Last week I discussed "What is RSS?". Now that you know what RSS is and what it can do, let's talk RSS aggregators, those wonderful things that make sense of RSS files.
They're called aggregators because they pull all of your selected RSS files into one place making it easy to browse newly posted information from blogs, web sites, and stored searches.
In my opinion, the best aggregators have a very "email" feel to them, reminiscent of Outlook. The worst aggregators lack the familiarity that can make it easy to quickly get up to speed with a new application.
There are MANY RSS aggregators out there. Amphetadesk was an early one, and is free. After I tried it, I avoided RSS feeds for about 6 months. Luckily there are much better options available.
My RSS reader of choice is Newzcrawler. While it is not integrated with Outlook, it is a very "Outlook-like" application so the learning curve is fairly low. Here's a screen shot to give you an idea how it pulls together your all your news in one place:
You can specify the update frequency of each feed, and if you have Newzcrawler open, a headline balloon pops-up to notify you of updated entires. I particularly like the "make newspaper" feature, which compiles all the unread headlines and excerpts into a concise, easy to read HTML page which can easily be pasted into an email message and sent on to other interested parties:
Web Based Aggregators
One of the biggest advantages to web-based aggregators is that you can easily access them from any PC. If you read an entry at work, it will show up marked read at home. No synchronization is necessary. In the past this advantage didn't necessarily make up for the lack of features in the web-based versions, but, as happens on the Internet, such services are quickly evolving.
There are several web-based aggregators out there, but none are as good as Bloglines. And, for now at least, it's free. What a quick and easy way to get started with RSS feeds!
Bloglines provides a left-frame with a directory-like listing of all of your RSS feeds. Your news can be easily organized in folders. Folders containing unread news are bolded. Just click and read.
By the way, I wouldn't be surprised if the next version of Outlook will have it's very own RSS reader. That alone would ensure that RSS would quickly reach critical mass, so be prepared!
Coming attractions - RSS Tutorial Part III: Using Bloglines