The unique difference between a blog and a conventional web site is the RSS (Really Simple Syndication) or Atom feed. A blog feed connects each new post on a blog directly to your inbox. The tool you use to connect yourself to any feed you want is called a feed reader or a blog reader.
There are many blog readers available. Some are for a specific platform such as Mac or Windows. Some work online in your browser. They all do the same thing, so your can't make a bad choice. Here are some of the possibilities.
If you are running the latest version of Internet Explorer or Safari as your browser, there are built in tools right in the browser to subscribe to and read blog feeds. If you haven't changed your browser settings, you probably see a bookmark folder called "RSS" or "Feeds" in your browser's toolbar. If you click on the subscribe button on a web site and your browser is still set as your default blog reader, it should subscribe to the blog and store the information under the RSS or Feeds bookmark folder. I have a few helpful screenshots of subscribing to a feed in IE 7 on my Web Teacher blog.
There are more ways to read blog feeds besides using the built in browser tools. They are often more customizable. Google Reader works in your browser on all platforms. Your favorite blogs are available here from any computer. Bloglines and Newsgator are also online readers. With any of these, you simply establish an account and start subscribing to the blogs you want to read. You have more options about how your favorite blogs are organized and display with the tools like Google Reader than you do with a built-in browser tool.
Newsgator is also the owner of several individual software programs that read RSS feeds. Such software is downloaded and installed on your computer. This includes FeedDemon for Windows, NetNewsWire for Mac, NewsGator Go! for Mobile, NewsGator Inbox for Microsoft Outlook, and NewsGator Online.
I'm a Mac user. I subscribe to blogs with NetNewsWire. The image shows how it looks when I check for new blog posts. Most individual, locally-installed readers are similar. The list of blogs I read is on the left panel. When I select a blog from that list, the new posts appear on the top right. When I select one of those, I can read the post. If I want to read comments on a post, I click on the post title and go to the actual web site to read more.
With an individual software reader installed on your computer, such as my NetNewsWire account, I don't have access to my subscriptions unless I'm using my own computer. However, I have a lot more control over the settings and appearance of what I read than I'd have with an online reader such as Google Reader. NetNewsWire has lots of built-in style and color choices (see the cute little teddy bear?) and options for font and font size that I like. Since it's in a program that I can open when I want, I'm able to isolate blog reading into a separate tool and ignore it except at certains times of the day. This works well for me but if you often use other people's computers you might prefer one of the online tools.
I promised to explain how RSS works. A tip of the hat to Lorelle on Wordpress for turning me on to the In Plain English videos about technology. At The Common Craft Show ( also on YouTube) there are videos that explain tech topics such as RSS. The videos are very easy to understand. You may want to watch them all. Here's one that explains RSS. It's my visual aid and quite clear, so please go watch it and then come back here.
I'll wait. . . .
. . . Hi, again. Good video, wasn't it?
Just in case your computer doesn't have sound or Flash, I'll summarize quickly. Most blogs with an RSS feed have an orange icon like the one shown. To subscribe, simply click the icon. Your default RSS reader, be it in a browser, an online reader such as Google reader, or a locally installed reader will spring into action and add the subscription to your list of blogs.
If the site doesn't have an orange icon, it isn't the end for you. You may notice a small blue RSS in the browser location bar, too. BlogHer's site has one. You can click that icon and subscribe as well.
Some blogs, including Blogger blogs, use an Atom feed. It is similar to an RSS feed, but you may not see the orange subscribe icon on sites that use Atom feeds. However, there will be a link or button encouraging you to subscribe. It may lead to a page of code. Copy the URL for that page into your blog reader of choice to subscribe to an Atom feed.
Blog readers allow you to create folders and group blogs by category. They allow you to mark everything as read (even if it isn't) if you are in a hurry and none of the post titles look interesting. They make it easy to subscribe or unsubscribe from a blog. The best features of a blog reader, however, are that everything is in a central location and you can easily see if your favorite blog has anything new without having to navigate to the site.
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