Keeping up-to-date with your favorite blogs

I’m a late adopter. When new things come out, I don’t pay them much attention because I’m used to making do with what I have. When I bought a video player, everyone else was buying a DVD player (okay, not quite, but DVD players were just around the corner). And so it was with using a large screen with my computer (you want to spend $700 on a screen – are you insane? For the record, I LOVED that screen for close to 10 years). And using two screens (a client couldn’t fathom how I worked on a laptop, and so to say thanks for a project she bought me a second monitor to plug into my laptop. Yet another case of how did I live without this?) And blogs. What the heck is a blog and why do I care?

I suspect I’m not the only one to have just discovered the incredible wealth of cool stuff in the blogosphere, so if you’re a late adopter like me, here are five tips to help you make the most of your favorite blogs.

1. Remember the blog address.
I think we all start out this way. You hear that a friend is blogging, and you know the URL for their blog. You remember it, and when you have time, you go to the blog to see what’s new. The problem with this method is that you have so much to do and so many things to remember, that life gets in the way. You end up missing the good posts, the ones the blogger wrote especially with you in mind. But you can always catch up, right? As the Kiwis would say – yeah, nah. Who has the time or inclination to go back and read the ten posts since last time you looked at a blog?

2. Add the blog as a Favorite/Bookmark.
When you follow a few blogs, remembering their addresses starts to become a problem. So I’d suggest, that when you find a cool new blog, save it as a Favorite or Bookmark, or use Delicious, so that you can find it again. There is nothing more annoying than remembering that you read something fascinating, and then digging through your browser history trying to find the site again. Been there, done that!

3. Share it.
These days Sharing is all the rage. You can click the Facebook Like or Share button to share an interesting story with your Facebook friends, Tweet it, Digg it, or Stumble it. In fact, there are hundreds of tools for sharing things with your friends, but just pick a couple that you find easy to use. (There are also ways of linking your different social networking tools so that when you do share something, it is shared with all your social sites, but I think that’s a story for another post.) Look for these buttons or something similar at the bottom of posts:

Some people follow blogs this way too. You follow a Facebook fan page for a blog, and when the blogger posts links on their fan page to new posts, you can open the link to the blogpost directly from Facebook. I do this sometimes too, but for the blogs I’m more serious about I like to be more assured that I’m getting all the posts (see the next two tips).

4. Subscribe by email.
Most blogs let you subscribe by email. That means you enter your email address, and from then on, new blogposts are sent to you directly by email. This is great, because it means that you never miss the posts from your favorite blogs. And bloggers love this because it gives them some idea of who their audience is, and they can tailor their blogposts to things you might find interesting.

5. Subscribe to a feed (RSS).
When you subscribe to more than a handful of blogs, you need a better way of checking your blogs. You don’t want all those blogposts cluttering up your email Inbox, getting in the way of email that you have to answer or act on. RSS feeds (real simple syndication) provide an XML feed that can be read by a feed reader, so all your blog feeds can be read in a single place. There are lots of feed readers, but two of the common ones are Outlook and Google Reader.

If you decide to use Outlook, look in the left pane for the RSS Feeds folder. Right-click on the folder and select Add a New RSS feed. Enter the address for the RSS feed for the blog. Usually the address ends in xml or rss. (If you need help with this, give me a yell.) Each feed that you add, appears in your RSS Feeds folder. Like with your email folders, when there are new posts, the feed name is bolded, and the number of new posts appears to the right.

If you decide to use Google Reader, sign into Google, and click on the Reader link. Then you can simply click the RSS button on the blog, and select Google, then Google Reader. You can sort the blogs into categories to make it easy to find your cooking blogs, your craft blogs, or your cycling blogs. But the best feature, is that if you click All Items, you can see the latest posts from all the blogs, in the order that they were posted. This makes it easy to scan through your blogs every day and see if any grab your attention. Or you can use a Google gadget on your iGoogle home page (if you happen to be a fan of iGoogle, which I am), so then you can see the 5 or 10 newest posts right there on your home page. I love this, because you can tell at a glance if there’s anything new. Here’s what my Google Reader gadget looks like:

Google Reader is like an Inbox for blogs, so like with your email, it’s good to check it every day to see what’s happening in the blogosphere.

There are hundreds of ways of managing the blogs you read. These are just a few to get you started. Let me know if you find another tool that works better for you. I’m trying to change my late adopter ways!

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Urban dictionary or translator app?

I started using Twitter recently. In case you missed the revolution, Twitter is a micro-blogging platform. What that means is that you can send messages of 140 characters to other Twitter users. Messages are short, sweet, and often bewildering.

The idea is to “follow” a bunch of interesting people to hear what they have to say. It’s a bit like status updates in Facebook, except that you can follow thousands of people, and there is no need to know any of them personally. Where Facebook is for following friends, Twitter is for following celebrities (although with Facebook fan pages that’s not really true anymore). But perhaps I’m being too cynical. You can also use Twitter to connect with communities of people who share your interests.

I’m not a huge fan, yet. Things happen too quickly and I don’t understand the language, as you’ll see.

Today I was looking at the statistics for my professional blog. I noticed that someone had shared a link to one of my posts on Twitter. Curious to see who tweeted it and why (this is a rare but exciting occurrence for a new blogger), I searched Twitter, and I found the tweet. Very cool! I thought. And then I read the tweet. “Mooie review…” followed by a bunch of hashtags (which are like keywords) and a link to my post.

Mooie? What the heck does that mean? So I googled it. And the Urban Dictionary offered me three definitions. Go ahead, go read them – I’ll wait.

I was a little bummed. Obviously my post was absolute rubbish, and now the whole world knew.

But I kept wondering, why would someone tweet a link to my post just to announce that it was awful? So I dug a little deeper. I looked up the guy’s Twitter profile and read a few of his other tweets. Some of them were in another language…Dutch.

Mooie in Dutch is NICE!

I think next time I’ll use the translator app first.

Creating a personal wiki

Kolapore Ski Trail Through the PinesWe’ve all heard of and probably used Wikipedia. But do you know what makes a wiki different than an ordinary website? And did you know you could create your own personal wiki?

1. What is a wiki?

A wiki is a web page that you can edit directly in the browser. That means that if you wanted to contribute to Wikipedia, you could sign up and start editing wiki pages. It’s pretty simple. Most wiki pages have an Edit button, you click that, and off you go, updating what someone else has written, or adding new content.

2. Why would I want my own wiki?

You could use it instead of a blog for keeping track of your favorite recipes, lists of books you’ve read or intend to read, club activities, to do lists, and packing lists.

But wikis are most useful when a group of people want to work on a project together. Say, for example, you’re planning a ski weekend. As a group you need to decide where to stay, who is going to cook and what, who is bringing the food, who has spare snowshoes, all that planning stuff that results in lots of emails back and forth. If you use a wiki instead, all the information is updated in one place where you can all see it.

Here’s a video that shows how to use a wiki for planning a camping trip:

If the video doesn’t work, try this link: http://www.commoncraft.com/video-wikis-plain-english

3. Where can I create my own wiki?

There are lots of places you can get a free wiki for personal use. The one I’ve used is PB Works. There’s no software to install. You just create a free account, and off you go.

When you create your wiki workspace, you can make it public for everyone to see, or you can make it private, so that only people you invite can see. Here’s the Settings tab where you do that:

That’s it in a nutshell. Give it a try and let me know how it goes. And if you get stuck, give me a yell – here in the Comments or by email.

Photo via Flickr user Bobcatnorth

Who is responsible?

Fitness Model 1I’ve been going to the YWCA off and on since we moved to Victoria. Mostly I’ve used the weight circuit, treadmills, sometimes the rowing machines, and I’ve run with a group from the Y. I’ve never done any of the drop-in classes. Aerobics and step classes make me feel like a klutz.

But recently I started taking a class with a friend because my motivation for going to the gym had reached an all time low and I thought that if I committed to meeting my friend there, I’d HAVE to go. Then, once I started moving, I wanted to do more and more. Endorphins – I love you!

So I wanted to check out all the classes, and to do that I needed to visit the Victoria Y website.

No worries, you’d think. I’m online, so I can just surf over there and see what’s happening.

But no! For the last two weeks (apparently it’s actually been going on for months,) I and other people in Victoria who use a certain ISP (internet service provider) cannot access the Victoria Y website.

Ridiculous, I thought. I’ll contact my ISP and they’ll sort it out.

On the first chat session, the support guy tried all the usual things (he told me to connect the computer directly to the modem, blah blah blah), assuming the problem was at my end. Eventually when he decided that I wasn’t the problem, he logged onto my computer remotely and traced the connection from my computer to the Victoria Y website. “Ahh, it fails outside our network,” he said. “Nothing we can do.” I talked to the Y. “The problem is not on our end.” I waited a week. I contacted my ISP again. Talked to another support person. Explained the problem and had him trace the connection again. Same thing.

Apart from being incredibly annoying, it got me thinking. Who is responsible? The fault is outside my ISP’s network. The server hosting the Victoria Y website isn’t the problem. Who decides what route my connection takes? Who owns those servers in that tangled-ball-of-string that makes up the Internet?

Who can fix this for me? Anyone?

Photo via Flickr user spunkinator

—Update 4 Feb, 2011 – It’s fixed. Wahoo!