advanced info junkies, there are more extreme ways to dose yourself. Feedster searches the content of thousands of RSS feeds and returns the newest posts first. It's sort of the Google News for RSS, but you can find stuff posted an hour ago that won't show up on Google for days. NewsGator is a program that works with Microsoft Outlook so you can sync incoming news and blogs to your PDA.
No need to begin by going off the deep end, though. Start with SharpReader, cut and paste the RSS links from five or 10 of your favorite sites, and you'll instantly be rewarded with faster, less frustrating Net reading.