You know that sinking feeling when you stumble across a great blog and realise that it is yet another website that you have to return to on a regular basis. Or you are going to have to finally bite the bullet and start using some kind of console app that monitors these things for you? Well, I’ve been successfully resisting the temptation to do either of these things for years, but just recently I’ve become hooked on a few great blogs and have been disappointed to find that they don’t routinely have a “notify me” feature to tell you when there has been a new posting.
All is not lost! Those friendly folks at Microsoft (you know, the spawn of the devil and all that) have been sneaking useful features into Outlook for years, and there’s one in there that lets you monitor an RSS feed. RSS is a data format that is shared by just about every blog on the planet. By using this we can tell Outlook where to look, and it will do the donkey work of keep track of the blog for you. It always feels good knowing that Bill Gates and Co. are doing your donkey work.
To start just find the link to the RSS feed from the blog itself. This is usually easy to spot as a button somewhere on the page. If for some reason the blog owners have chosen not to publicise this (maybe like here at SteamDesk they have decided that they wanted to de-clutter the page a bit) you can still usually get to it by making an educated guess as to how to change the URL. Here’s our blog URL, that’s the web page address in the bar at the top of the page:
In our case you just put “/feed” at the end of the URL and hit go. In many other blogs you add one of “?feed=rss” or “?rss=true”… Anyway, once you get the RSS link right your browser will show you things in a very different way, a standard format XML feed. Here’s how Chrome does it:
Here’s how Internet Explorer does it:
And here it is in Firefox – the Firefox presentation is nicest, I’ll show you why shortly:
As you can see, Firefox (and IE) also gives you the direct ability to subscribe to the feed. I think that this is implemented nicest in FF. The option you want to choose is Microsoft Outlook (did I mention that I love Outlook? I’ve tried Thunderbird, etc. and none of them come close, in my opinion). This creates a new item in the RSS Feeds section of your Outlook mailbox:
Now, you could just stop at this point, this is already pretty cool, but why not go a step further and ensure that the blog posts actually come direct into your main inbox? It’s a simple case of setting up your Outlook rules, and this sequence of pictures shows you how:
There you go, a monitored blog and an Outlook rule that pushes new posts to the blog straight into the top of your inbox. Use sparingly, because if you forget you did it and find that you have signed yourself up for a busy blog you might think you’re being spammed, and there’s nothing more dopey than someone trying to complain about spam that they’ve signed themselves up to… I wouldn’t like to guess how many times I’ve seen someone post “please remove me from your list” to an opt-in mailing list!
The only other thing worth mentioning is that this is not a “push notification” – Outlook will check back for any updates as frequently as the site suggests. By default with WordPress this is once per hour. In the old days people might warn against doing this because it would keep your network connection active. Nowadays, with 24/7 network and unmetered usage being pretty ubiquitous, and with the size of these data packets being pretty negligible, I’d say knock yourselves out. You can even increase the frequency if you want, you just need to hunt around in Outlook and untick the box that restricts you to the site owners’ suggestion.