An Introduction to Weblogs/Aggregating Newsfeeds
Using tools for aggregating newsfeeds
Newsfeeds, also known as web feeds or RSS feeds, are a method of syndicating (distributing) parts of a website to other websites or individual subscribers. Content from the source site can be displayed on another website or in a newsreader, sometimes also known as a news aggregator to differentiate the term from Usenet newsreaders. Newsfeeds are normally offered by sites that change or add content regularly, like news sites or weblogs.
RSS is generally held to stand for Really Simple Syndication, although some people insist that it really stands for Rich Site Summary and others claim it stands for RDF Site Summary. You can find out more about RSS by reading one or more of the following articles:
- Guardian Unlimited: http://technology.guardian.co.uk/online/story/0,3605,781838,00.html
- BBC News: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/help/3223484.stm
- BBC News Magazine: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/3503509.stm
Choose one of the above articles and read it to find out a bit more about RSS.
Weblogs and other websites can syndicate news items by making a RSS newsfeed available. Readers can use a newsreader to pick up or aggregate these feeds, allowing them to view headlines and usually the first few lines of the news story. If the story looks interesting, they can link to the full story at the source site.
Prior to the development of RSS there were only two ways of keeping up to date with websites. You had to either visit the website regularly sign up for email bulletins from the website. The first method is fine if you're only interested in a few sites, but once the number of sites goes into double figures it becomes a bit time-consuming. The second method is only offered by a few sites, and you may already get so much email that you're reluctant to add any more.
If you use a newsreader or news aggregator to check on newsfeeds, you can see a summary of what's new on websites without having to visit each site. If the new content looks interesting, you can go to the website to read it. Newsfeeds are also a handy way of keeping up with weblogs. Many weblog providers provide the facility for bloggers to syndicate their work by including a newsfeed.
RSS is based on XML (eXtensible Markup Language), a widely used standard for exchanging textual information between applications on the Internet. RSS feeds can be viewed as plain text files, but they're really designed for computer-to-computer communication.
There are two principal methods of browsing RSS feeds, desktop applications and online services. There are numerous desktop applications available including Awasu and BlogExpress. Popular online services include NewsGator and Bloglines.
News feeds can also be integrated into other applications, for instance NewsGator allows news feeds to be integrated with Microsoft Outlook and Mozilla’s Firefox browser and Thunderbird e-mail client can handle newsfeeds.
A list of newsfeed tools can be found at: http://blogspace.com/rss/readers
Wikipedia provides an extensive list of news aggregators, with links to further details and downloads at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_news_aggregators
Another list can be found at http://www.hebig.org/blogs/archives/main/000877.php
We’ll take a look now at some of the more popular tools.
Desktop News Aggregators
Awasu Personal Edition http://www.awasu.com
"Awasu" is Japanese and means "to unite". Newsfeeds can be assigned to any number of categories. Awasu can announce news via sound, tray icon and notification balloon. You can search news feeds like Feedster, Technorati, Google and others. Plugins can be used to allow Awasu to treat any source as an RSS news channel.
Awasu provides the following features:
- Monitors sites that provide an RSS or Atom feed
- Alerts you when new content is found
- Keeps a record of what you have already read
- Archives feed content and provides a search engine
- Synchronises multiple copies of Awasu running on different machines
- Workpads that let you save feed items for later.
- Automatically detects new feeds while you browse
- Automatically downloads podcasts and other related files
- Integrates with Syndic8, a major directory for feeds
- Provides rapid access to tools like Google, Feedster and News Is Free
- Fully customisable user interface
- Optimised keyboard interface and one-click mouse navigation
- Wizards to help you get started with some of the more powerful features
- Supports secure feeds using HTTP authentication and/or SSL
- Comprehensive online help and documentation
Download and install Awasu Personal Edition, then click on the Tour option on the menu at the left-hand side of the screen to take a tour of the features offered by Awasu.
BlogExpress is a full-featured news aggregator which supports all RSS versions and ATOM. It can read content from any weblogs and any websites that provides XML files for content syndication. BlogExpress is easy to use, making it an ideal tool for anyone new to RSS. It has a built-in Web Tab feature which you can use it to view Web pages directly without opening a Web browser. Weblog writers can even open a Web Tab to post to a server-based blog tool such as Blogger.com or Movable Type.
BlogExpress features include the following:
- supports all versions of RSS and Atom
- complies with usability guidelines for designing highly usable software
- lets a user categorise subscriptions hierarchically
- fast synchronises many feeds simultaneously (multi-threaded)
- supports unlimited feed subscriptions
- can export subscriptions to HTML
- has the built-in Web Tab function for fast viewing Web pages
- supports drag-and-drop subscription from a Web page
- supports drag-and-drop Web operations
- is configurable to display the tree pane in the left or right side
- sends emails directly from Web Tabs
- supports off-line blog reading
- supports automatic synchronization
Online news aggregators
If you use an online service to track and manage your feeds, you can access your feeds anywhere you can use a web browser or even on mobile devices. Any upgrades or new features are added automatically. However, some web-based services offer fewer features and performance can be slower than desktop systems. Well known web based readers include NewsGator and Bloglines.
NewsGator Online http://www.newsgator.com/ngs/default.aspx
NewsGator Online is a free service which allows users to search for content and read it on any device. It is a separate product from NewsGator for Outlook which allows Microsoft Outlook to be used as a news aggregator. Users can synchronise their subscriptions across multiple machines, meaning that subscriptions follow users wherever they go and users never have to read the same content twice. It even supports multiple subscription lists so users can have separate, but overlapping, subscription lists at home and at the office.
NewsGator Online includes three distinct editions, allowing users to read their subscribed content any time, any place and on any device:
- Web Edition: a web-based content reader, which allows users to their subscribed newsfeeds from any web browser.
- POP Edition: allows users to read their subscribed feeds in any email client that supports POP3, the standard email protocol.
- Mobile Edition: allows users to read their subscribed feeds on any mobile device that supports HTML, including mobile phones and PDAs.
NewsGator Online provides the following features:
- FeedStation podcasting: download audio files to your media devices
- Automatic subscription: click on any newsfeed with a NewsGator button
- Synchronisation: synchronise your newsfeeds across multiple devices
- Organise your feeds: get multiple newsfeeds and arrange them as you like.
- Search for feeds: search over 10 million blogs, news and information feeds
- Recommended content: recommended newsfeeds based on your preferences
- Headlines: Newsfeed headlines on your Blog
- BlogRolls: automatically show the blogs and newsfeeds you read on your blog
- Smart feeds: set up Keyword searches for the information you need
Bloglines is a free online service for searching, subscribing, creating and sharing newsfeeds, blogs and rich web content. There is no software to download or install, simply register as a new user and you can immediately begin accessing your account from any computer or mobile device. You can make your own personalised news page tailored to your specific interests from Bloglines’ index of tens of millions of live internet content feeds, including articles, blogs, images and audio. Bloglines shields you from the technical details of newsfeed standards like RSS, Atom, and others.
Bloglines allows you to search for, read and share any updates from your favourite newsfeed or blog regardless of its authoring technology. It also provides you with the tools needed to create your own clip blogs and blogrolls. Bloglines is the most popular website of its kind, indexing millions of new online articles every day.
Bloglines provides the following features:
- All-in-one Blog and news feed search, online subscriptions, news reader, blog publishing and social sharing tools
- Available in 10 languages
- Mobile version optimised for handheld computers and cell phones
- Email subscriptions help manage your e-newsletter traffic
- Package Tracking (UPS, USPS & FedEx)
- Custom weather forecasts
- Quick Pick Subscriptions get new users started quickly and easily
- Personalised recommendations to find new subscriptions
- Bookmarklet for single-click subscriptions to any source
- Notifiers for all browser types to remind you when new articles have arrived
- Bloglines Saved Searches deliver articles matching your key words and phrases
- Most Popular lists show the day’s hot topics and which blogs are getting noticed
- Handy add-on tools such as automated blogrolls and subscription buttons
Choose either NewsGator Online or Bloglines. Open an account and explore its features.