Essential downloads for kewl bloggers

  • Aggregate your news/bogs with RSS
    Are you reading blogs by typing in each site’s URL and perusing the site to look for updates?  If so, you should hang your head in shame over the time you’re wasting.  You should using news aggregator to show you all new headlines/postings in a single place.  That way you have a single page that you can scan to see if your favorite websites (assuming they’ve set up RSS feeds) have new content for you to come read.  It’s a huge time saver.

    I use Bloglines, which is web-based and free.  I’ve set my Bloglines dashboard as my home page in Firefox, so whenever I open up my browser I can see if there’s new stuff at my favorite blogs, news sites, or general websites (helpful hint:  if your spouse blogs, it’s a good idea to put his/her’s at the very top so you never miss the latest).  And many popular news websites like BBC, NYT, etc., have RSS feeds, too.  I can scan headlines, or read the whole article.  And I can easily open up the originating webpage if I want to see it in its original form.

    While I’m at it, if any of you have the ear of webmasters for major Islamic websites (e.g., IslamOnline) please urge them to set up RSS feeds for their sites.  More and more people simply don’t have time to surf the web just check for updates–smart webmasters make it easy for readers to keep up by using RSS.  Admittedly, most people don’t rely on RSS yet, but you’re definitely missing out on hits from a valuable demographic who no longer have the patience for the old way of doing things.

  • Mozilla Firefox.
    If you’re still using Internet Explorer, you really ought to be hanging your head in shame.  It’s antiquated, slow and sometimes even downright dangerous (there are all sorts of security holes that expose you to virus and spyware threats without even clicking a button).  For the love of God, get with the program and install the Mozilla Firefox, which is free, and waaaay cooler.
  • Firefox add-ons.
    There all sorts of really useful, entertaining and time-saving free Firefox add-ons.  It’s really worth the effort to explore them, as they often allow you to do really neat things (e.g., translating a word from Spanish to English) with a single mouseclick.
        
  • Test your blog in IE, but without using IE
    Since IE is the most finicky and tempermental major browser out there, it’s important to test your site in IE periodically to make sure it looks right to everybody (this is particularly true of Blogger in my experience). 

    I recommend IE Tab, which allows you to open up webpages in Firefox but see how they’d look if you were using Internet Explorer.  This is a great way to test your site without putting yourself as the mercy of IE’s flawed security.  You can choose to open links in a special tab that renders according to IE rules, or you can rightclick and change your current tab/window into an IE version.  It’s great.

  • Consolidate your Instant Messenger apps into a single app
    Trillian
    is a free IM client that allows you to use one program for all the major IM networks (i.e., AOL IM, ICQ, MSN, Yahoo Messenger).  That way you can have one address book, too.  And if your office uses, say, MSN Messenger for internal communication but your friends use Yahoo Messenger it’s harder for your boss to know you’re being naughty.

    All you hip young bloggers who are toggling back and forth between IM clients need to take a tip from an old timer.  Put down the iPod for a minute and install Trillian so you can stop juggling IM programs. 
       

  • Use Performancing to blog seamlessly while surfing
    If you use one of the major blogging platforms (i.e., Blogger, TypePad, LiveJournal,…), install the Performancing Firefox add-on, which allows you to conveniently blog while surfing.  It’s really convenient.
    [A tip of the horned helm to Faraz at
    Seekers Digest for bringing this great app to my attention.]

This list obviously isn’t exhaustive, so please make suggestions if you have any.

  • UmmZaid

    Salaam ‘Alaikum
    If you use RSS, does it then link you to the blog? I mean, I click on the blog roll and just go to each person’s blog (but I certainly don’t type in the URL… that’s what my big long blog link thing is for…).

  • http://koonj.wordpress.com shabana mir

    If your spouse blogs, READ their entries. It don’t matter how prolific they are.
    IE caused major problems with blog readers for my previous blog.

  • Svend

    Hey UmmZaid
    Yeah, that’s the great thing about it. When you add a blog (which is by definition RSS-enabled) or RSS-enabled website (you can usually tell by doing a search for “RSS” on the page, as the RSS feed is usually a link to a file entitled “rss.xml”; take a look at http://www.bbc.co.uk for an example) to your list of feeds in the aggregator, those sites’ latest headlines are conveniently listed for you. It’s ideal for scanning headlines and determining what needs to be read.
    I just wish I could organize my emails from mailing lists this way!
    Sure, having a list of your favorite blogs or websites on your blog is a time-saver since you don’t have to type in the URLs, but you’re still spending the time it takes to go to each one individually as opposed to them coming to you all in one place.
    Think of it this way: You’re *subscribing* to websites. Their content arrives is there for you to read, or ignore as you please.
    Another downside to relying on blogroll is that everything you read is public. There are websites you might want to read or check on a regular basis but that you don’t want to promote or seem to endorse by linking to them.
    The simplest way to try it out is to sign up at http://www.bloglines.com. There are also aggregators that you can download and install (i.e., as opposed to using a web-based system like BlogLines). Both approaches have their advantages.

  • http://www.SeekersDigest.org Faraz Rabbani

    The public nature of Bloglines is another reason to go for a browser-based RSS Reader or a stand-alone reader like GreatNews (www.curiostudio.com)

  • http://qunoot.org zahir

    i love these suggestions. i have been thinking of migrating my blog over to iWeb (a mac program) or perhaps wordpress. thoughts? we can discuss tomorrow night.

  • http://qunoot.org zahir

    i love these suggestions. i have been thinking of migrating my blog over to iWeb (a mac program) or perhaps wordpress. thoughts? we can discuss tomorrow night.

  • http://barzakhabound.blogspot.com Katherine

    In my blooger help it says RSS OR Atom feeds, I have atom enabled do they both do the same thing?

  • Svend

    Thanks for the comments, folks.
    Faraz, that’s a good point about ones’ BlogLines selections being public (e.g., you can see mine at the moment at http://www.bloglines.com/blog/svendwhite), BUT that’s just the default setting. You can make your various folders private so that only you can see them. So I could make all my BL subscriptions private, but it’s true that your system automatically makes your subs private (because they’re only on your PC).
    I haven’t experimented yet with news aggregator programs (i.e., programs that you download and install on your machine, unlike a web-based aggregator service like BlogLines) yet, so I’m certainly not saying that BL is superior to GreatNews.
    My guess is that one *disadvantage* to a web-based service like BL is that it’s harder to manage you subscriptions, since web-based interfaces always are less user-friendly since you can’t use your mouse very much (the biggest advantage to Outlook over, say, a web-based program like Yahoo Mail is that you can drag & drop stuff in Outlook). So if you have a whole mess of subs and you want to change how they’re organized in folders, that’s a drag in BL.
    But there are always pros and cons. One big advantage is that I easy access to my blogs subs regardless of what PC I’m on.
    I know nothing about iWeb, Zahir, but my impression of WordPress is that it’s among the best options out there. This is probably a question web guru and master of all things Macintosh (I was just drooling over his sleek laptop the other night) would Shahed Amanullah would be able to address better than myself.
    Unlike something like MovableType or Shahed’s favorite pMachine, the WordPress software’s open source, so it’s free. And it has the (for me) all-important “Read more” feature so that you can use teasers on the main page for long posts. This is a feature I wish TypePad had, as I prefer to have my page be easy to skim quickly (though this approach has debatable merits; Shabana pointed out to me that it creates more work for the reader since s/he then has to click rather than just scroll down, but I prefer a cleaner main page).
    The only feature WordPress lacks as far as I can tell is a email option so that users can easily forward a post they like to other people. That’s a really neat built-in Blogger feature. I find it really surprsing that other, more sophisticated and customizable systems like TypePad omit these basic feature.
    Katherine, my understanding is that Atom and RSS are basically competing syndication (which is what all this is about–syndicating web content so that people everywhere can subscribe to them and receive updates automatically) formats. My impression is that RSS is steadily edging out Atom, but I could be wrong. You definitely hear about RSS more than Atom.
    In any case, it seems to me like many if not most news aggregators support both RSS feeds and Atom feeds (e.g., BlogLines doesn’t care whether the blog is using RSS or Atom; I can choose either type of feed for a website–some automatically provide both–and it works the same).
    Oh and to clarify what I said, UmmZaid, my point about privacy with using a given website’s bloglines is simply that if you can see it on the web so can everybody else. It sounds to me like BlogLines would do everything you need and more. You’re already used to using a webpage to go blogs. Might as well use your own customized webpage in BlogLines control what’s visible to the public, not to mention get peoples’s posts sent directly to your news aggregator.
    Like Stan Lee used to say, ‘Nuff said.

  • http://www.lanterntorch.com Adib

    I wholeheartedly agree with your comment about Islamic news sites. There are many Islamic news sites that I’d like to read frequently, but I forget about them because they are not in my RSS feed program (Akregator for KDE — I use Linux). Why are so many Islamic sites behind the times, while so many Muslims are IT geeks? :-)

  • ameer

    About RSS Feeds. The best way for me is to aggregate everything through Gmail. It comes up above your inbox. Since I keep my inbox open at all times I can always see all the feeds right there.
    Also, I read your praise of wordpress. I’m going to start up a sort of legal newsletter type of blog soon. Do you think I should use wordpress? I want it to have a more professional feel b/c it’ll be visited by legal professinals.
    Finally, the yahoo beta mail is going to have the drag and drop feature. Gmail circumvents this by giving you keyboard shortcuts, which is acqually much easier than dragging and dropping. I tested this theory using Outlook and there’s nothing that matches in speed using your keyboard. Now if they would only allow you to have a keyboard shortcut for ‘delete.’

  • http://akramsrazor.typepad.com Svend

    Salaams, Ameer
    I didn’t realize that the Yahoo Mail beta included keyboard shortcuts, which is a major advance for power users. Looked at it and was quite impressed by its sophistication. Looks like they’re raising the bar in terms of interface design.
    The omission of a delete shortcut is MAJOR oversight for power users.
    That feature alone (i.e., a delete keyboard shortcut) is the reason I pay to have a separate Unix Shell account (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, think back to the university computer lab and the old text-based email systems like Pine that students often use for their school accounts) for all my high-volume mailing lists. The service I use is from Kirenet.com, for those interested in rolling back the clock and doing it Unix-style (it’s amazing how advanced Unix, which was created in teh 1960s if memory serves, was, comparing favorably to modern operating systems in many respects). And text-based interfaces are lightning fast.
    For all the Internet advances that we’ve seen over the years, NOTHING is faster for sorting and deleting large numbers of emails than Pine over Telnet. You hit ‘d’ and it’s gone *instantly*. No waiting for the page to refresh, as you always must with web-based interfaces like Yahoo or Google Mail. And Outlook has keyboard shortcuts, but it isn’t nearly as fast a purely text-based email reader for sorting and deleting messages.
    There are obviously trade-offs to a old fashioned text based. On the other hand, setting up filters and rules is a pain in Pine.
    I haven’t played around much with WordPress yet. From what I hear from Shabana, the free hosted version (i.e., the one you get if you get a [whatever].wordpress.com address instead of setting it up for yourself) is pretty locked down in terms of layout configuration. If you want to tweak the layout and style much you need to install it yourself on your own server so you have access to all of its files. But in any case the layouts available by default look professional if you ask me.
    That’s a great point, Adib, about the paradox of a community overflowing with IT gurus lacking technically savvy websites. Perhaps it’s the consequence of, shall we say, different notions of professionalism among some of our foreign-born decision makers.
    When so many Muslim orgs can’t get their act together enough to pay their employees on time, I’m not all that surprised they’re behind the times in their web presences.

  • ameer

    Oh yeah Pine. I remember that. Man, that was sweet.
    In your comment you stated that Yahoo has keyboard shortcuts. I don’t think their beta does. Their beta just functions like Outlook. Drag and drop. Rumor has it that hotmail is going that way also.
    Gmai’s keyboard shorts DO make it work like pine. *Once you know them.* First of all, the archive-based system makes you ‘archive’ everything such that very little sits in your inbox. Let’s say you’re sitting on five messages when you open. You hit ‘x’ to choose the first one, ‘hit o’ to open it, then within the conversation thread (another gmail exclusive) you use ‘n’ and ‘p’ to go up and down the messages, finally when you’re done, you can press ‘y’ and by the time you come out into the inbox the msg is no longer there – no page refreshing. exactly like pine. now if only you could hit ‘d’ and make the msg go into trash. they are still in beta and they are very likely to bring this feature in. especially as they have a suggest a feature function which actually works.
    i checked out wordpress and i think i will use it. it wont be up for a while though. my intention is to provide a helpful resource for antitrust and securities practitioners. but first i need to know some =)
    if you could write up an easy explanation of how to get and then set up firefox extensions, that’d be great. for beginngers like me.

  • ameer

    Oh, speaking of Norwegian names (I came here from Haroon’s blog), last night on SNL, they had Peter Svardsgard on there, and one of the skits involved a Pirates’ Convention, who liked to emphasize the “ar” sound in his name. The best thing was that the pirates kept asking him questions that would require answering in the “ar” sound, which they would then chant. For example, they asked him: “That movie Wedding Crashers, what was it rated?” and He said. “I think it was R.” Then the pirates went nuts and said Aaaaaaaaaaaar! Finally he got figured out why they invited him so he told them that he made such movies as “Jaaaaaarhead.”

  • Svend White

    Hey Ameer
    Oh, I guess I got the Yahoo Beta confused with Gmail.
    Downloading and installing Firefox extensions is quite easy actually. You go here https://addons.mozilla.org/?application=firefox , look through the different categories of extensions and click the install link for each one. Firefox should handle the rest. Sometimes you have close and restart FF for a given extension to become available.
    This may be of dubious relevance, but back when I was in school in the mid-1990s Saturday Night Live used to have a great skit entitled “Asking for Directions in New England”. The next day, people would say to me, “Svend, I heard you on TV last night!” Those were the good old days, when I still had my Boston accent. Sigh…

  • UmmZaid

    Salaam ‘Alaikum
    OK I added Sage to my Firefox the other day (oh the peer pressure!). But so far, the only blogs whose RSS feeds I’m able to read are (curiously) mine and yours. Everyone else’s, I get a message of a “parse error XML” or something. Is that me or them? Even Sidi Faraz’s blog came out all wierd looking.
    I think that, in the not-too-distant future, we will see the free WP hosting service at wordpress.com give users the ability to use a different template as long as the images are hosted elsewhere, ala blogspot.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/Shahed/ Shahed

    If I had to start alt.muslim all over again, I would probably use WordPress. At some point, I might upgrade. But for those evaluating free content managment systems, I highly recommend pMachine (www.pmachine.com), even though it is now EOL’d (end-of-lifed, which is why it is free now) and won’t be supported formally anymore. I was the first paying customer for pMachine – apparently they have my order pasted to the wall.
    As for iWeb, it really is for newbies – it is much less flexible than WordPress, but much, much easier to get started on. You’ve got Svend and I around – you really should do it right.
    The Mac equivalent of Trillian is called Adium (www.adiumx.com) – highly recommended!