internet

The Great Thing About Newsfeeds

Posted on 2010/10/31. Filed under: Computing General, internet, Linux General, RSS |

I am a news junkie.  It can be almost any kind of news. It does not matter, so long as it is newsworthy. I read news about politics, religion, technology, science, the environment, photography, society, and more. From all around the world. As a consequence, my head is stuffed with useless information.

I know more about the Simpsons than many devotees, yet have never watched a single episode, or much other TV for that matter. (I know it is sad, even pitiful, to live without such high class entertainment, but I do not like commercial TV. At all. It isn’t TV that I detest, but commercials and commercialism.) I know that Mariah Carey is pregnant and suffers from morning sickness, poor girl, courtesy of this morning’s news. And that Katie Perry married Russell Brand in a Hindu ceremony.

I care about none of this, but for every one such bit of useless information, I get hundreds of really good and unique bits, such as how to create stunning vector graphics effects with Inkscape, or to learn what no good Oracle is now up to, things that mean nothing to ordinary people, but which I care about.

That is the great thing about news feeds. You can be a geek, but seem like a normal person when you can discuss politics, banter trivialities, or talk about really serious things, like why Microsoft is spreading FUD about OpenOffice.org. Next time some normal person goes on about Taylor Swift’s love life, you can commiserate and sound sensitive and caring. You can reply: Yes, poor girl. Did you see that she dodged Ellen’s questions about Jake Gyllenhaal? I can understand that after the way Joe Jonas and John Mayer treated her without having to actually listen to Taylor Swift, the Jonas Brothers, John Mayer or know who Jake Gyllenhaal is. Bonus! That’s the beauty of news feeds. You stay on top of things, but don’t have to actually care about anything in particular. It is instant character building. We can stay shallow but appear wise and understanding.

I could spend hours reading newspapers online and opening various bookmarked sites. I used to do it that way. For years. Now, thanks to newsfeeds I get what I want delivered to my desktop. It is always current. It is always relevant to me. The best thing of all is that it is centralised. I go to my news reader and it downloads the feeds as they become available, in real time.

Newsfeeds save me lots of time. I can therefore do more with my time. So the first benefit to me is it makes me more efficient. Some would say, that it is a waste of time, but that misses the point. I would still be me and get the news from another source which would be even more time consuming.

The second thing that I like is that they give me more control. I choose the feeds and I can unsubscribe at any time without having to send excuses or worry about getting unsolicited emails. If I relied on something like Yahoo or Google portals then I would get whatever they choose to put on that page. Newsfeeds allow me to pick and choose what I want.

I also get news by email which is what I did in the past. But that way, if I unsubscribe, they still know my email address and can send me emails to plague me or even sell my address to someone who is even worse. Also, if you have ever unsubscribed, then you will often be forced to give a reason, what have we done to displease you or how could we make our service better, that sort of thing. In the worst case, you will be subjected to a bunch of advertisements before, after or during the unsubscription process, in one last effort to get something from you.

The third thing that is great is that you can group feeds and only read what is most important or by theme. I can put all my feeds for China in one group for example and if I don’t want to read Chinese news that day, then I can just mark it all read with one click. I could also group things by interest and have all of my photography feeds in one group. Since there are fewer of them and they are not as time sensitive, I can let them slide for awhile till the feed count gets to a couple hundred or so and then go on a reading spree.

The fourth great thing about news feeds is that most news is propaganda. Pure and simple. They tell you what they want you to hear, use words that get you worked up or pacify you as is their intent, and more importantly they do not cover what they do not want you to know. Propaganda by exclusion.

By comparing multiple sources you have a better idea of what is really happening in the world and have a tiny chance of escaping without being brainwashed. I say tiny because most people do not think critically about things they read and hear anyway. I saw it on CNN so it must be true! Wow, you must be really informed!

Most people just don’t get it. Fox is selling entertainment and nothing else. Frank Zappa said that government is the entertainment division of the military industrial complex, but Fox News and just about all TV news, is the entertainment division of global capitalism. They want to own you and so far they are doing a pretty good job of it. Even worse, we invite them into our living rooms and let our kids watch. Now you know why I hate commercial TV.

Finally, the best thing about news readers is that there is so much available that you can read just about any news from anywhere in the world on about just about any subject at any time of the day. For a news junkie that is important. We can’t have limits, can we?

News feeds are really easy to get. Many pages have an RSS icon and by clicking on it or copying it you can add the feed to your reader. You can also export all of your feeds into an OPML file and then import the feed list into a different feed reader or computer. A good use for Dropbox is to store these types of files for future use.

There are two ways to go on choice of  feed reader. You can use an application on your computer or you can use a web based one. I have done both. There are advantages to each. Privacy freaks should opt for the feed reader on your computer. It is centralised into one place, that you control and it makes it more difficult for anyone to track your activities. I prefer the online feed reader because I am not trying to hide my activities and in fact share most of my newsfeeds links. Also I use more than one computer so that I can synchronise my reading. I can read for awhile on my desktop and then pick up where I left off later on my netbook.

There is a third way that I use a newsreader. I use Calibre to download news feeds, mostly from magazines, and then I can read them on my ebook reader. I can therefore save good articles and maintain an archive. If you have a smartphone then you can have your favourite feeds in even more convenient places.

I can archive things from a web based reader, too. I use Linux and that allows me to print to pdf any article that appeals to me. The only tricky part is when the person who wrote the article spans multiple pages or use flash slides and these do not allow for the option of printing it all on one page. Seriously,what can they be thinking?

For web based readers, I have used Feedbucket, Feedburner and Google, but now Google owns Feedburner. There is also Fastladder which I have heard about but not used. There are probably more as this is an ever changing landscape with the advent of new technologies such as widgets, smartphone apps, and browser add-ons. There are several different feed formats. I confess to not knowing much about either. What you will see most often is RSS, but Atom is also quite common. Many feed readers support both.

Feed reading clients vary depending on the type of device and operating system. There are clients that work from smartphones, desktop computers, and from common web browsers. My preferred method these days is to use Google Reader. I figure that they know just about everything that I do already anyway and like the convenience and interface. I tweet and dent (I believe notices are the official term but it does not flow nicely in the way tweet does) what I discover and find interesting. I am probably a privacy advocate’s nightmare because of this. Google plus Twitter, Facebook and Identi.ca. I hate to break it to you, but they know whatever they want to know. Secrecy is a thing of the past. I don’t like it, but hey I did not vote for them.

I am no expert and my experience is limited to computers that run Linux. So feel free to chip in with your knowledge and experience, good or bad. What works for you? Is there a better way to get the news?

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