Staying abreast of all the information on the internet can be tricky. I have a range of topics that I like to read about, and the list of blogs I like to read is growing longer each day as I jump from one site to another.

I’m interested in following the lives of people who homeschool or homestead in a rural setting. I also like to lurk in the blogs of friends I went to school with a long time ago. And although I’m out of the [paid] workforce, I still try to stay on top of new developments in the world of design.

Before I became RSS-savvy, I used to bookmark all the sites and browse through them methodically to see if there was anything new. Then I discovered RSS readers.

Most sites that are updated regularly (blogs, news sites, even Youtube channels) allow you to subscribe using the RSS (Really Simple Syndication protocol). This doesn’t mean anything unless you have a nice way of managing all the information when it is updated.

See the RSS link over in the right-hand column of my blog? That’s what you can click on if you want to subscribe (or right-click to get the code if you need it somewhere else).

And this is where RSS readers come in. They browse the list of subscribed sites for you and notify you of updates. They can display the articles (with or without photos) and allow you to share the item via email or a social-networking medium.

If you haven’t already started taking advantage of RSS readers, the good news is that without downloading any programs or making any changes to your computer, you can probably activate your RSS reader and organise it to suit your viewing addictions. Let’s look at our options.

Subscribing via live bookmarks

When a blog has a RSS feed, you can subscribe to it through your browser’s bookmarks/favourites menu. This way, you can look through your bookmarks and see all the posts under an item.

RSS feed readers
When I scroll over my live bookmark, I can see the items that I've read and those that are new (the icon changes).

The disadvantage to simply subscribing to the live bookmarks is that you have to browse through all your bookmarks every time you want to check for updates. Depending on how many favourites you have marked, it can take quite a while, and you may miss something.

Browser-based feed reader

If you’re already using Google for your blogger account and email, it makes sense to continue seamlessly for all your blog reading. In order to subscribe to blogs that aren’t Google-based (i.e. Blogger or Blogspot), you’ll need to be able to copy the RSS feed code from the website and paste it into your Google reader as a new subscription. (This will work too if you’re only using the reader that displays when you log in to Blogger to update your own blog.)

RSS feed readers
Google Reader's window shows all the new items (they're bolded in the list on the bottom left) as well as immediately displaying the start of the articles that have been updated.

Because I’m still trying to fight Google’s world domination, I’m trying to stay independent. So I use an add-on in my Firefox web browser that notifies me of updates and provides a quick-view of the article.

RSS feed readers
As long as this panel on the left is open, new items appear as soon as they're updated. If I have this panel closed, a little star appears on the orange RSS feed icon between the home button and the browser's address bar.

My options are either to view the item in the preview window (pretty small) or to open the item in the browser. In the morning, when I have some time to catch up on all my subscriptions, I generally click on one button to open all the items in new tabs. I read through the articles and close each tab when I’m finished.

There are a number of different Firefox add-ons that read RSS feeds. Some open up based on the day of the week (your lets-get-serious-about-work Monday subscriptions can be different from your I-just-want-to-bludge-until-the-weekend-starts Friday feeds). If you’re a Firefox user, take your pick here.

Email-based feed reader

If you’re not so keen on opening all those browser windows, you can minimise things by just using your computer-based email program.

RSS feed readers
Mozilla's email program Thunderbird allows users to subscribe and view their RSS feeds within it. When you open your email program, you can immediately see what's new. Articles load in the viewer window within the program.

For details on how to subscribe to RSS feeds in Thunderbird, all the information is here. Other POP email programs — such as Outlook — also have this option.

Managing your subcriptions

So you’re using your feed reader of choice, and you’ve subscribed to all your favourite sites. Now you must manage them so you’re not overwhelmed with all the info!

Sort and name your subscriptions properly. You have the option to rename them for clarification — “Sparkling Adventures” could become “Lauren Fisher’s blog”. Arrange them by type or by the importance. Some people also like to arrange their feeds according to how often they need to be reading the updates. Some things are so important they need to be checked daily. Others could be read weekly or ad-hoc.

Drop subscriptions if you find that the articles aren’t helpful. You can always take the old-fashioned route and browse back to the website in the future. Or change the subscription method by removing it from your feed reader and simply subscribing as a live bookmark.

And don’t be afraid to mark articles as “read”, even if you haven’t gotten to them. If you’re completely overwhelmed by all the information (if, say, you couldn’t get to your computer for a week), don’t be afraid to declare RSS bankruptcy and mark all items as “read”. The sky will not fall on your head, and the clear list will mean you’re starting afresh with updates from that point forward.