September 23, 2017

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

Really Simple Guide to Really Simple Syndication

Really Simple Guide to Really Simple Syndication

RSS readers have become a vital organizational and time saving tool for everyone from the most casual web user to professionals tasked with monitoring company news, blog chatter, and more. Simply put, RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is the fastest and most efficient way to monitor online newspapers, blogs, and other trusted sources. For any who are still unfamiliar with the technology, check out a simple explanation from the clever folks at Common Craft [here](http://www.commoncraft.com/rss_plain_english).
RSS readers come in several different flavors. In the simplest form, you will see readers in personal home pages like [iGoogle ](http://google.com/ig)or [Page Flakes](http://pageflakes.com), or on [Facebook](http://facebook.com), [MySpace](http://myspace.com) and other social networks. These online tools features widgets (boxes on the site) that pull in content that is typically very specific – your local weather, news about your favorite sports teams, or movie listings. But you will want to use dedicated software for serious content monitoring.
To get started, you will need to decide whether you want a web-based service, or desktop software. There are clear benefits and drawbacks to each option. In general terms, web-based readers are quickly growing [more popular](http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/desktop_rss_readers_are_nearly_dead.php) thanks to portability, built-in sharing tools, and new time-saving technologies. On the other hand, desktop readers are typically more robust and allow users to read content offline, which is a strong plus if you want to get caught up anywhere that lacks precious broadband. As I’ll get to into later, there are new tools that offer the best of both worlds.
Even if you are happy with your RSS reader, it’s worth taking a look at the other options available to you. Because most readers are free, the only investment on your part is time, something that realistically could be paid back in spades. On the other hand, the sheer number of options can be a bit overwhelming. That’s where I come in. To get you started, I have briefly reviewed a few of the best tools, all of which should prove useful depending on your needs.
**Five Free Readers Worth a Look:**
***Web-based***
[**Google Reader**](http://google.com/reader)
Google offers a familiar and easy-to-use interface, making this an excellent option for anyone new to the game. In a welcome perk, Google now allows user to store posts off-line using [Google Gears Beta](http://gears.google.com). Google Reader features some interesting social features – with just a couple of clicks you can easily flag and share posts with anyone. Google also offers different versions tailored for [mobile devices](http://www.google.com/reader/m/view/), and even the [Nintendo Wii](http://www.google.com/reader/view/?ui=wii#overview-page). With all due respect to Bloglines and Rojo, Google Reader is the King of the Hill.
[**Bloglines Beta**](http://beta.bloglines.com)
Once upon a time, Bloglines was the dominant web-based reader. Its user base dwindled when Big G brought in sleeker looks, faster technology, and a massive user base of its own to draw from. However, Bloglines is aiming to regain its stronghold with a completely redesigned offering. Bloglines Beta incorporates drag and drop AJAX technology, a more attractive interface, and improved set up tools. While the design has taken strides, especially with the new preview pane option, the sharing and sorting tools don’t measure up. It can also take longer to catch up – users cannot quickly scan all new feeds in chronological order because Bloglines does not provide an option to view all feeds together. But, hey it’s still in Beta, so there is hope.
***Desktop***
[**Snarfer**](http://snarfer.com)
Snarfer is an attractive new desktop reader, and offers blazing speeds. Besides the hilarious [Snork](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Snorks)-like mascot, the service offers the intriguing ability to synchronize with Bloglines. Snarfer does not have many of the advanced options other readers have, but is fast and simple, and doesn’t place a heavy burden on system resources. Snarfer strikes me as a work in progress, but I suspect that by the time Bloglines busts out of Beta, these two options may make users think about switching away from Google.
[**Sharp Reader**](http://sharpreader.net)
Sharp Reader is a nice desktop option for those of you that want to keep a constant eye on feeds in real time. To me, its signature characteristic is that new posts pop up on screen in a little blue box no matter what you are doing, similar to email notifications or instant messages. Of course, some may consider the pop-ups a con rather than a pro. The service is easy to use and manage, and can be faster than web-based options. However, I find that it lacks the speed that you would expect from a desktop service and is a bigger drain on system resources than some alternatives. Its search and filtering tools can also be somewhat flaky.
[**Omea Reader**](http://www.jetbrains.com/omea/reader/)
Jetbrain’s Omea Reader is a brute. Omea offers a stronger combination of organizing options and filtering tools than any other reader that I have come across. While it may seem relatively overwhelming, Omea also holds some usability pluses, like the ability to auto-detect feeds rather than require RSS scripts. The service also includes more flagging and annotation features than even Google. The free version will allow users to read bookmarked web pages and Usenet groups offline. You can merge email and IM into the service by purchasing the Pro version. While I have not used Omea extensively, I would certainly recommend that those who face a lot of heavy lifting give it a shot.
As I mentioned before, there are dozens of options out there–I’ve only scratched the surface here. If your appetite is wet, here are a few more links that are worth a look:
• [CNET’s Most Popular RSS Reader Downloads](http://www.download.com/sort/3150-9227_4-0-1-4.html?)
• [About.com’s Top 10 List](http://email.about.com/od/rssreaderswin/tp/windows_free.htm)
• [The Blog Joint Takes a Look at a Few Popular Options
](http://theblogjoint.com/2007/07/10/rss-reader-roundup/)
Please, if you have any corrections, additions, or suggestions, leave them here in the notes. With so many RSS readers out there, we will be sure to review more down the road. And remember, these services are all free – so check them out and thank the designers if you find a winner!

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