This website covers 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.

Waiting for Aggie

Jim McGee's post on aggregators has me wondering again if there is something out there that will serve my needs better.  Jim also reminds that each of us uses their tools differently, which is why the plethora of aggregators out there is so cool.

I happen to like Radio's news aggregator, although that may simply be an example of early imprinting as it was the first aggregator I used. At the same time, I'm not sure it's terribly helpful to apply words like "right" or "wrong" to the ways that people use the tools they discover.

Since I'm not a Radio user, I haven't seen that aggregator, but I have tried several and none of them do everything I think I want them to do.  All of them have interesting features that make me wish for a better breadbasket.  I read something on the order of 200 feeds, only about 75 of which are read.  The others are skimmed less frequently.  Here are some of the things I would like to see:

  • Show me as much summary information as possible about each post, so I can decide if / when I am going to read it.  Title, date, category, author, feed (if it isn't obvious). 
  • Thread of related blog posts.  This is my current killer feature.  I want to see the trail of a post as I am reading:  Who else has commented or linked to the post I'm actively reading.  Who has linked to that post? Go beyond trackback to find anything in my aggregator that references the post.  Maybe this could show additional trackbacks to this article (outside of my current feeds).
  • Even cooler would be some gizmo that showed the conversations even outside the feeds I aggregate, so I could possibly see an originating article and all its "children."  This is one of those holy grails that Lilia has discussed for seeing a blog conversation.  It also would involve tight integration with a blog search service, such as Technorati.
  • Show embedded links of a post in that thread chain.  This is not as important because I can obviously click to them in the entry.
  • A way to link a comment feed to the primary feed, for those few who provide feeds of both.
  • Import and export my subscription list, so I can test the aggregator.  And it needs to understand the folder structure I have so painstakingly developed over time.  (I like to categorize my feeds to help me focus my reading energies.  "Folders" are the metaphor for this in nearly all aggregators.)
  • Let me sort my folders and my feeds in any random manner, including alphabetically.  My "read frequently" folder should always be at the top of the list of folders, for example.
  • An easy way to get to the next unread article, most off-line tools seem to have this via the space bar that scrolls through the article and then moves to next unread.
  • An easy way to load the original website, rather than just the feed information.
  • A connection to "blog this" or similar tool to get me started on a post based on material I am reading.  I'd like to be able to customize what gets dropped into the template too.
  • A way to mark articles as "interesting" and an easy way to get back to all of the "interesting" articles.
  • Feedback and support available, either directly from the developers or through a user community. 
  • Some evidence of active work being done to improve the tool / service.  Maybe with their own blog, as most tools have these days.
  • Let me read my feeds if I am not connected to the network. 
  • Conversely, let me read my feeds if I am away from my primary computer.

Tools I have tried and some comments regarding these requirements.  Please note, that I don't purport to provide a full overview, and most of these are under continual upgrades and feature additions.  I think people have different ways of using these tools, which tends to drive them one way or another. 

  • NewsApp was the first aggregator I ever used.  It's been so long that my ActiveWords shortcut points to the wrong place.
  • Bloglines was next, based on the recommendations of someone I was reading at the time.  This is still the aggregator I tell people to try when they are getting started.  It provides the major benefit of delivering my feeds wherever I go.  The disadvantage is that I must be connected.  Lately, I like the aggregators that bring my news to me to read when and where I want (assuming I have a portable machine).   Bloglines also seems to frequently provide new features and updates as they learn how people use their service.  I wondered two years ago when they would start charging for the service.  There are a number of hosted aggregators that people use, I just never bothered to try them once I found Bloglines.
  • NewsGator works within MS Outlook and made a lot of sense for me when I left the corporate world.  I bought a subscription based on many positive comments in the blogosphere.  A number of features above are covered by the native Outlook interface, though I had to create the right Outlook views and search folders myself.  With the number of feeds I have, it began to appear that NewsGator + Outlook were absorbing an inordinate number of system resources.  But then I believe Scoble uses NewsGator with nearly 1000 feeds.  The other bonus with NewsGator is their Online Service, which will let you read away from your main machine and synchronize between the two.  I looked at this briefly, but since NewsGator doesn't get folders, this wasn't a very helpful addition.  (Here are my thoughts when I moved from Bloglines to NewsGator earlier this year.)
  • SharpReader was highly recommended by Rick Klau, so I took a look.  The biggest bang that it brings is the threaded interface, and this keeps me drawn to it as my current aggregator.  On the negative side, the one-man-shop doing development seems to have dried up, and it is having trouble with valid webfeeds.  This is a big reason for my renewed search for something even better.
  • RssBandit is an open source project that has some promise with threading, but it seems too much like SharpReader to bother switching at this point.  But maybe with future versions and ongoing development, it will warrant another look.  Some of the behaviors seemed odd to me, such as reading oldest unread articles first.
  • intraVnews is another one that works within Outlook.  I played with it for about a week before giving up.  Like NewsGator, it required me to set up my own folders and views and, frustratingly, creates some variables that can't be used elsewhere in Outlook.  At least intraVnews could understand my opml file structure, including folders. 

That should be enough for now.  I probably have other needs and requirements bouncing around my head, but it's time to post and be done.

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