Tuesday, December 18, 2007

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Feeding Frenzy

Before I fast forward this week into RSS feeds, I need to backtrack to the last geek column on Microsoft Backup. I need to add the following bit of information as I’ve had quite a few readers telling me they cannot find Backup in their version of Windows.

The Backup utility is not included in the default installation of Windows XP Home Edition. The Backup icon is not present on the Start menu in Windows XP Home Edition, nor is Backup listed in Add Remove Programs for Windows XP Home edition. You need to dig up the Windows CD and double-click the Ntbackup.msi file in the following location on the Windows XP Home Edition CD-ROM to start a wizard that installs Backup:

If you don’t come right with that, I asked a guru which free backup software he recommends outside Microsoft. He recommends Cobian and here’s the link to download it :

On with the news, particularly seeing as the Witness has revamped not only it’s printed format, but totally upped its website. I noticed it now has a RSS feed. I bit the bullet and fed myself with all the information surrounding this buzzword.

RSS has been around for a good ten years, but once I started playing around with it, I got as hooked as I ever have over numerous geek gadgets I’ve investigated in the past. That is because I’m a self confessed news junkie. I crave knowing what’s happening in the world and spend at least an hour a day surfing the net for news.

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication and is mostly used for news and blog websites. If all the information you ever wanted to read was on one website, you could just keep that website open in your web browser and refresh it every now and then, to see new stories as they get added. But with diverse interests and blogs of friends you want to keep on top of, you end up surfing to several sites frequently. But if a website had a RSS feed (and not all do), the difference is that you could subscribe to this feed and see news in chronological order.

In its simplest form a RSS feed could be viewed and added to Favourites in Internet Explorer 7. If you open a website and the RSS icon in the toolbar goes from grey to orange, that website has a feed. You can access it by clicking on the down arrow next to the RSS icon and choosing the option. In the RSS feed page, you now have the option to subscribe to this feed, and it will put the link in your Favourites (click on the star), but under the Feed tab. A web feed in Internet Explorer looks like the head and shoulders of a number of news stories listed underneath each other. If you click on one, it opens up fully.

To get the full experience and to understand why feeds are so popular, you would need to get a feed reader. They are also known as
RSS readers, feed aggregators, news readers or search aggregators.

I asked someone in the know and he recommended RSS Bandit. It’s free from
http://downloads.sourceforge.net/rssbandit/RssBandit1.5.0.17.Installer.zip and the download clocks in at 8.4Mb. Subscribing to feeds is really only viable if you have a permanent internet connection, although you can use it with dial-up, but obviously if you wanted to expand a story or update the feeds, it will only do that when you’re online.

RSS Bandit looks and works very, very similarly to Outlook Express. It has the Outlook three-windows layout, which gets you orientated fast. A feed is not that unsimilar to an email, especially a newsletter type email which allows you to “click through” to the full story. I quickly came right.

A few blogs and news feeds are preloaded to give you an idea of how to organise your own “personal newspaper” as some refer to their feed reader as, and adding a new feed only requires you to know the web address where the feed is located. The subscription wizard will sniff out the rest. So, to add the Witness web feed, you would click on New (situated in the same place as New Email in Outlook Express) and when asked for a URL, you would put
www.witness.co.za . It will sniff out the feed and allow you to add it in a folder of your choice (i.e. The News folder). It will list the feeds it finds in date order and you will be able to keep abreast of stories as they break, without having to wait for tomorrows printed edition. I also added the feed from www.news24.com and East Coast Radio’s news watch blog by using this URL : http://blog.ecr.co.za/newswatch/

Each feed can be configured individually, for example how often should the feed be updated (default is every hour) and how old the feeds can get before they fall off.

Blogs of your friends can be easily added and save you having to surf to their blog to see if something new has been posted. If there’s a new post, you will see it like an unread email. For instance, to add Zephyr, a local band’s blog, put this in the URL
http://liam-zephyr.blogspot.com when clicking on the subscription wizard. Save it under Blogs and never miss their news. Or try find the Rama lady’s blog spot? Hahaha, just kidding, but a recipe blog would make the “What’s for dinner” decision easier, hmm? Mmmwhahaha, I will convert you yet, you will all be geek housewives! Go to http://www.google.co.za/blogsearch to find blogs of your liking.

Another way to describe feeds is that content is “pulled” by the subscriber, not “pushed” by email or other means. The subscriber can also easily unsubscribe to the feed. It leaves you feeling more in control.

But technology being ever on the move, feed readers now have pod casting capabilities which can automatically download media files, such as
MP3 recordings.

Web-based feed readers are making inroads, with the Google Reader (
reader.google.com) leading the way. Here the difference is that you can use any computer with Internet and surf to your Google feed reader and see the latest feeds you are interested in as it is customised using your Google username. I can see this catching on in South Africa as soon as “getting on the net” from just about any location becomes easy and affordable.

The Witness Geek can feed you more on this and other computer related issues. Email her on geek@witness.co.za

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