Sunday, October 16, 2005

Subscription options

It has been gratifying to discover that there are people reading this blog in some faraway places, and that they are not necessarily the family and friends who know me very well.

I know some people check my blog more regularly than others. So I decided to write this blog entry about feeds, pings, aggregators, and readers. These terms have to do with technical stuff I don't fully understand, but how to use them might be helpful for people who want to be able to subscribe to my blog (or someone else's) or otherwise be notified when something new has been posted. Don't expect me to be able to explain how this stuff actually works; I'll probably give a dismissive hand-waving answer like the line in Ghostbusters when Bill Murray was asked by Sigourney Weaver what he is doing with an odd piece of puffing equipment, and his response was "It's technical." But I can explain how I use it and what the end result is.

When I first set up this blog on I clicked a little check box in the settings for the blog that said "Publish site feed." A feed is a way for the content of my blog to be picked up by someone else without actually going to my website.

So Blogger created a small file called atom.xml for my blog. The file contains information about the recent posts to my blog, including the text and any images in the particular post. There are a couple of different formats for feeds, and Atom is the format used by Blogger. Another format that is very popular is RSS. I discovered that can make an RSS feed for my blog. So now people who use either of these two major formats for feeds can take my articles and incorporate them into a website or some other use.

My Atom feed is

My RSS feed is:

Pings are signals sent out (I don't know from where) to notify something listening for pings somewhere else that my blog has been updated. I had Blogger set up my blog to ping so that as soon as I publish the waiting world learns about my deathless prose. If you visit you'll be overwhelmed by how many new posts occur every minute from all over the internet, so don't try subscribing to my blog there.

Newsreaders help you look at specific feeds that you want to follow. I downloaded a newsreader called FeedReader from When I installed my newsreader I could tell it to follow certain feeds. So I scan Yahoo News, Reuters news, a UN feed of news about Africa from IRIN, and a feed of somewhat local news from FeedReader can handle either Atom or RSS, so I also have been able to add to it the feeds for blogs that keep my interest once they get my attention.

Subscription option 1. Someone who wants to subscribe to my blog can get download a piece of newsreading software and install my feed in it along with other feeds of interest.

There are free newsreaders available and there is no charge to read the feed.

Advantages. Free. Can be left running and will notify of updates within about a half hour, or on whatever schedule you choose.

Disadvantages: You need to remember to start the application. Depending on your system the small use of your system resources may have a negligible effect.

Subscription option 2. Feeds can also be picked up by news aggregators. My favorite is Pittsburgh Webloggers at Within minutes of my publishing a new post, it is picked up on that website. One can scan the recent posts by title, or read whole pages that have a chronological stream of the actual weblog posts by the more than 250 Pittsburgh bloggers. It is a good way to find out what the local bloggers are talking about.

Advantages: Free. Information kept very current. You can read the text of my blog only at anonymously (at least regarding me) because no graphics are downloaded, nor do you deal with any cookies from my blog (if cookies are an issue for you).

Disadvantages: No alerts given so you need to remember to browse to the website. You may have to wade through far more information than you want, or you might wish you just went straight to my blog. You still need to come to my blog to see photos or to leave a comment.

Subscription option 3. Customized web pages can also use feeds. One example is

I recently discovered that, which some people use as their customized start page can be set up to use a blog feed. Once you set up your account and sign in, you can customize the page to add content. My Yahoo needs the RSS version of the feed.

Advantages: Free. Current information is available when you are ready to look at your news.

Disadvantages: Some of these customized web pages, such as My Yahoo, sell ads. You still need to remember to visit the web page.

Headline animator graphic for Central Park BenchSubscription option 4. You could always put a link to the graphic to the left on your home page or another web page. That is, don't save the graphic itself, but save a link to the URL of the graphic, and hyperlink it to my blog. This is FeedBurner's "Headline Animator" for my blog. When you load or refresh your home page, your browser will download the current graphic with the most recent five headlines rotating.

Advantage: Free. Small graphic downloads fast. The only ad is the "Powered by Feedburner" line. Private (at least regarding me) because the graphic comes from FeedBurner instead of my website.

Disadvantages: Code for the graphic must be on a page that reloads - and in a browser that shows graphics. You need to click to my blog to read the story behind whatever headline intrigues you.

Subscription option 5. Of course if you'd rather have me print up a copy of each blog entry, place it in an envelope, and mail it to you postage prepaid, let me know and I'll work up a quote for you.

Advantage: Paper you can use to line your birdcage when you are done reading.

Disadvantage: You probably can't afford it.

Update 11-27-05: I have just added an option for email subscriptions. Read about them here.

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