Important web tools for online professionals

XML

XML, or the eXtensible Markup Language is a type of markup like HTML (HyperText Markup Language), but where the tags have custom definitions. XML is really a set of rules and definitions that allow programmers to define their own language to describe any kind of data.

Hundreds of XML formats have been developed to describe different types of data including RSS, XHTML, RSS and even document formats like Open Office and iWork. You may even build your own version of XML data in order to describe your own information.

The format consists of a series of tags and attributes much like HTML.

RSS Feeds

Browsing through the internet is an inefficient way of keeping track of what's happening online. Most web pages have a significant amount of content in addition to graphics, navigation, advertisements and other content. In order to keep track of new articles, one must visit websites constantly to see if new content has arrived.

Most modern websites allow you subscribe to Real Simple Syndication or RSS feeds. RSS feeds are a special XML (Xtended Markup Language) version of the website which shows the website's newest content without any of the distracting trappings. Feeds usually show only a headline, a summary of the content, plus maybe a simple thumbnail content.

Through the use of an News Feeds Reader like Google Reader, a user can keep track of a multitude of website's changes without having to go to them. This will help you keep track of updates on all of your favorite websites at once. You can even connect to others and share links between you and your friends.

Twitter

Twitter is a real time communications tool that allows you to subscribe to feeds of information from other users or companies. The service allows you to create a page where you can describe what you're doing at any point in time. People can choose to follow your feed and keep track of what you're up to. Most professionals use a tool like Tweetie to keep track of what is going on with their and their friend's feed in realtime.

You can also search through the twittersphere to find out what is going on in the world. A lot of major news organizations disseminate feeds through twitter so it's the best place to find out what is happening at any point in time. Recently major news stories have broken out on twitter before they break anywhere else. Other services have grown around twitter so that you can tweet photos or video that is attached to a feed.

In a way, twitter is similar to RSS feeds with a few key exceptions. Tweets can only be 140 characters long. So twitter is mean for shorter communications. RSS is meant for longer articles. Twitter is for more real time communications, whereas RSS is for keeping track of longer form web content.

Podcasts/Screencasts

Podcasts are XML collections of video or audio content that has been put together as a package. Podcasts are essentially RSS feeds that contain video or audio content. They are usually free and are the equivalent of an online radio show. You can subscribe to podcasts and be notified automatically of when a new show arrives

The easiest way to subscribe to a podcast is throught the iTunes Music Store, which categorizes and manages your subscriptions. For example, if you subscribe via iTunes, the podcasts will be sync'ed with your iPod so that once you've listened to them they get deleted from your device.

You don't have to have an iPod in order to take advantage of subscribing through the iTunes store or pay anything. There are a lot of podcasts that will help you learn software, keep track of news and events or simply entertain.

A screencast is a variation of a podcast that contain narrated recordings of someone's screen. Some screencasts are podcasts, some screencasts like Peepcode cost money, some like gotoAndLearn's screecasts are free. Adobe also makes a series os screencasts available through their

iPod U

IPod University is part of iTunes and is an aggregation of podcasts available for free and put together by major Universities and other educational facilities like MIT, Yale, Duke and other schools. You can actually hear some of the lectures from some courses available at those schools.

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