Feed readers — librarian’s summary

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A feed reader is a utility that allows users to view multiple (RSS/Atom) news feeds simultaneously, presenting these within a standardized interface. The usefulness of this kind of software is apparent only if the user is already to some extent familiar with subscription to news feed services, but one the user has started subscribing to RSS feeds — typically in their web browser — then they will appreciate the management capabilities found in feed readers.

Types

There are primarily two types of reader currently available:
  • Web based
  • Standalone
A standalone reader is client software that is installed locally on the users computer, and may take to form of a standalone program or a plugin for another program (often webbrowsers or e-mail software). Desktop software may be commercial or non-commercial, and may be available for computers of mobile devices (or both).

Web-based readers are services that are hosted on a webserver (either the user’s own or a third party’s), and these include both commercial and non-commercial software. Web-based readers can be further subdivided:
  • Personal
  • Community
Personal feed readers do the job you would expect, allowing one user to maintain their personal feeds (they may also feature compatibility with mobile devices); community feed readers allow communities to do the same, but collectively. cf Planet. This kind of reader is possibly interesting for academic communities/library communities. 

There are also a number of programming libraries developed for use with popular web and traditional programming languages, including PHP, Perl, Python, Objective-C, Java etc. The possibility of providing aggregated feeds online using web programming languages holds obvious interest for those who need specific functionality that is not otherwise available.

Core functions

I’m sure that a lot of people have their own opinions about what makes a good feed reader, but the following are important:

  • Scheduled updates
  • Multiple views
  • Feed subscription from your webbrowser
  • Reads RSS 1 & 2 and Atom
  • Import/export of OPML

Scheduled updates make it unnecessary to manually update your feeds, which is probably a good thing if you’ve got quite a few; some feed readers allow you to set update rates on individual feeds, which might seem a bit like overkill, but can go some way to helping you manage your time. Multiple views are essential because people are not the same, and different people like different ways of viewing feeds. People will appreciate being presented with the option of subscribing to a feed in their personal reader when they click on a feed in their webbrowser — it certainly beats copy/paste. Since there are a few standards for feeds out there, it’s nice to support the core standards, these are currently RSS 1.0, RSS 2.0 and Atom. Once you’ve got feeds running you’ll want to take them with you when you change computer, change software, and for this OPML support is essential (be aware that some import/export isn’t quite as easy as you’d expect).

Choosing a reader

Most users will be happy with basic functionality, including import, export, management and reading with their preferred view. In this respect, most people will be satisfied with an online feed reader. Given the “2.0” nature of news feeds, you’d wonder that there was a market for non-web-based offerings, but specialist users may be interested functions that are only available in a few of the standalone packages.Features that will become increasingly popular include those that help reduce the time spent filtering out relevant information. Technologies such as APML (Attention Profiling Mark-up Language) will become absolutely essential for many, but there are as yet few feed readers that have stated that they will support this open standard; those that have include NewsGator and Bloglines.A quick look at the extensive table of feed readers at Aggcompare will make it amply apparent that there are many different options to choose among, so you need to make a few choices before starting to look:

  • What operating system(s) do you have?
  • Do you want to pay for extra functionality/support?
  • Do you want to be able to access your feeds from multiple computers?
  • Do you care if you see advertising when reading your feeds?
  • Do you want sound/video/media functionality?

Answering these questions will help you reduce the number of options drastically. Which one should you choose? I’ll tell you in another post….

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2 Responses to “Feed readers — librarian’s summary”

  1. Feed Readers – librarian’s summary II « Infonatives Says:

    […] I discussed the various parameters that can be used to help select an RSS feed reader in part I, in this part I’ll look at how these parameters — and some real-world parameters […]

  2. feed me « Curiouser and curiouser Says:

    […] Digging in to RSS When investigating tools for syndication, I narrowed my search from the get-go by limiting choices to web-based clients (as opposed to stand-alone or e-mail based tools). Knowing that I would be able to access my web-based feed reader from work, school, or home, I then poured through reviews from several 2.0 experts, such as TechCrunch, CNet and, for some library flavor, Infonatives. […]

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