RSS feeds can potentially lead to information overload

Is information technology a valuable tool for keeping up to date on what you need to know, or another contributor to information overload?

Really simple syndication, a.k.a. rich site summary — either way, RSS — can be either or both.

It can both make keeping up more efficient and bombard you with more information than you need. The key is using it wisely.

For those who haven’t been paying attention, RSS is the latest way of having information “pushed” to your computer. Unlike previous attempts such as the much-hyped, now-forgotten Pointcast, it does this simply and efficiently, without bringing your network to its knees.

And RSS is a standard that is seeing widespread adoption, so chances are the online information you want is available this way.

Many Web sites, including Computing Canada’s affiliate, have RSS feeds. You click on an RSS logo on the Web site, paste an address into the RSS reader software you can download free from a number of sources, and items from that Web site are sent to your RSS reader automatically from then on.

I’ve been exploring sources of information technology news and comment that will help me keep up with the industry and would be valuable to Computing Canada readers too.

There is more information out there than anyone has time to go through, so you have to be selective.

My current list includes, of course,

I also get the CNNMoney technology news feed from Cable News Network, which gives a pretty good handle on the key technology news of the day.

There are many interesting blogs that offer RSS feeds too.

Research firms such as Gartner Group and Forrester Research offer RSS feeds, but all you get is short teasers for the full reports, which will cost you, so these are mainly useful to the firms’ clients.

All this same information is on the Web, but the advantage of RSS is that it brings it to your desk and puts it in folders waiting for you to look at it.

While there are days when I don’t get around to looking at my RSS feeds, the material is still there when I have time, so I can catch up with it.

With Web sites that are updated daily, even though missed items are probably there somewhere, I generally either looked at it when it was new or missed it altogether.

The downside is getting bogged down in your RSS reader. That’s where careful paring of feeds comes in. Another gripe I have is that some feeds — CNNMoney is particularly bad for this — send you the same item repeatedly. You can ignore the duplicates, but it would be much easier to see at a glance what is unread if this didn’t happen.

RSS isn’t perfect, but it is a handy tool for gathering what you need to know into one place, and unlike the push technologies of the past, I think this one’s a keeper.

Grant Buckler is a Kingston, Ont.-based freelance writer.

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