If you are like me you want to keep track of what various Web sites are posting about your field, your competition, and just general technology news that is specific to your business. As the number of online sources for information continues to spiral upwards – one place quotes more than 20 million Americans post at least weekly to their blogs – you want to have an organized plan of attack so you aren’t buried in data. And as you can imagine there are dozens of different Web-based services that you can use to filter and organize things.
One of the more overlooked technologies of the Web era is RSS, which stands for real simple syndication. It is the ability to collect items that have recently changed on Web sites, to make it easier to track news, price changes, and other time-sensitive data.
RSS lies at the heart of many social media innovations such as blogging and podcasts, and it is ideal for when you find yourself browsing through the same sequence of Web sites every morning as part of your daily ritual to keep up with the world
There are numerous Web sites that allow you to create your own custom RSS consolidators. I will mention some of them here and show you why I like each of them better than managing browser bookmarks or “favorites.” All are free and just require a browser to get setup.
The site that I use the most is bloglines.com. Here you can easily add a new RSS feed, and keep track of which articles you have already read, or save one to come back for future reference. You have control over whether you want the feed to be newest posts first or last, and display summaries or the entire post. There is not much control over the look and feel of the overall reader page itself, which is fine by me. You can also make your selections public so that others can see what you think are important.
But Bloglines is really good at just reading RSS feeds. If you want to do more than that, you have to look at other solutions, and the one that I recommend you start with is Pageflakes. You can see my personal page here. Pageflakes has several thousand widgets–which they call flakes–that connect to various news and information sources, along with box.net online storage, Facebook, podcasts, YouTube videos, and Twitter feeds. The issue here is that there are almost too many things to choose from. You start off with a three-column display although you can customize it to one or two columns and there are dozens of “themes” or page templates that you can choose from too.
Another service that offers something similar is Netvibes, and here you can see my personal page for this service. It has fewer widgets and overall they seemed a bit less polished and had some problems when I tried to set things up with Mac Safari. And two services from Google, iGoogle and Google Reader, are other alternatives that aren’t as useful as the services I have already mentioned, although some people like either or both of them.
Finally, there is a new service that has a combination of Web portal, links to your social networks on Facebook and LinkedIn, and collects RSS feeds from your favorite blogs called Chi.mp. The service gives you a free domain in the .mp space and within a few minutes you can have a pretty attractive Web portal too. You can see my customized page here.
I am sure that there are dozens of other sites that intersect with the services that I mentioned, feel free to send me comments on your favorites for keeping track.
David Strom is a former editor-in-chief of Network Computing, Tom’s Hardware.com, and DigitalLanding.com and an independent network consultant, blogger, podcaster and professional speaker based in St. Louis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.