RSS: More than just the news

So, I love RSS. But I know a lot of people - really, most people - don't seem to get it. So I'm going to take a quick moment to show how I use my RSS feeds for more than just reading the news.

Incidentally, for the curious, I don't have any straight-up news sites in my RSS feed. For headline news, I follow the AP and BBC on Twitter. Just about the only thing I use Twitter for ;)

Case 1: Busy Sites

There are some sites that I love to read but that publish a ton of content. RSS is way helpful in managing that information overload.

Take, as an example, Ars Technica. Ars publishes a lot of articles every day. Product reviews, industry news, new and interesting science, all kinds of good stuff. And, honestly, a lot of the good stuff falls off their front page way too soon. If I miss a day or two, I might never see it at all.

So, I subscribe to their RSS feed. That way, I can scan headlines and the intro paragraphs, get the gist of it, and either move on or jump to the site to read the whole thing.

Another example is The Escapist, a site for video game news and reviews. Thing is, there's only bits and pieces of the site that I actually want to see. I like seeing the original content - articles, comics, reviews. I'd rather not be bothered with the general gaming news ('cause, frankly, I don't really care that X game finally got a release date). Luckily, they have several RSS feeds to choose from, and I can subscribe to the one that best meets my criteria. Now I can read the stuff I want, without having to dig through all the stuff I don't care about.

Case 2: Irregularly Updated Sites

There are some sites - blogs, comics, and such - that have really great content, but are only updated now and again.

Here's a great example: Hyperbole and a Half. For a while, regular new comics were showing up, and then... silence. For about a year, nothing at all. Not a peep. But thanks to RSS, as soon as the author posted new material, it popped right up in my stream.

Most sites get updated a little more frequently than that, but it's still nice to have the RSS reader going out and checking for new content so that I don't have to.

Case 3: New TV episodes

I don't have cable. Haven't had it for years, probably going on a decade now. Instead, I watch new shows online, or buy them from iTunes or other services (it varies a bit). The trick is knowing when new episodes have aired, so that I can go find them. I'm terrible at keeping track of TV schedules. RSS to the rescue!

I have a customized RSS feed from a private torrent community that updates every time a new episode of one of my favorite shows is released. When a show turns up there, I know it has aired and will be available somewhere else (like iTunes or Hulu), soonish. So I can go shopping! There's probably other services out there that can provide a similar feed, this is just what I use because it was handy.

Case 4: Tropical Storm Warnings

Since I live along the Gulf Coast, I feel better if I can keep an eye on tropical activity that might affect me. Weather Underground has a great feed that runs during hurricane season. If there's nothing going on, it updates once a day to say there's nothing going on. When there's tropical activity, it includes updates with links to the relevant information. Fantastic! Now I won't be caught by surprise, and it's a good reminder to stock up on my emergency supplies and refill the water containers.

Case 5: Podcasts

I prefer to keep all my multimedia together on a media center, hooked up in my living room. Podcasts are one of those things that I like to put on while I'm doing chores. I find most podcast programs kind of annoying and limiting. I'd rather just download the podcasts and play them like any other audio track.

So, I use RSS to subscribe to the podcasts I want. When a new episode shows up, I just download it and save it on my server. Then it shows up right alongside all my other new media, and I can listen whenever I have the time and/or interest.

In conclusion...

I love RSS. It's so much more than just catching up on the day's news.

Also, for the record, Feedly is a great online RSS aggregator/reader.