For the next few weeks I’ll be talking about a new way you can spread the word about science and skepticism using social networking. While blogging is an excellent way to get your message out, according to Tim Farley, there are over 700 different skeptic blogs and websites. That’s a lot of voices to compete with and you have to yell pretty loudly and wave your arms pretty wildly to get a decent-sized audience in a small community like ours.
Believe me when I say that blogging is time consuming. You have to do the research, check the sources, make sure that the information is up to date and reliable and then you have to sit down and write a concise post that isn’t so long that it’s just one big wall of text and not so short that it leaves out pertinent details. THEN you have to insert links to your sources and maybe a photo or a video. It’s a real headache. This is why I only post one piece a week now.
There is, however an alternative to blogging. You have probably seen your friends posting news items in their Twitter stream or Facebook Timeline. There may even be someone you know that does this all the time. There is always some interesting, newsworthy tidbit they are sharing. So how do they do it?
There’s no secret to it. Every online news outlet, even the minor ones, have the icon, the icon and usually others besides. Sometimes you have to hunt for them, but they are usually there. We’ll talk more about that in a later installment.
First, I want to talk about news aggregators. An aggregator is a piece of software that can pull in news stories from multiple sources and collect them in one spot. Probably one of the best known, and the one I have personal experience with, is Google Reader. It’s easy to program and, if you use iGoogle for your homepage, you can have those news items dropped right on your desktop.
Everyone is going to have different needs, so you should experiment and find the right news aggregator to fit your requirements. Wikipedia has a list here that compares different types of aggregators so you can choose for yourself which ones you want to play with. You’ll probably want to stick with the web based software because that will make it more convenient when it comes time to start sharing stories.
So far I have done some preliminary exploring on the Wiki list above and discovered a few things about some of the listed aggregators.
Bloglines, though it is listed as web-based, must be downloaded and installed. I was unable, in my brief search, to find a download link.
FeedDemon and FeedReader: I run on a Mac so I am unable to test out Windows-based software. Sorry. But please do experiment. This might be the right aggregator for you.
Gnus: This seems to be kind of complicated but it also combines your news feed with an email reader. This website gives fairly detailed info on how to set this up.
Mozilla: If you use Firefox or Thunderbird, there’s a News Reader add-on called Sage.
Newsbeuter: This is for UNIX people. You can download different modules and piece together what you want yourself if you are so inclined.
NewsFire: For you Mac users that don’t mind shelling out a few bucks, there’s NewsFire.
Safari: This Mac-based browser also has a setting to bring news right to you though I haven’t found a way to customize it the way you can customize other browser newsfeeds.
Windows Live: As with other browsers and mail apps, Windows live also provides a news feed. Though, as with the browser-based feeds, this isn’t very customizable.
As I mentioned earlier in this article, it is all a matter of finding what works best for you. Next week I’ll discuss how to set up your chosen aggregator using Google Reader as my personal reader of choice.