Getting more out of St. Blogs
Many of us visit a handful of Catholic web sites and blogs on a regular basis in order to keep a finger on the pulse of modern day Catholic life. For me it started off with one or two blogs. My daily routine went something like this:
Read the new posts.
Realize halfway through the last one that I read it yesterday.
Read the comments.
Comment on a few things.
Look at the clock.
Be amazed at the passing time.
Click on a random new blog in the blogroll in hopes that I would find something a little more my speed.
It became cumbersome. I had read all about how great blogs were but here I was struggling to get it and spending way too much time trying to get it. According to CatholicBlogs.com there are at least 1000 blogs that are focused on Catholicism. A casual reader of Catholic blogs might find that a daunting set of sites to sift through. It’s easy to give up and write off the Catholic blogosphere as a colossal waste of time. With a little effort however, reading St. Blogs can become an integrated part of your day that takes mere minutes instead of hours to pursue.
First though, let’s discuss why St. Blogs is worth the effort to get to know. St. Blogs is a distributed community of Catholic believers. Chances are there is a sub-community of bloggers that is going through or has gone through some of the same trials in life you are going through. There are priests and religious, those in discernment, moms, dads, singles, students, professionals, scholars, apologists, musicians and even sports fanatics. It is almost a certainty that you fit in somewhere. Still surfing them one at a time is a hassle. Fortunately there are ways to deal with the volume. You can cover scores, even hundreds of blogs in just a few minutes a day.
Sailing the sea of Catholic bits
Back in the early 90's I worked for a radio station that had a big printer that I was supposed to cull stories from in order to have a news segment on my show. The printer was an AP feed that the station paid for. When a story went public the printer came alive. I could hear it regularly during my show. Normally I would grab about 15 feet of printed paper, circle the most interesting stories and summarize them during my segment. I had fresh news with a minimum of effort. This was syndication old school style. Today information on the Internet is syndicated by a technology called RSS which stands for Really Simple Syndication. There is no need for most of us to understand the details of RSS. We just need to know how to use it. Most blogs and news sites contain an RSS feed usually identified by a text link or standard image . The URL of the feed is a must have if you plan to use it. For example Mark Shea's blog "Catholic and Enjoying It!" has an RSS feed accessible by the following URL - http://markshea.blogspot.com/atom.xml. This link is indicated on Mark's blog by "Atom RSS Feed".
Now that I have the feed URL, what good does this do me?
In order to make RSS useful you need an aggregator. An aggregator is software analogous to the printed sheets in the radio station I used to work at. The software stores and organizes RSS feeds. In the case of the printer I had one feed -- AP. In an aggregator you are likely to have scores if not hundreds of feeds. On a regular basis the aggregator accesses various sites checking for new and updated information and letting you know about it. Desktop aggregators are usually more flexible and you can set them up to give you near real time access to information. When your favorite blogger posts his next diatribe you will know within minutes. Online versions are also available and are great if you access the Internet from a variety of computers.
Still, let’s say you only know of five blogs that you care to read. Why on earth would you want to go through the hassle of tracking them regularly with software? The answer is that you can now skim the headlines of all of these blogs at one time similar to my circling the headlines for my radio show. It is also useful in finding news stories and blogs that are more relevant to your interests. You can do this by adding more blog feeds or using RSS features attached to search engines and other tools. For example, to see what the world is saying about Catholicism, I use Google News search with the terms "Catholic Church", "Vatican" and "Benedict XVI" and then link in the RSS feeds to my aggregator. For local fare I search for "Diocese of Baton Rouge". If I want to find out what bloggers are saying about Catholics, I use Google Blog search with similar search terms. Finally, if I want to find out the latest on the “Motu Proprio” only from the voices in St. Blogs, I can use the CatholicBlogs.com search feature with that search term.
Go forth and learn
St. Blogs need not be a cumbersome and time consuming experience during your day. I have found the Catholic blogging community to be a great resource and a tremendous asset in my short few years as a newly minted Catholic. Be an informed Catholic. Familiarize yourselves with the new technology, find your niche and become part of the community. More importantly, go forth and learn more about your faith.
Google News – RSS enabled news search
Google Blog Search – RSS enabled blog search
CatholicBlogs.com – RSS enabled search for St. Blogs
Bloglines.com – Popular online aggregator
RSS Bandit - A simple desktop editor (requires Windows and .Net framework)