A few readers wrote in asking about the RSS feeds for the site. Some wondered why clicking on the links just brought up a page of gibberish, or asked for recommendations about which applications worked best with them.
Although the addresses look the same (starting with the ‘http://’), RSS and Atom aren’t web pages like you traditionally think of them. Rather, they’re feeds. Think of them like magazine subscriptions. You subscribe to National Geographic, and every month you get an issue. RSS works the same way, except that rather than getting a whole “issue,” you get each article as soon as it’s posted. This means that rather than having to visit johnaugust.com every day to see if there’s anything new, you can sit back and let the articles come to you.
Clicking on the image to the left should probably make this a little more clear. This is a screenshot from the newsreader program I use, NetNewsWire. In the left-hand column, you see my subscriptions. (Subscriptions, by the way, are almost always free.)
Right now, the one highlighted is “ja with comments.” In the center column you see the titles for 15 most recent entries in the ‘ja with comments’ feed. Clicking on any one of these headlines brings up the text for that entry.
As you can see, I use a completely separate program to handle my RSS feeds. That’s because most browsers like Internet Explorer and Firefox aren’t set up to handle them well, although the forthcoming version of Safari is supposed to use them extensively. Also, notice that the RSS feed is pretty basic, with no fancy formatting or graphics. It’s just the content, none of the bells and whistles. This is part of what makes it so fast.
Why would you want to subscribe to a site, rather than just visit it? In a word, efficiency. I’m sure every reader out there has sites sitting in his bookmarks that he only visits every once in a while. Sure, you could stop by every day, but what if there’s nothing new? As you can you can see in the screenshot, I’m subscribed to 54 feeds. There’s no way I could or would visit those 54 sites every day, but with RSS, I’m getting the same information I would if I did.
Hopefully, readers will be able to recommend good newsreaders for Windows or Linux.