Monday, January 17, 2005

Feed Readers

This post is a continuation of a series that I started, well, not long after I started blogging. That was a little while ago. The series is "Into to Blogs and Blogging." If you are new to blogs and blogging, I recommend it. It only has four short entries now (as of this posting), but it is a start.

This is about Feed Readers (also called aggregators). When I say "feed reader", I'm talking about a program that you can use to be automatically reminded when a site changes. Some sites publish, or make available for feed readers, notifications about their content. News organizations, blogs, regular old sites, etc., use feeds to alert their fans when something new is available. These feeds are normally done by using either RSS or ATOM.

How do feed readers do this? They subscribe (I'm sure that you see the similarity with how newspapers work). A site makes its content, or announcements of its content, available in a feed. You come along with your feed reader and get the web address of that feed, give that to your feed reader, and voila! If you open up your feed reader, you'll be alerted if something has changed on the site. Cool, huh?

Another nice feature of feed readers is that they will often occassionally poll the site/blog to see if they have updated their content. My feed reader checks my feeds once every hour. So if I have my feed reader on, I get notified every hour of new stuff. That's pretty cool.

But why would you want this?

First, obviously, it is convenient. Let's say you have five sites that you like to keep up with, and all of these sites publish feeds of some sort. If you don't have a feed reader of some sort you'll have to actually visit all of these sites to see if something new has shown up. But if you have a feed reader,

Second, it is a huge time-saver if you have a lot of sites you like to check. I have almost a hundred feeds that I'm currently subscribed to. I just don't have time to go to all of those sites every day to see if they have new content. But with a feed reader, I don't have to.

Third, most of them should keep track of what you've read. The one I use collects the feeds for me and keeps track of which announcements I have read and haven't read. That's very convenient. When I want to make and entry in my blog about one, I just be sure to keep it in the feed reader. When I've blogged it, I delete it from the program. It is a great organizational tool.

Fourth, often it turns out to be a one-stop-shop for your content. Most blogs publish their entire entries in their feeds. That means you not only get the announcement; you get the content. 99% of the blogs I read, I read in my feed reader. Generally, this is not the case for non-blogs. The websites I subscribe to don't generally have full content announcements because the content is full-length articles. But when this is the case you'll generally have a link to click on to get the real deal.

What feed readers would I recommend? I user SharpReader. It works very well for me and I like it a lot. Other's I've heard of are Newsgator and Bloglines. The first two are windows applications you download and install on your computer. The latter is a web-based feed reader. Whatever your preference, both are available.

The only negative thing about feed readers is you get less exposure to the artistic merit that some blogs possess. Mine, well, is quite ugly and boring. But a lot of people put quite a bit of work into making their blogs look nice. You don't generally get this in feed readers. But, if you have to either look at their artwork or be able to read their content, then the latter is the obvious choice.

[UPDATE 1/21/2005]
A couple of you gave some recommendations for feed readers. Thanks.

toph.thoughts, a reader from Germany, recommended both Sage and Live Bookmarks. Both are add-ins to my favorite browser, Firefox.

Doug Chaplin also recommended FeedDemon (not free).

I've used Sage before, but not the other two. I'll be sure to check them out. Thanks.


At 1:33 PM, Blogger Doug said...

I'd recommend a look at FeedDemon. It's not free, but is excellent. As well as using feeds you set up, it also allows you to construct search feeds. If there's a topic you're interested in, you can create a channel that will go off searching for any feed that touches on that topic, and it aggregates them into one group for you to browse.

At 2:52 AM, Blogger toph.thoughts said...

Firefox has "live bookmarks", which reflect an RSS feed, but take you directly to the post, so you won't miss the "artistic merit" of the author. Subscribing to a feed is as easy as clicking on the RSS button at the bottom of your firefox window.

At 3:22 AM, Blogger toph.thoughts said...

Just wanted to add that the excellent Sage extension makes reading news feeds in Firefox even easier.


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