Friday, November 26, 2004

Update on newsreader software

We're not suddenly going to become a tech newsletter, but I thought this recommendation might still be worthwhile. I mentioned in an earlier post that I use Mozilla Thunderbird for managing my own RSS subscriptions. I still think it's a good program, but I also think I've found a better one. SharpReader is freeware that works nicely, quickly and easily, and gives you more control over your subscriptions. (Though it's freeware, you can donate, if you choose, to support their work.) It has only two downsides that I've found so far:

  1. It requires that you have .NET Framework, version 1.1, installed already. You probably do; if you don't, you can get it by going to WindowsUpdate, which you should do regularly anyway.
  2. If I remember correctly, it makes itself your default browser (I mentioned that one earlier too). If so, it's not a big problem. If you still use Intenet Explorer (which has dropped in usage against Firefox), click on Tools > Internet Options > Programs and make sure the box is checked for "Internet Explorer should check to see if it is the default browser." (If it's already checked, which is the default, then IE will automatically check when you first open IE. Just tell it "yes" and forget the rest of the instructions.) There are similar ways of having Firefox and Mozilla check (if you use either of those, I'll bet you already know how to make it your default).
  3. OK, another one. There's not much by way of help files, so you have to be able to figure things out pretty well on your own. The good news in this regard is that the program is fairly intuitive and self-explanatory, so it's not too hard to figure out.
Give SharpReader a try if you are just now setting up RSS feeds--I think you'll like it, and it's certainly priced right.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Squiggles available through XML newsfeed

Dear Readers:

You will be interested in this if you:

  • Get Squiggles via e-mail, or
  • Read Squiggles on the Web site.
Hmmm. Come to think of it, that's everybody.

The "next big thing" for people who get a lot of electronic newsletters or who go back to the same Web sites a lot to check for updates is "newsfeeds." You'll sometimes see them referred to as "RSS feeds." RSS stands for Real Simple Syndication, and is one of the two standards for such newsfeeds. Think about the format battle between VHS and Betamax a few years back. There is such a market struggle going on now between RSS (the older standard) and Atom (the newer, open-sourced but less common standard).

Without getting too technical, we have chosen a publishing solution that allows you to receive a newsfeed you can read regardless of which standard your reader uses.

From the user's standpoint, here's how it works. You start your newsreader program, which goes out and checks for updates on all your subscriptions. If there are updates, the program grabs them and puts them on your computer for you to read when you have a chance.

So what?

Here are the advantages over either e-mail or checking Web sites:
  1. When you subscribe to a given feed, it's just a matter of telling the software to go get feeds from a certain site. You do not have to give out any information about yourself, such as an e-mail address. That means that you do not expose yourself to the possibility of more spam at all.
  2. By the same token, you don't have to worry that your overzealous spam filter will accidentally put a message from your newsletter into the trash just because it has a word or two that could kick in the filter--not dirty words, but [gasp] words that have a capitalist flavor to them. Spammers use a lot of such words. Unfortunately, sometimes so do publishers of newsletters that you actually want to receive. Since you have subscribed to it, you know you want to get it, but the filters sometimes prevent you from doing so.
  3. Unsubscribing is as easy as subscribing. If you don't want to get the newsletter any more, you simply delete the entry from your subscription list.
  4. Reading it on the Web site is equally anonymous and easy, of course, but then you have to remember to check it. If updating your newsreader is part of your daily routine, it will check all of your subscriptions all at once.
  5. If you have several favorite Web sites, you can spend a lot of time surfing to check them out. The newsreader saves time because it checks, as we said, all at once.
  6. You can also spend a lot of time surfing and come up with nothing. I have several Web sites I check regularly; sometimes there is a lot of new material, and sometimes there is nothing. The newsreader doesn't waste your time checking when there are no updates--it knows whether there are updates or not.
As is often the case with "new" technologies, newsfeeds have actually been around for quite awhile, but they seem to have reached a critical mass lately. A lot of sites and blogs are suddenly using them. As much as we hope you benefit from Squiggles, it frankly would not be worth your time to switch to a newsfeed if we were the only newsletter to which you subscribe. But if you have three or more (and they all have some kind of newsfeed--not all sites have enabled this ability), it becomes worthwhile.

Already there are dozens of newsreaders. Some are free, some are ad-supported, and some cost money. Some have certain unexpected problems (one I read about (the name of which escapes me right now) has a reputation for being a good newsreader, BUT it will try to replace Internet Explorer with itself as your browser when you install it). Some can act as browsers as well as newsreaders, and some can act as e-mail clients as well as newsreaders. Research the possibilities and decide what meets your needs (you can easily check them out by Googling "XML newsreader").

Don't take it particularly as a recommendation, because this is what meets my needs, but I have had good luck with Mozilla Thunderbird. While it is primarily an e-mail client (and a very good one, although for many reasons I continue to use Microsoft Outlook for e-mail), the latest release includes an option for handling newsfeeds, and that's all I use it for.

To add our feed to your subscription list, follow the instructions for your particular reader. As part of that, the software will ask you for the URL of the feed. You can always get it by clicking on the XML logo in the description block of this blog (at the top). (To make it easy if you're subscribing while reading this post, you can simply click here for the URL.) Just put that URL in the proper place, and it's done.

I hope this not only helps you get Squiggles more efficiently, but also helps you manage some of your other subscriptions as well.

Now, go out and commit an act of communication!

Rising from slumber

Dear Readers:

This is the second posting in one day, after months of not being able to post at all! Lest you worry that you will suddenly be inundated with posts from me, let me assure you that will not be the case. I'll post one more today to tell you about a way to subscribe to Squiggles using a newsreader instead of e-mail, and that will be all for today (those of you who read Squiggles on the Web site will also be interested in that option).

For now, I just want to tell you that:

  • Squiggles is publishing again, and
  • Squiggles has been redesigned.
The medical challenges with my daughter continue, so we're still not promoting speaking engagements, etc. But we can continue addressing my mission in life: helping people to remember who they really are and to effectively express that knowing. The redesign has simplified the appearance and the interface to make it as easy as possible for people to take part in this ongoing conversation about effective communication.

The appearance is cleaner all by itself, and that's worthwhile. We also have three innovations that take advantage of Internet publishing to make the newsletter a more effective experience.
  1. Permalinks, a part of the design when we first moved Squiggles to a blog format, are still part of the design. If you click on the time stamp at the bottom of an article, you go to a new page that is just that article. The URL for that page can be used for easy reference, whether you are writing a traditional (can we say that about a medium this young?) Web page or another blog.
  2. New to this design for us is a comment system. If you would like to leave a comment about an article, click on the "# Comments" link (where # is replaced by however many comments there are already) at the bottom of the article. You can read comments left by others and leave your own. This makes Web publishing more of a conversation.
  3. Mail links make it easy to share an article with others of like mind through e-mail. Just click on the envelope icon to send the permalink for an article through e-mail to whomever you wish.
We still aim to share short items of interest and occasional longer articles. In any case, we want to make sure Squiggles is worth your time. The next article, then, will get a little more technical about taking advantage of our newsfeed if you'd rather to that than either get Squiggles in e-mail or check the Web page for updates.

Thanks! We're glad to be back, and we hope you're glad too.

The essence of communication

I don't usually mix religion/spirituality in with our ongoing conversation about effective communication. But there is an article on Beliefnet that gets at the heart of communication problems that afflict our country as a whole right now.

The article is not about religion per se, but about understanding people who are different. Religion and morality came up a lot in the last election, but much of what went on with that was less about religion and more about pure communication. Steven Waldman's points can just as easily apply in principle to many other groups on opposite sides of any given fence. I think it will worth your time to examine. You get a sense of this from the title and subtitle of the article: "Perverted, God-Hating Frenchies vs. Inbred, Sex-Obsessed Yokels: Why Can't Liberals and Conservatives Get Along? Because They Fundamentally Misunderstand Each Other." Look at it as someone interested in effective communication, not as someone who might happen to fit one of the categories.