This website covers topics on knowledge management, personal effectiveness, theory of constraints, amongst other topics. Opinions expressed here are strictly those of the owner, Jack Vinson, and those of the commenters.

Aggregators: NewsGator Inbox and GreatNews

Inspired by the news that NewsGator has come out with their latest version of the Outlook edition, NewsGator Inbox, I figured I would give it a whirl.  And I saw that GreatNews is getting lots of notice, so why not give both of these news aggregators (RSS readers) another whirl.

Short summary: NewsGator works essentially the same as it always has, but this no longer works for me.  GreatNews has a lot of possibilities, and I am going to stick with it for a while longer.  Longer version below the fold.

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NewsGator

I left NewsGator when testing other aggregators, and on coming back to it, I find my expectations are much higher (and not met).  Thankfully, it appears my complaints about how synchronization worked in the last major upgrade have been fixed.  The basic operation of the tool within Outlook feels the same as it always has, but my fingers and my brain aren't gelling with that mode of operation.

The biggest benefit NewsGator offers is in synchronizing subscriptions across multiple devices and locations.  I could read news at NewsGator Online, synchronize with the news I read in Outlook at home and at work, and sync with a mobile device.

Some quick observations about NewsGator

  • Uploading my subscription list (OPML) took a while, and there was no progress indicator to let me know what was happening.  And it timed out - I have hundreds of feeds.  I suspect the slowness was primarily associated with synchronizing my new feeds with the online service.
  • It looks like it has the ability to optionally download the web page of an item, instead of the RSS.  This is a great option when a feed doesn't provide full text.
  • NewsGator recognizes multiple levels of folders, which I've been using elsewhere.  Nice.
  • Reading folder-specific content requires that I set up a "news view" for that folder - or an Outlook search for unread items in that folder.  This additional step is somewhat annoying.
  • Since Outlook displays folders and subscriptions alphabetically, I have to rename my favorite folders to get them at the top of the list.  NewsGator Online also displays things alphabetically.

GreatNews

I've tried GreatNews before, and haven't gotten very far.  This time, I am seeing more of the value, particularly of things like the ability to set up "watches" of interesting topics across all my feeds (several hundred).  I can also set up a watch to mark-as-read items I really don't want to read on a regular basis.

The layout for GreatNews is that of a newspaper with pages (river of news), as opposed to my current reader which uses the 3-pane mode (folders, subjects, article).  Correction: It's not exactly river of news, it groups items by the feed from which they come.  I personally like this, since it gives me the right level of context (who is saying this?).  The default is to show ten items and then let you flip to the next page for more.  I haven't figured out how it decides whether to show items in one column or two column mode.  The two-column mode is great for browsing through feeds on which I am

Some initial observations

  • The space bar works for scrolling, but inconsistently.  I think it has something to do with where the focus is, but even when it's in the reading pane, I can't always get a scroll.  (I've found that I have to click on the title bar for a blog to get space-to-scroll working when it is being persnickety.  Clicking in the general text area doesn't suffice.)
  • At the end of a page, hitting space bar moves to the next page of items (or to the next group).  And everything draws quite fast.
  • GreatNews doesn't recognize multiple layers of folders, nor does it allow one to create layers of folders.  Fortunately, it imported my feeds in the right locations.  I just need to rearrange accordingly.  (The feed organize tool is a little cumbersome with hundreds of feeds.)
  • GreatNews displays folders and subscriptions alphabetically.  I have to rename my favorite folders (or feeds) to get them at the top of the list.
  • There is an option as to where clicked items should open (same tab, new tab, or external browser).  However, I can't get it to open a link externally.  Ah-hah!  It's a shift-click.  (GreatNews keyboard shortcuts)
  • It has a service that checks the status of your feeds and pops up an Inactive Feeds window when working with feeds (there's also a cleanup tool).  The options are "keep" or "delete."  I'd like an option to move these feeds to a different folder that doesn't get checked as frequently.  Or at least tell me where the feed resides.  (I like to remember which feeds I've removed, in case I come across them some other way.)
  • Oh, and the only option for folder-wide settings is to turn them on or off completely.  Individual feeds can have their update frequency set, but not folders.
  • One can personally label (tag) items for later reference.  These are not deleted in the standard purge process.  One nitpick: If I create a new label, it isn't automatically applied to the article from which I created the new label.
  • Sometimes the two-column mode forces me to scroll back up to read an article in the opposite column to the long one I am reading.
  • Having only two panes (folder list, newspaper) makes reading the wordy people much easier: more text on one screenful.  And I can browse things like my search feeds very quickly.
  • I'm surprised I can't select "All News Feeds" and read everything in the GreatNews panel.  I have to at least select a folder (channel) to read new items.
  • I'd really love to see some version of threading, so I can easily jump to the linked articles that are in my feeds (and when I read them, mark them as read).  As it is now, I have to visit the website and then come across the feed again later.
  • Is there a way to use the watches to mark-as-read a category from a given blogger? 

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