Last week I decided that I wanted to start using some sort of RSS aggregator to read the content on the various sites I visit daily. Why would I want an aggregator? Efficiency! I found that I am spending entirely too much time reading web sites which have perfectly good RSS feeds that I neglect in favor of going to each site the old fashioned way. Even without an aggregator I’m not totally inefficient however. I have found the favorites functions on blo.gs to be indispensable. I even use the same favorites to power the blogroll on my site. Using an aggregator just seems like a logical next step that will save a lot of unneeded clicking around.
I started with NewsGator due in part to its prominent link on syndic8. I was impressed, with minimal effort it dropped very nicely into Outlook. A word of warning though, it requires Microsoft’s .net runtime which didn’t cause any problems for me during installation, but took a few minutes to download. NewsGator seems worthy of its $29 price tag, but after using it for a couple of days, I realized that I wanted an online aggregator as opposed to one that runs on my local machine. Since the content is pulled down to the local machine, I am forced to use one machine, or deal with duplicate entries if I use more than one machine. I tend to use at least two machines on a regular basis, so something web based would be a natural.
A few searches turned up many candidates of which I chose three to test out: Bloglines, Newsline and amphetadesk. All of these sites are free, although, I wouldn’t mind paying a small monthly fee for a good service. That said, I didn’t stumble across any fee based services that seemed to fit the bill either. By the way, if you too are looking for an RSS aggregator there is a comprehensive list maintained at hebig.org. Using this list might save you a bit of time.
Bloglines was the first web based aggregator I tried. Initially, I was a bit frustrated that Bloglines did not import my favorites file from blo.gs properly even though I tried several times with two different OPML files. Even though I don’t have that many feeds to enter, it would have been a lot faster and easier to import all of them from the OPML file. After manually entering the feeds the site worked well but left me wanting for a slightly more robust interface. One thing I really liked about NewsGator and Outlook was the ability to manage individual entries. Bloglines is better than the other two aggregators I tried, but only slightly. Bloglines will show unread or new entries all at once, when you view the first unread entry it assumes that you have read all the new entries. The end result is that the next time you look at the entries for that RSS feed you have no way of distinguishing read entries from unread entries.
Next I looked at Newsline, another free online RSS aggregator. It offers some fairly powerful searching capabilities but has even less in the way of features than Bloglines. Newsline allows one to subscribe to various feeds but there are virtually no features available to manage the entries. It does not segregate new or unread entries from older ones or allow you to delete entries.
Finally, I checked out amphetadesk which is written in PERL and designed to run on a local machine. At first glance, it would seem that amphetadesk does not fit my requirement of being accessible from everywhere, but, if installed on my server, it could. In fact, amphetadesk has an option that allows the application to be accessed from other computers. However, after having a look at the application on my PC, I decided that it really wasn’t what I was looking for. While it probably has the most visually appealing interface of the aggregators I looked at, the feature set was still lacking the entry management that I liked so much in NewsGator. Potential amphetadesk users might also want to check out these amphetadesk enhancements, one of which allows some synchronization of different amphetadesk installations via FTP.
All three of these aggregators are fine efforts. Each one is fast and efficient and would probably work fine for many users, but I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. I really want to manage those individual entries and be able to easily tell which entries are unread. Some might call this an obsession but I call it a requirement. Unfortunately none of these online aggregators seem to offer this. I just can’t help but think that there is an online aggregator out there that does everything I want. Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated. If you happen to have a recommendation, please leave a comment here. Contrary to popular belief, the comments system does work on this web site, so feel free to use it. If nothing else, I will know that someone read to the end of this long winded post.