Reports of the “death of RSS” are not only greatly exaggerated – they are simply wrong. Not only is RSS part of the fabric of the internet, tapping that resource through RSS Readers is still an important and valuable component of a researcher’s toolset.
As a quick re-cap, RSS (Really Simple Syndication) readers allow you to track the content feeds from different websites. In other words, you can monitor a number of sites without visiting those sites individually. Use an RSS reader to work more efficiently – that’s the theory.
The practice is often disappointing however. People often find RSS readers (and web-based readers in particular) frustrating and difficult to configure. If you subscribe to a range of general feeds (such as BBC news feeds) and content-specific feeds you can feel overwhelmed by the tsunami of posts that appear. Subscribe to several dozen feeds and you quickly need some way to filter and focus the content further.
Of course, Twitter and email alert services can be used in conjunction with RSS, but think of Twitter as the live broadcast, and RSS as the TV catch-up and what’s on guide. No matter how long you’ve been offline, it’s really easy to see what new content has been published on your chosen sites.
If you do need to monitor many active feeds then you need to choose a reader that can filter out the noise so you can monitor posts for specific keywords, categories or tags. If you’re determined to see everything written about a subject, follow the results of a specific search term by RSS – it can be easier to track than Google alerts to your email inbox, for example.
In this post, we review a number of different RSS readers that will help you stay on top of a range of feeds from a number of sources.
Web-based: Google Reader
Google Reader is a fantastic basic reader to collect feeds, but can be infuriating to use as your main tool. It can slightly lag and is a little cumbersome for organising your feeds into different folders.
It has its advantages however: it’s easy to add feeds to Google Reader from your browser and you can sync it with another desktop or mobile reader. It’s easy to publicly share stories with your followers, and send stories to other social networks, such as Twitter, StumbleUpon and Tumblr, for example.
Another nice feature is that Google recommends feeds to you. The recommendations are automatically generated and take into account your existing feed subscriptions.
Items can be tagged and ordered fairly easily. Google has a “magic” sort, which is its attempt to put your feeds in the “most relevant and interesting order”. You can view feeds by ‘list’ or ‘expanded’ view.
Here’s how Google Reader looks in your browser:
The other reviewed readers can be synced with your base Google Reader. The advantage of this is that you have a web-based back up of your feeds and it’s easy to switch news aggregator when something better comes along. But the big plus for doing this is that you can view your feeds from wherever you are – on phone, laptop, work and home computers – and they’ll all be synced.
There are a number of Google Reader bookmarklets to pop in your browser bar for quick read, subscription and share options.
Additionally, there are a number of shortcuts you can use while in Google Reader. See below:
Finally, for a bit of fun, have a play with Google’s ‘Reader Play’. Perhaps not the most efficient way of scanning stories, but it could be a pleasant way of flicking through your reader while you’re eating your breakfast:
Google Reader does not have more sophisticated filter options yet, but its forum suggests using an external service like FeedRinse for creating filters within your different feed folders. Feedrinse is an effective way to filter your feeds but if you have to monitor a range of feeds for various terms it is definitely not the most elegant solution.
So, which readers do offer an easy filter feature that are easy to configure?…
For Mac, we recommend NetNewsWire. One big benefit is that it’s fast loading and easy to scroll through.
You can bookmark pages on the Delicious service, or by flagging or adding them to a clippings folder.
If you wish, it can order feeds by attention and unread count, with the aim of bringing the most important items to the top.
You can create “special subscriptions” which let you search tags on Flickr, or Delicious, or search terms on Twitter and Yahoo – giving you an integrated way to monitor social media and your RSS feeds from one interface.
Smart folders are also handy: they organise items from your feeds according to pre-determined rules. For example, you can specify a specific keyword that must appear in the title and NetNewsWire will show items that fit this rule in the relevant Smart List. But there are other criteria you can specify for items as well: by author, link or its ‘read status’, for example.
Here’s a bit more detail. First, select the ‘New Smart List’ option under the ‘File’ tab.
Next, specify which key words you would like to filter. You can create more filter boxes by using the ‘+’ option on the right hand side. In the example below we’ve added four extra filter boxes:
There are several options for filtering as you can see below. It’s useful to specify the group name of a set of feeds (eg. ‘photography’) and within that, stories that match a specific search term (eg. title contains ‘police’).
The end result? A feed with all the stories matching those conditions.
Another option for Macs is NewsFire which has an uncluttered and intuitive interface but less functionality.
As a Windows equivalent, FeedDemon works very well. It has some really nifty features, which make it especially good for research purposes.
You can create Search Feeds that tell you when a keyword appears in any feed; whether it’s one you subscribe to or not. You can manually tag items by keyword and then view by tag.
It also has filtering options, called ‘Content Filters’ but these are only available in the paid for Pro version. However, in the basic free version you can set up Watch alerts for when certain keywords appear in any feeds you’re subscribed too.
Resulting in a feed like this:
We tried out a few readers for iPhone, but found Reeder to perform really well. It syncs efficiently with Google Reader. The bottom navigation allows you to jump between ‘starred’, ‘unread’ and ‘all items’.
It’s a very simple interface, but for reading RSS by your phone that’s all you really need. You can easily scroll up and down stories to read and there are a range of sharing options via social media and also quick functions for copying and emailing links, saving to ‘pinboard’ or making a note.
Of course, they are plenty of alternative RSS readers and aggregators to try out too. You can find some more suggestions on this list provided by BBC News. Download software and find even more via CNet at this link. Wikipedia has a very comprehensive list here. We’ll be reviewing more in the near future.
Tags: feeddemon, filter tool, filter tools, google reader, net news wire, reeder, rss readers