Synchronicity

By: jerry | 12/26/2005

I'll just come right out and say it. RSS is the greatest thing since sliced bread. In the good old days I would open dozens of browser windows or tabs to load my favorite websites just to see if anything new had been posted. Now I subscribe to their feeds and my newsreader tells me if there is anything new to read. Currently I subscribe to about 150 feeds. While that certainly doesn't put me in the league of Robert Scoble, it certainly is enough to keep me amused, especially with my busy schedule.

Which brings me to today's gripe: the lack of RSS reading tools to meet my needs. Sure, their are lots of different news readers out their, and, yes, I am not your usual internet consumer, but c'mon people! The missing feature in RSS apps in my world is synchronicity. Actually, this is the killer feature for almost anything I do online, but more on that some other time. I work on four different computers. My main machine is my 17" Powerbook G4. I maintain my email on this machine, although I'm working on converting to IMAP so I can be more fluid in my email habits. My second machine is my custom built Windows PC at home.My third machine is my Dell at work and my fourth machine is my Treo 650.

At various times, for various reasons, I use all four to access the internet and I would like to be able to use all four to keep up with my feeds. Time is precious, so I like to be able to make good use of any spare cycles and that means being able to use whichever machine I'm sitting in front of at the moment. One of my best tools for capturing those spare cycles is my Treo. I certainly don't have a lot of good things to say about Sprint, and the internet access they provide is a little slow, but in the aggregate, it's better than being idle. However, finding good tools for managing my feeds between these four machines has been nearly fruitless.

For my first foray into RSS I used an OS X reader called NetNewsWire and another reader called Pulp Fiction. I preferred the interface of PulpFiction, so for a little while I stuck with it. The problem with these and any other desktop RSS reader is that it is isolated. I could use a desktop newsreader like FeedDemon on my PC and I could even use an RSS reader like on my Treo, but none of these apps can talk to each other. Enter online RSS readers. Two services rise to the top in this category. Bloglines and Newsgator.

Both services are web based RSS readers and each handles the process with slightly different quirks and annoyances. One of the virtues of both services is the ability to use them on a mobile device like my Treo. Unfortunately the implementation of this ability lacks anything but the most basic features. I began by using Bloglines. On the plus side, Bloglines is free, including accessing it with a mobile browser. Bloglines works, after a fashion, but a couple of serious issues had me looking for something new in just a few weeks.

My number one issue: clicking on a feed shows all of the unread posts from that feed and promptly marks them all as read. This means that if I only have time to read one or two posts out of the dozen waiting for a particular feed I have to check the "Keep New" box on all of the ones I haven't read. This is counter-intuitive and Just Plain Wrong. I have since found NewsGator. I first heard about the gator from reading Scoble's blog, but initially ignored it since it seemed to be mostly about the Outlook plug-in and the fees for anything but basic service. I gave it a second chance, however, when NewsGator acquired FeedDemon and NetNewsWire. The promise of a better tomorrow was tantalizing enough to pony up the cash for a paid subscription.

The mobile version of NewsGator requires the subscription, but everything I read indicates that paid subscribers will also get FeedDemon and NetNewsWire...if they ever come out. The web version of NewsGator is adequate. It doesn't have many features when compared to desktop programs, but since it's not a desktop app, I guess that is to be expected. It is a bit more intuitive than Bloglines. Posts are not marked read the second you click on the feed link. Instead you mark them read individually or all at once by clicking the appropriate links. There are a few other tools like a ratings system, clippings and email post that are useful, but unfortunately not present in the mobile version where they would be even more useful.

While I would like better features for saving and managing posts and feeds when I'm sitting at my desktop, I could really use some of these features when I'm mobile. At my desktop I can easily follow links and use other tools to manage information and follow-up on interesting posts. When I'm mobile, my only choice with NewsGator is to leave all posts for a particular feed unread. With Bloglines I can at least email myself about an interesting post. Bottom-line. I'm looking for a cross-platform, including Treo-friendly, RSS reader solution. A web-based solution is fine if it is full-featured. The mobile solution must facilitate reading feeds in small increments and have a decent system to allow me to follow-up on interesting posts. Any thoughts?

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