One of the greatest things since SB, or Sliced Bread, is RSS, or Really Simple Syndication.
It’s all of the web’s taste with none of its calories.
Unfortunately, if you monitor a common collection of RSS feeds on multiple devices, like I do, it can be hard to keep track of what you’ve read. I often end up re-reading a lot of posts as a result.
Fortunately, I’ve recently come across a couple of services that help me out.
Google Reader is a free tool that’s web-based and can be used from pretty much any sort of device.
And a suite of software tools from NewsGator is the hardcore RSS addict’s best method of shooting up with news.
If you’re not familiar with RSS, think of it as the web without all that crap that can make the web so lame.
Like complicated, slow, frustrating graphical interfaces.
(Who needs them anymore, anyway? I think we’ve all wasted enough of our lives by now staring at loading web browser windows.)
RSS is just text, typically a headline and summary, that takes moments to load and digest.
Pretty much every web site offers RSS feeds of their content now. (Hint: listen to the donkey.)
And what’s more, RSS comes to you. The software you use to read RSS updates with new information automagically on your device.
The problem I have always had with RSS is that it’s generally stuck to one machine. But I constantly read RSS on my Mac laptop, my PC laptop, my Windows smartphone, and my iPod Touch. None of these devices is aware of what the other has browsed.
So I tend to spend a lot of time sifting through RSS posts I’d already read on another device, in search of new posts.
Enter Google’s web-based Reader application. Understated and elegant in the traditional Google way, Reader presented an excellent solution to my problem, despite the fact it, too, exists only on the web.
Because I’m constantly accessing Reader through the same live web site interface with each device, I’m always reviewing the same set of RSS feeds.
So no matter which device I use to read my RSS feeds, the others will be aware of what I’ve read and what I haven’t.
The Google Reader on a mobile device like a cell phone is particularly well designed. It offers very efficient browsing using your standard telephone keypad.
This makes carving through massive amounts of RSS information simple and fast. Like, you can mark a whole pile of posts as read just by hitting your # key.
That simplicity comes with a price, however. Google Reader on a cell phone just globs all your RSS feeds together without any sense of organization. But I’m very particular about how I structure my information experiences.
If I just want to read world news and skip the geek press, I can’t with Google Reader.
And that’s where another web-based RSS service, NewsGator picks up.
The mobile NewsGator web-based RSS reader offers everything Google Reader does, but with more options for structure and organization.
There are also a wider assortment of NewsGator tools. The company’s good old-fashioned desktop applications can do things web apps can only dream about. Like exist outside of a web browser.
On my Mac, for example, Newsgator’s NetNewsWire identifies how many new posts have arrived in the omnipresent Dock at the bottom of my screen.
Whereas with Google Reader, unless I intentionally load the application in my browser, I have no idea what’s going on in the world of RSS.
NewsGator also offers an awesome RSS reader for the Windows world, FeedDemon and a pretty good mobile application called NewsGator Go!
The real beauty of NewsGator happens in the background, though: your browsing and reading activities are synced between all applications.
So FeedDemon know what you read in NetNewsWire which knows what you read in NewsGator Go! which knows what you read at the internet cafe this morning.
So you’re never reading the same thing twice and you’re never sifting through a mountain of RSS posts, looking for new ones.
Now for the bad news: if you use the NewsGator desktop applications, there’s a price tag.
Each one will set you back $30. That’s a whopping $90 for me to get my RSS fix natively on my mobile device, Windows PC, and Mac. Ouch!
NewsGator does offer a small discount on multi-product purchases, however, and you can try each product free for a month before you buy.
In general, the casual RSS user will stick to the lower-grade Google Reader and be content with its deficiencies.
The hardcore RSShead, however, will be drawn to NewsGator’s advanced set of tools, no matter the cost, to ensure they can mainline every last drop of information that comes their way.
Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, October 19, 2007.