Tracking the SSDT (and other stuff) with RSS

There are lots of interesting web sites in the world, if you're a State Software user or ITC staffer, the SSDT's web sites might be among them.  But keeping up with all this information can be a problem.  It's tedious and boring to skim your book marks and visit all the interesting sites every day or week.  Many web sites (including the SSDT's)  will offer to send you email when something changes, but I find that just as horrible. I don't like my email filled up with random updates sent on the web site's schedule instead of mine.

Fortunately, the folks who run the internet have solved much of this problem with something called "RSS" (Really Simple Syndication).  In a nutshell, RSS is a way for web sites to automatically publish information.  These publications are called "feeds" or "news feeds".   If you're interested in a particular site you can "subscribe" to the site's RSS feed using a "RSS Reader" (sometimes called an "Aggregator").   Once you subscribe, your RSS reader will automatically check each feed and notify you of any new content.  In other words, it does the boring work of checking all your sites for you.   Depending on what reader you use,  your new articles will show up as folders in your mail client or on a custom web page (like a personalized newspaper).

In the rest of this article, I'll describe several common RSS readers and how to subscribe to a feed  and how to subscribe to the SSDT's resources.

Finding a Feed

Before you subscribe to a feed, you need to know how to spot one.   Whenever you see one of the following: , or sometimes just a linked called "RSS" or "Atom", the site is offering you a feed.  If you right-click that link in your browser and use "Copy link location" or "Copy shortcut", the link will be in your clipboard and ready to paste into your reader (more on that later). 

Sometimes feeds are hidden a bit and you need to hunt for them, or a site will offer multiple feeds for different parts of the site.  For example, for a Wiki, you can look under "Recent Changes" for the feed or the "Sitemap" will have a list of feeds. Of course, not all sites provide a feed, in that case, you're out of luck.

Note: Your web browser may also notice feeds and put the icon right in the address bar.  If so, you can click on it and your browser will try to help you subscribe.  Whether it does the right thing depends on what browser and reader your using.  Configuring your browser and reader is beyond the scope of this article, so I'll stick to the copy/paste method that works for all browsers and readers.

RSS Readers

RSS Readers come in two basic flavors: Client software (installed on your workstation) and Web based (available on a web site).  There's a good chance you already have a reader, here's a short list of common client based readers:

  • Microsoft Outlook
  • Mozilla Thunderbird
  • Sage (Firefox plugin)
  • Mac OS X's Mail application

If you mostly use the same computer all the time, you'll probably perfer a client based reader. If you already use Outlook or Thunderbird, your feeds will show up in a separate folder in your email and you can manage them just like any other mail (including searching and forwarding)

There are many other readers available. If none of the above suit you, here is a lenghty list of them.

Subscribing to a Feed

Regardless of which reader you use, the process for subscribing to a feed is basically the same:

  1. Find a feed your interesed in (as described above).
  2. Right click the feed link and choose "Copy link location" or "Copy shortcut"
  3. Switch to your reader and use it's "Subscribe" option and paste (Ctrl-V or CMD-V) the RSS link into into the address field.

Here's how to find the Subscribe option in several common readers:

  • Outlook 2007: Tools->Account Settings, then RSS tab then "New..."
  • Thunderbird: You first need to use Tools->Account Settings and "Add Account". Choose "RSS News & Blogs" as the type of account and finish the wizard. The right-click the new account in your folders view and choose "Subscribe...".
  • Mac Mail: File -> Add RSS Feeds... then click "Specify a custom feed  URL"
  • Google Reader: Just click the "Add a Subscription" and paste in the URL.

Once you get subscribed to several feeds, you can organize the feeds (put them in folders) and set options like how often to check the feeds.  I personally use Google Reader and have folders for "Work related", "Forums", "Personal" (that I try not to read at work), "Programming" topics, etc, so I have folders that are more important that I check more often.

Finding SSDT Feeds

All of the SSDT's major web sites provide RSS feeds.  Here's how to find them:

  • The SSDT's main web site (where you are right now) provides feeds for the "Front Page" (the news and announcment page), as well as all Blogs or indvidual blogs.  You can also subscribe to individual "tags" to subscribe to content by topic (usas, usps, etc).  The easiest way to find all the available feeds is to visit the "sitemap".
  • OECN Public and ITC Forums: Each forum provides a feed for new entries and replies. Just go to the specific forum you're interested in and find the icon at the bottom of the listing. Note: The Forum RSS address embeds your login information so the feed is custom to you.  This means you can't share the feed URL with someome else.
  • SSDT Public Wiki: The Wiki provides a feed for "Recent changes" page,  you'll find the RSS feed in the "toolbox" on the left sidebar.

If you subscribe to these feeds you'll have a much easier time keeping up with State Software without tedious mucking about in bookmarks and email.

If you have any questions about RSS or the SSDT feeds, feel free to write a comment here.