Tags: feedreader

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Feed reading

There are some great pieces of software out there dedicated to reading RSS, each with their own take on the task. As a Mac user, I’m spoiled for choice with NetNewsWire, NewsFire and Shrook to choose from.

Then there are the myriad online feed readers like Bloglines, Newshutch and Google Reader. They’re all pretty slick as long as you’ve got a relatively well-specced machine with a JavaScript-capable browser.

But I’ve never found an RSS reader that I’ve been completely satisfied with. I find all too often that the experience reminds of using an email client. Reading email can be an enjoyable activity but more often than not, it’s all about getting the unread count in your inbox down to zero, right?

I gave up on feed readers for quite a while and just started reading the few feeds I’ve gathered together at Adactio Elsewhere. But this doesn’t keep track of what I’ve already read.

I quite like the way the “favorites”(sic) feature on Technorati works. Here, the freshness of the post takes precedent over the author. Everyone’s posts are mixed up into one river of news. It feels more like reading through a single blog.

I didn’t think there was any new way to catch up on RSS feeds until James set me straight.

We have weekly Monday morning meetings at Clearleft at which everyone is encouraged to offer up a “lightbulb moment”—an insight or revelation that’s useful or just cool. This week’s meeting didn’t happen until Wednesday (we’re not the best clockwatchers). For his lightbulb moment, James pointed out a nice little feature now offered by Google Reader.

If you go to Settings and then look under the Goodies tab, you’ll see a bookmarklet marked “Next” that you can drag to your bookmarks bar. Clicking on this bookmarklet (or favelet, if you will) takes you to the next unread post in your river of news.

I really like this way of reading. Like the Technorati solution, the order is determined by date rather than author. But the authorship is very relevant in that you view the entry in its original context; on that person’s website rather than in a feed reader (something that I know a lot of my designer friends have strong feelings about).

This little bookmarklet manages to bring RSS reading back into the browser in a completely different way than simply emulating a desktop feed reader. Whenever I want to read something new, I click the “Next” link in my bookmarks bar. I don’t know exactly what I’m going to get but I know that it will something that I haven’t read before, it will be written by someone I enjoy reading and it will be fresh.

This solution manages to straddle the fine line between the convenience of RSS (pull rather than push notification) with the tyranny of RSS (a daunting list of feeds to read through). And I don’t need to keep opening new tabs or windows—something that’s hard to avoid with regular feed readers be they on the desktop or in the browser.

I’m thinking of creating an OPML file that consists of nothing but del.icio.us links (or quicklinks or blogmarks or whatever) from people whose taste I trust. Then clicking on that “Next” button would have a lovely touch of serendipity, constantly finding something new and fresh, landing me on a web page for no other reason than someone I know thought it was worth bookmarking.

It kind of reminds me of what it was like to surf the Web back in the old pre-RSS days before information overload overwhelmed us all. If you’ve got a Google Reader account, give the bookmarklet a whirl and see what you think. It might change the way you think about reading RSS.