I’ve muttered a few times about the RSS feeds for this site, and the fun I had making them behave. Well, all that (and the shiny new email update thingy, which is based on the RSS feeds, are working nicely, so everyone should be able to get the full Losing it experience in their feed reader of choice.
But here’s the funny thing – until recently, I’ve never really made much use of feeds myself. I got the concept easily enough – bring together all the updates from frequently-visited sites so you can see when there’s something new to read. But the problem for me was that it took a little too much organisation to load a reader and keep an eye on it – I’m used to clicking bookmarks in my browser, and somehow never got into looking at a feed reader instead.
I tried a few, including the rather good FeedDemon, which I even paid for back when it wasn’t free. I even tried adding feeds into Outlook, but it didn’t work for me. I think the problem was that there didn’t seem to be an easy way of knowing when there was something to look at.
But moving right along. In the last few years, I’ve found more and more webcomics that I enjoy, and I’d got into the habit of checking them all daily. Which was OK, but some are updated more often than others, and some days I wouldn’t get round to clicking those bookmarks. And there are a few technical and news sites I visit regularly. All of which leads to a lot of random checking of sites, and occasionally forgetting to check a site and missing something.
So when I noticed that a highly-regarded RSS reader for the Mac, NetNewsWire had joined FeedDemon in being acquired by Newsgator and was now being given away, I decided it was time to give the old feeds thing another go.
The first thing I noticed was that the Dock icon, like the one for Mail, has that nifty little “badge” showing the number of unread items. Now that immediately makes it much more useful to me – I don’t have to remember to keep checking for new information, it will tell me when there’s something for me. As I keep half an eye out for unread mail whenever I’m using the computer, parking NetNewsWire next to Mail in the Dock means I’ll always know when there’s something to read. Cool.
So, what do you get when you look in NetNewsWire? Well, that depends on what the site provides. Some sites just give you an excerpt, which tells you that there’s a new article, in which case you can click the title to be taken to the web page. You can either browse from within NetNewsWire, or have the pages open in your preferred web browser, which is what I do. In this picture, you can see one of my favourite web comics, What The Duck, which provides the daily cartoon in the feed, which is great.
An unexpected bonus of using a feed reader over a web browser is that you can see when pages have been edited. BBC News are a bit naughty about this – they don’t just do quite normal things like correcting typos and glaring factual errors, they actually update a news story after it’s been published. This wouldn’t be so bad if they added new information at the end, but when they change the nature of a story it can create confusion – and often has. Someone sees a story, sends the link to friends with a comment, and by the time the friends see it, it’s been changed and the comment is no longer relevant. Anyway, NetNewsWire has an option to show edits, as you can see in this example. The original wording appears to have been toned down substantially…
Anyway, I’ve been using NetNewsWire for a couple of weeks now, and I’m loving it – I’ve now taken to subscribing to interesting sites rather than bookmarking them. It’s convenient, and as the updates are automagically downloaded for me, it saves time, too. But there’s more! It’s possible to synchronise your feed subscriptions. You can either do this via a free account with Newsgator, or (on Macs, anyway) via a .Mac if you have one. Once you’ve done that, you can run feed readers on multiple computers, and get the same feeds on all of them. And if you mark something as read on one, it will update on the others. So I now have FeedDemon installed on my work computer, which means I can keep up to date wherever I am. And if you’re not on your own computer, you can read your feeds through Newsgator’s web interface.
This is all pretty cool stuff, and I really should have made the effort ages ago…
Now would be a good time for all the cool kids to say “what took you so long?”