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Personal Tech  Monday, Feb. 5, 2007

Goodbye In-Boxes, Hello Blogosphere
Rob Pegoraro

On March 29, 1995, The Washington Post issued an unusual invitation to its readers: Give us your e-mail addresses, and we'll tell you when we publish the monthly magazine insert called Fast Forward. Editor Craig Stoltz in the April edition wrote:

"So this month we debut a new, free service: The FFWD electronic wake-up call. That's right, just zap us an e-mail request and we'll send you two pieces of e-mail each month alerting you to the coming issue. We'll send the first message a week before we appear (to alert the casual logger-on) and the second one the day before we're due (to jolt the daily screen-slave). As a bonus, our first monthly message will include our ever-changing list of favorite Internet sites, some on-line news, late-breaking warnings and other miscellaneous stuff that we couldn't, or wouldn't, put into the magazine itself."

The mailing list, first called "The Last Wednesday Club," was a primitive operation. I cut and pasted each new address into a file, then copied and pasted the list of addresses into an e-mail. We couldn't even use The Post's own mail system to do this, so the newsletter went out over an outside account (anybody out there still have ffwd@clark.net in their address books? You can delete that now.)

Despite our best efforts to make this e-mail project fail, it took off. People signed up in such high numbers that we soon had to move it to a commercial Listserv system. When Fast Forward transformed into a weekly item in The Post, the mailing became a weekly occurrence, too. We changed the name to "Fast Friday" before moving it over to washingtonpost.com's mail system in 2002. At its peak, we had more than 150,000 subscribers.

In the past few years, however, that number stopped growing despite our continued efforts. My theory is that e-mail just doesn't work as well as it used to. Between spam and the general increase in traffic, everybody's inboxes are overflowing these days. The last thing many people want is yet another round of incoming messages.

At the same time, blogs are taking over the Web. Many of my colleagues now blog on washingtonpost.com -- including most of my fellow tech reporters, who launched Post I.T. in October. I've been feeling ... well, like a loser for not having my own blog.

And so today marks the end of the e-mail newsletter that launched nearly 12 years ago, and the beginning of a new blog.

Visit Faster Forward for all the stuff you've grown to love in the newsletter without waiting until Monday to read it. And every time you think I've written something totally idiotic, you can now post a comment pointing that out to the world, instead of writing an e-mail that only I can read.

Keep reading to learn how you can continuously keep up without constantly hitting the refresh button.

My Simple Syndication

New blog posts won't automatically arrive in your inbox like this newsletter does, but there is an easy way to get alerts. A technology called RSS (short for "Really Simple Syndication") will tell you when something fresh is posted to the blog. All you need is a program or a Web site that will do this checking for you.

If you use Safari, Firefox or Internet Explorer 7, your browser has a built-in RSS reader. Then, when you visit my blog, you'll see an icon appear in the address bar (a blue RSS logo in Safari, a square orange icon in Firefox and IE7.) Click that for a preview of my blog's feed, then click the "subscribe" link on the preview page, and from then on your browser will do the work for you.

You can also read the blog through a Web-based RSS reader, such as those washingtonpost.com already links to: Google, Yahoo, Newsburst, Pluck, NewsGator, Bloglines, Netvibes, MSN, AOL and Rojo (you can find the links to these on my new blog). If you already use one of these for your Web-mail, then it will be simplest to keep your RSS feeds there, too.

Settings on those readers will let you control how alerts are delivered.

My blog isn't the only thing you can read in this format. You can also read Fast Forward, Help File and even transcripts of my Web chats.

Office Space

Enough about newsletters and blogs. Last Thursday's column reviewed Microsoft Office 2007, the first new release of the flagship productivity suite for Windows since 2003. (Here's my review of its predecessor, Office 2003 and here's what I had to say about the Mac-only Office 2004.)

I was online last Thursday to talk about Office 2007 and Windows Vista, and I'll be online again at 2 p.m. ET this Thursday. (This isn't a permanent shift to weekly chats, just a one-time thing as we get used to the new day for the chats).

And in Closing....

Thanks for letting me clutter your inbox for all these years. It's been fun. See you on the blog!

-Rob Pegoraro
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