Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Why Blogs are not as Lame as they Sound

I’ll never forget the first time I heard the term blog. How lame. An online journal of some sort? Nerds pouring out their feelings and daily activities to strangers on the web; not my scene. I truly didn’t get it, and didn’t spend any time investigating why I would be interested in blogs.

That must have been some time around 2003. About a year later I was reading the newsgroup of a company we work closely with and was shocked to see one of the engineers mention an upcoming change that was going to require quite a bit of work on my part in order for Advantage to be compliant. I jumped into the conversation and it went something like this:

“How can you be changing this and you didn’t tell your partners until just now? No e-mail, no communication of any sort? This is ridiculous.”

“I’ve been talking about this change in my blog for months”, was the reply.

“I’m very busy. I don’t have time to go and check the blog or website of every vendor I interact with, that would be a full time job in and of itself.”

“Use an RSS reader”

This is where I had to stop and do some research. I knew syndication was a popular way to get various news items to web portals, but I had no idea what an RSS reader or an RSS aggregator was.

Of course, I would find out an RSS reader is the cornerstone to what makes blogs tick, and actually downright addictive. The technical blogs I now subscribe to via RSS feeds are my number one source of technical information. With printed magazines going the way of the buffalo, technical blogs are an excellent way to learn new technologies, stay up to date with companies and products you are interested in and discover tips and tricks you would otherwise never be exposed to. RSS feeds are not limited to blogs either. Practically any published content can benefit from having an RSS feed, and tons of web sites provide feeds for news content, updates to their downloads sections, etc.

If you already use an RSS reader, this post is of little interest. I wouldn’t be writing it except for the fact that I run into so many people that still don’t have a reader set up, and are completely missing out on what I think is an amazing wealth of knowledge and something that truly helps developers be more productive.

In fact, I wouldn’t have started my own blob if not for the fact that I have learned so much from others that I feel the need to try to contribute and start that same sort of knowledge sharing in the domain I work in and with the community I interface with (that’s you, whoever you are).

If you are new to technical blogs and don’t know where to start it is relatively easy. You subscribe to one or two feeds that interest you, and eventually those authors will reference someone who interests them. You follow that link and subscribe to the referenced author for a while and see if you like his/her posts. If so, you stay subscribed and eventually that referenced author will reference someone else. Rinse, lather, and repeat. Soon you will be monitoring 100 feeds, but the beauty is you will spend no time whatsoever hunting for content, it will all be brought to you and presented only when there are new items to read. Brilliant.

There are a ton of readers to choose from. I use Google Reader because I like to view my feeds from home, from work, and from my phone. I’ve used Omea Reader in the past, and many on my team use RSS Bandit. A web search for “RSS Reader” should turn up lots of choices.

In the future I’ll post a few of my favorite feeds to get you started.


TJ said...

Consider FeedDemon. It's free, and there is a free online service from NewsGator that works with it, keeping things in sync. Pretty awesome, and it's written in Delphi.

J.D. Mullin said...
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