More recently, as I have started to scan more blogs and newsfeeds, I wanted a quicker, more efficient way of scanning through my growing list of RSS sources so I investigated a few alternative RSS readers or aggregators.

It was quite interesting to see how your own blog looks displayed in a variety of different formats. All that self inflicted torture over the templates, the CSS stylesheets, the sidebars, the fonts, the bulleted lists is potentially meaningless when your reader might be reading a simple text feed with more control over the presentation than you, dear author.

The main things I need from an RSS reader are:

  • Newspaper reading (for a group of blogs in chronological order)
  • Easy to manage related feeds into a collection of groups
  • Able to scan all (or a subset of) feeds for new articles
  • OPML import must preserve folder structure and merge feeds correctly
  • To be able to read comments in the reader
  • To be able to configure feeds on an individual and group basis
  • Mark feeds as updated when someone comments on an article
  • Personalised feed discovery/recommendation engine when you have read everything in the blogosphere
  • Clippings for interesting articles
  • Able to synchronise state of feeds (articles read/unread) from PC with Web based service
  • Integration with Web browser to quickly add new blogs and feeds
  • Support for newsgroups (and potentially email)
  • Free (or cheap)

Originally, I was using Thunderbird which was fine for a handful of blogs but is not able to read a group of blogs in newspaper fashion. This is quite important as in the Oracle community, people are often posting or reacting to earlier posts by others in the same closely knit community.

I also tried Sage but that had the same problem (no newspaper support) although I really liked the auto-discovery feature where you can tell Sage to scan for feeds on the current Web page and subscribe with a single click.

I then tried bloglines as I already had an account, it appears to have been around the longest and because lots of people seem to use it and like it. However, for reading a group of blogs, bloglines lists the articles blog by blog and not in chronological order. Also, when importing OPML, bloglines creates duplicate categories instead of intelligently merging them. I thought the bloglines interface was generally confusing, new articles were not immediately visible, reading was generally slow and organising feeds into folders was tortuous in the extreme. Bloglines supports OPML import but with this caveat - ‘Imported sites may take up to two hours to update’.

I then tried another Web based RSS aggregator, Newsgator which intelligently merged my feeds and preserved the existing folder hierarchy. Some other RSS readers just loaded the OPML into a long, flat list. Newsgator had a clean, intuitive interface, supported groups of feeds and was quick. Also, it was server based so the feeds and articles are portable across any computer. I liked the clean, simple interface with the emphasis on the text of the article. Newsgator also supports Clippings for articles of interest.

Omea from Jetbrains- a polished professional .NET application. Excellent drag’n’drop interface for quickly organising feeds into categories. Fast performance, easy to understand, rich functionality. Probably my favourite desktop RSS reader. Omea was the only reader to display comments in the reader. In the Oracle blogging community, the comments are important. The Omea Firefox plugin is not supported for Firefox 1.5 but will be by the end of 2005 (prompt response to feedback). The only slight moan is the startup and closedown time is long enough to merit a progress bar.

Pluck is another Web based server which looks nice (Desktop, Web) with synchronisation but crucially missing reading feeds in a single group. Lots of advertising from their sponsors consuming valuable screen estate.

RSSOwl - OpenSource. Clean interface. Import of my OPML file ran so blindingly fast I missed it. Really fast navigation and sensible interface design. Uses AmphetaRate for personalised recommendations and feed discovery. Instant startup and shutdown.

Feedreader- free, simple, lightweight RSS reader but refuses to delete a folder unless you delete all 99 feeds therein.

Rojo is another server based aggregator with a lot of emphasis on Web 2.0 (tags, contacts) and minimalist, modern design but the article content seems almost secondary.

Google Reader - pleasant enough with familiar Google style look and feel but the interface and functionality seems a little too simplistic once you have used other desktop RSS readers.

I also briefly looked at RSSBandit(which seemed to be unique in that it supported synchronistation using FTP/WebDAV) and SharpReader but by this time I was suffering from RSS fatigue although Wikipedia had a tempting list of even more candidates.

For desktop readers, I really liked Omea (apart from the silly icon) and RSSOwl (very nice icon) but after a few days, I realised that a unified source of my feeds and the status of articles was more important than the wealth of features available in a desktop RSS client so I decided to stick with NewsGator which was the most impressive Web based service and met most of my requirements.

PS. Oh no. I forgot the most obvious tool for all my mail/news/RSS needs