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    Business in Vancouver: News that works for you

      Stay on top of the latest Internet postings with RSS

      by Alan Zisman (c) 2004 First published in Business in VancouverJanuary 20-26, 2004 Issue # 743 High Tech Office  column

      Every war produces what is euphemistically referred to as "collateral damage": in other words, innocent victims. The war on spam is no different. In this struggle, one unintended casualty may be legitimate e-mail newsletters.

      I subscribe to a wide range of e-mail newsletters. I read about new files available for download, movie reviews and op-ed pieces in The New York Times, the weekly sale flyer from Future Shop, and lots more. As opposed to spam, these are all services I requested. And unlike spam, their "unsubscribe" links all work, if I decide that I don't want to receive future mailings.

      But as a growing number of organizations add spam filtering to their networks, user-requested e-mail newsletters are increasingly getting falsely tagged as spam. It can be hard for a software filter to tell the difference between an ad in a newsletter and an unrequested sales pitch, or between a newsletter's article about spam and spam itself. Newsletter publishers have to spend more and more of their time contacting individual network administrators to allow their publications to reach subscribers.

      If you either use a personal spam filter or have spam filtered out by your Internet service provider or network, find out how to check what's being tagged as junk. You'll probably find at least a few "false positives" -- legitimate mail that's been labelled spam by mistake. Often, you can train the filters to avoid mis-filtering future messages from that source.

      Because of filtering, subscribers are losing out on requested information and some publishers are considering giving up publication.

      Others are turning to a different way to disseminate information on the 'Net, known as RSS, which may stand for "really simple syndication" or "rich site summary" (but may not, depending on who you ask).

      RSS first got noticed as a way for WebLog (a.k.a. Blog) writers to notify readers that something new had been published on their sites. Now it's being used in the same way by thousands of news and commercial Web sites. (The popular site currently lists more than 7,500 RSS news feeds, with sources including tabloids, businesses, sports sites, international newspapers and more).

      If you visit newspaper and other information-source Web sites, keep your eyes out for small icons: discrete coloured rectangles with text reading RSS or XML. These indicate a site with content that can be accessed this way.

      To use RSS, a user needs to download and install an RSS newsreader; sometimes referred to as an "aggregator." There are dozens available at popular download sites. I'm using the free Awasu News on my Windows system and the US$15 shareware MacReporter on my Mac. Both of these, like most similar programs, will walk you through the process of selecting RSS feeds.

      Each program periodically checks the Web sites I've chosen, and lists new articles with an unobtrusive icon in the Windows taskbar or Mac OS X dock. A couple of clicks get me all the new headlines, linked to the full articles. It takes hardly any time to scan what's new, letting me only download what I'm really interested in reading.

      If you're a news junkie like I am, this is an efficient way to keep on top of items from a wide range of sources, worldwide. If your business Web site frequently adds new content such as press releases, new products and pricing information, this may be a useful way to keep potential suppliers or customers up to date. 

      Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator and computer specialist. He can be reached at

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