Did you ever look at the daily reads list from a well-written Weblog? Some of those lists are insanely long, often containing more sites than most people read in a month! The crazy thing? When you read these Weblogs, you see their authors reacting and debating with many other Weblogs and sites. How do people keep track of it all? How can anyone manage to hold down a job while still checking so many sites so frequently?
Most Weblogs (including the SitePoint Weblogs), publish content through RSS as well as HTML. Unlike HTML, which defines document layout, RSS merely records raw documents in XML. Software can then download the RSS feed and format it as needed. Thus, RSS provides:
- an easy way to syndicate content to other sites
- a layout-independent way of serving content
Sites like SitePoint use it for more than Weblogs. Even the main articles are syndicated. New and interesting uses for RSS are constantly popping up from traditional publications like the BBC, Wired Magazine, and Yahoo! News, to other information sources, like the State of California’s Emergency Digital Information Service.
RSS aggregators will download the latest RSS feed from the sites you specify, displaying the latest articles, postings, and news items. Here’s the cool part: by listing all the articles from all the sites in one place, aggregators free you to read or reject articles quickly. Normally, you might load a site only to find that there are no new postings. With an aggregator, you see the new postings as they come up.
Many aggregators will also list comments attached to main news items and blog posts. When you start browsing the world in RSS, your whole way of using the Web changes. Instead of pages and search engines, the Web becomes a world of interconnected ideas, a sphere of discussion linked in real, meaningful ways.
Here’s a quick rundown of popular RSS aggregating software.
If you want to keep track of many Weblogs at once without having to open a million browser windows, then you need one of these tools.
SharpReader is a great, free RSS tool that will display your favorite news and blogs in a variety of layouts, including a nifty threaded view for discussions. If you run a blog yourself, you can even install a WYSIWYG blog editor plugin. The editor works with blogger- and metaWeblog-compatible software.
Spend your life in Outlook? News Gator might be just the thing for you, but it’ll cost you a few dollars. This tool integrates RSS feeds into Outlook.
If you’re a Mac enthusiast, you have several options. MulleNewz will give you easy access to news feeds from the Dock. Others swear by the winner of the OS X Innovator of the year (2003) award, NetNewsWire, a commercial RSS/Weblog tool, or its freeware baby brother, NetNewsWire Lite.
If you want an Open Source solution on OSX, read the section below on browser-based readers.
Numerous RSS aggregators run on GNU/Linux, but Straw wins easily. Keeping track of recent postings is easy with its simple, powerful, email-like interface.
If you’re so addicted you need to read RSS articles on the go, check to see if your phone will run MobileRSS. Don’t have the latest phone? Well, maybe that’s a good thing…
Participating in the Weblog world is twice as much fun as reading. These tools combine Website editing features with RSS newsreading:
Radio FM provides a great Windows application for editing your blog and reading newsfeeds. Simple, fast, and convenient, it’s worth the money.
If you’re looking for an open source equivalent, try Python Desktop Server, a Radio Userland clone with a Web interface.
Tinderbox, a great OS X hypertext/blogging tool, includes an RSS aggregator. In Tinderbox, you can connect RSS documents with your notes, TODOs, flowcharts, and blog postings.
If you don’t want to install a new application or clutter your desktop with yet more windows, try one of these browser plugins:
News Monster is a fabulous RSS tool for Mozilla. This cross-platform tool does everything you’d expect, and more! The Monster tightly integrates with Mozilla, and it can track postings and discussion threads. News Monster will even help you find new Weblogs by finding out what blogs are read by the authors you read.
An RSS Reader Panel also exists for Mozilla’s lightweight Firefox browser. Rather than implement a new dialog, this nifty plugin works within the bookmarks toolbar, creating an automatically-updating set of bookmarks to new articles.
If you jump from computer to computer, or you want to synchronize your newsfeed reading between home and work, installing a Web-based RSS reader is the best way to go.
Feed on Feeds is an easy-to-install PHP script that should work on most Web servers. Simple, but in a good way.
Amphetadesk is a more sophisticated, cross-platform Perl solution that includes a built-in Web server for those without Web hosting.
Integrating Into Your Site
If you want to include an RSS aggregator in your Website or Web application, check out these articles on SitePoint:
To enter the world of RSS is start reading content again. Aggregators provide a great way to keep in touch with what’s going on without losing touch with the real world. Enjoy!