I received a question from a friend: “What’re the best tools I can use if I want to get an email every time a certain blog is updated?”

My top choice is an aggregator. An aggregator is a website or some software that pulls together (i.e., aggregates) information from online sources. Not just any information, but only the information that YOU want! No need to click from blog to blog to news site to database to webcomic to be able to cover all your days’ readings. Use an aggregator and everything can be found in one customized place.

The aggregator I use is Google Reader. All you do is sign in using your Google account and poof, you have your own aggregator. Then you go to whatever blog you want to and find the RSS feed option. It’s typically that little orange square w/ the 3 white curved lines or simply a link that says “RSS.” Most blogs will allow you to only get the feeds for the posts or give you the option to get the feed for the comments on the post(s) as well. By the way, RSS stands for “Really Simple Syndication” and more info on RSS can be found here or just by Googling RSS.

Handy trick time!

Let’s pretend you can’t find the feed for my blog, https://theinfophile.wordpress.com. You look around the main page and don’t see anything. So, there is a trick: at the end of the url, type /feed/ and it should take you to the feed option. So for example, you’d type https://theinfophile.wordpress.com/feed/ and bam! RSS Feed!

Another wonderful thing about RSS is that it’s not only in blogs. For example, I can do a search in PubMed with all kinds of terms and so forth. Then it allows me to do an RSS feed for that specific search and then I get up to the minute search results delivered to my aggregator. MANY databases do this now. I have a bunch of my job searches saved so instead of clicking around to all kinds of job sites, jobs that I may be interested in get delivered right to me and I don’t need to search those sites from scratch.

What I’ve told you is really just the tip of the iceberg of RSS, but it’s enough to get you going and you’ll discover more as you go along.

Another thing to look at is Google Alerts: http://www.google.com/alerts. I have not yet used Google Alerts, but I have a few friends who do. You enter a search term, you tell the Googs if you want emails or a feed (to go into you lovely reader), a couple other details like frequency, and tada! The Google gives you updates about your interests.

Note: I know it isn’t called “The” Google, but it entertains me to call it thus. Don’t try this at home.