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Sunday, June 5, 2005

Your bookmarks folder is cluttered with Web sites, and hitting the refresh button on your browser feels like a waste of time. Maybe that's because visiting a Web site at all for online updates is so 2004.

Another route: RSS, aka really simple syndication. The technology tracks content on your favorite sites and delivers it right to your computer, where you can peruse it whenever you have time. All you have to do is download a free program called a feed reader and tell it which Web sites to monitor. When that site adds new info, the content gets streamed to your reader. It's a bit like having an e-mail inbox for the Web.

A range of free, basic feed readers are out there. You can install them on your computer or sign up for a Web-based service. Some newer Web browsers, such as the latest Safari in Apple's Mac OS X, even have feed readers built in. Wikipedia has a extensive list of options ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_news_aggregators ). Or search the Web for "RSS aggregator" or "RSS syndication."

RSS isn't just about delivering news headlines and blog posts to your computer. You also can track podcasts, monitor local jobs on Craigslist and get the latest area traffic and weather. Look for the letters RSS or XML (usually found in an orange rectangle) on your favorite Web sites. Then drag and drop the link into your feed reader or subscribe by picking the right menu item in your application.

Three ways to get hooked on this new surfing strategy:

CHANGE YOUR NEWS. With RSS, you can snatch news from as many outlets as you like. Most large news organizations offer targeted feeds, which means that if all you want is The Washington Post's Metro or Real Estate sections -- or even a columnist -- then all you have to do is subscribe (for a list of feeds see http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-adv/rss ). Or if you hail from San Francisco and want to track the hometown hubbub, subscribe to one of the Chronicle's feeds ( http://www.sfgate.com/rss ). Want to make RSS work even harder for you? Try a news alert search. If you want updates every time the Redskins are in the news, create a custom RSS feed with Yahoo ( http://news.yahoo.com/rss ) or Google ( http://www.justinpfister.com/gnewsfeed.php ). You'll get any story that mentions the team, from Singapore to Seattle.

CHANGE YOUR ROUTINE. Sick of hearing the 5,000 songs on your iPod over and over again? Have links to new music from an MP3 blog aggregator like Hype Machine ( http://hype.non-standard.net/ ) sent to you. Alternatively, if you want to check out the latest podcasts without trawling the Internet, subscribe to iPodder ( http://www.ipodder.org/ ). Prepare for your day with D.C. traffic alerts from Traffic.com ( http://www.traffic.com/ ) and daily weather forecasts from rssWeather ( http://www.rssweather.com/dir ). Then get ideas for where to go for dinner with recommendations from D.C. Foodies ( http://www.dcfoodies.com/ ).

CHANGE YOUR LIFE. Looking for a job, a new place to live or a date for tomorrow night? Many D.C. Craigslist ( http://www.craigslist.org/ ) categories have RSS feeds. Once you've entered your search criteria, you'll never have to check the site again. Discover new things to do and places to visit in the area by subscribing to DCist ( http://www.dcist.com/ ) or MetroBlogging ( http://dc.metblogs.com/ ). Or you can find opportunities to volunteer and track local activist events through D.C. Metro Action ( http://www.dcinsideout.blogspot.com/ ).

Paul Berger

© 2005 The Washington Post Company