I mentioned in my last post that I’m relative new to the Blog scene. I’ve been reading blogs for only about a year. During that time I tried several aggregators (software used to collect and read articles published on Blogs and news sites). I’d like to share what I’ve experienced here, as it might help newbies as well as developers of aggregators.
The first aggregator I used was SharpDevelop. A very nice program, which I ran for several months. The interface was fairly nice and it had all of the standard features one would expect in an aggregator. At the time, the only complaint I had was how many resources (a term that’s over simplified as the amount of memory) it consumed. At the time I was running other applications for work that consumed HUGE amounts of resources, and SharpDevelop consumed enough to push the machine over the edge after a while. Since this experience I’ve grown to want several other things in an aggregator that SharpDevelop doesn’t have, but at the time this was my only complaint.
After SharpDevelop I switched to RSSBandit. Another very nice program, which consumed fewer resources. But the reason I made the switch was because RSSBandit had a feature that was supposed to allow me to share my feeds remotely, via FTP or even WebDAV. This meant that I could read my feeds on any machine which had RSSBandit installed. This became my biggest qualification for a good aggregator, but RSSBandit didn’t live up to it. You had to manually sync the local machine with the server, which I could never remember to do, making the feature useless. If I recall correctly, it also failed to sync the read/unread status of the feed items. At a minimum I’m going to read my feeds at work and at home (like I said, many of the feeds I read are on topics related to my work). So keeping feeds in synch remotely is now one of my must have features.
Next, I started reading Blogs via Mozilla Firefox’s LiveBookmarks. I did this because I didn’t want to install a full aggregator at my new work, mostly, but I found that I really liked reading feeds inside the browser. One less program I have to have up and running. And the LiveBookmarks worked pretty well. The biggest complaints were that the discovery mechanisms (the ability for the software to automatically discover feeds on a site) were minimal and determining if there were new feed items required more than a casual glance.
That’s when I discovered Sage. This is a Firefox extension for news aggregation. It works in conjunction with LiveBookmarks and completely solved the problem with determining whether or not there were new feed items at a glance. It even improved the auto discovery, though it’s still not as powerful as I was used to with RSSBandit and SharpReader.
None of these solved my desire for remote feed synchronization, however. I didn’t think there was a solution for this until I ran across another blog entry that talked about Bloglines. Bloglines is now my aggregator of choice. It centralizes my feed subscriptions on a server and remotely tracks what items I’ve read. Other benefits go along with this. The load placed on blog sites is reduced, as Bloglines queries the site for new feeds only once, no matter how many Bloglines users have subscribed. I can read my feeds any where, even on computers that are not under my control (i.e. I can’t install software) so long as there’s an Internet connection and a browser. Nearly Utopia. My only complaint is that the user interface is a little cartoonish and if there’s advanced key handlers for navigating similar to those found in Gmail, for example, they are not documented and i’ve not figured them out. So, way too much mouse usage when reading large numbers of feeds.
Bloglines also provides a programmatic interface, so stand alone aggregators or other software can use Bloglines to enhance the user interface. I still prefer reading in my browser, but have installed the Firefox extensions that make discovery possible (though since it’s based on the LiveBookmarks features, it’s not as powerful as I’d like) and indicate new feed items at a glance. Pretty nice, but it would also be interesting to have an extension for Thunderbird, which would entirely replace the cartoony user interface of the Bloglines web site and give me the powerful keyboard navigation I want. But, for now at least, I’m a Bloglines convert.
I do have to mention that I’ve read a few blog entries that indicate Bloglines may have a few bugs which cause it to stop aggregating certain sites, but I’ve never run across this issue. Maybe it’s been fixed, or maybe I’ve just been lucky.