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10/23/2006
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Review: Web-Based RSS-Readers--Bloglines Vs. Google Vs. NewsGator

Google recently gave a brush-up to its Web-based RSS application, Google Reader. How does it stack up against the leading competition?

There are an increasing number of Web-based RSS readers out there -- and if you think of RSS as a tool for helping you to drink from the fire-hose torrent of information on the Web, you'll find a lot to like in them. They're always available, no matter what machine you're on; it's one less application that you have to install (and upgrade) on your system; and they keep your feeds as up-to-date as possible.

However, just being a browser-based application can put these products at a disadvantage. They don't offer the flexibility (or the complexity) of apps installed locally on your hard drive. They don't offer anything fancy in the way of user interface, either -- you don't realize how accustomed you are to drag-and-drop, for example, until you spend time trying to use applications that don't support it. (Newsgator is the exception: You can drag and drop feeds and folders in its navigator bar.)



RSS Readers


•  Introduction

•  Bloglines

•  Google Reader

•  Newsgator Online

The other big disadvantage is customization. With Web-based readers, what you see is pretty much what you get. Locally installed apps like Feed Demon (from Newsgator Technologies, the same company that offers -- surprise! -- Newsgator), offer such interface niceties as s a three-panel interface and let you individualize the display of the feed entries.

In this roundup, I look at three of the top Web-based RSS readers: Google's updated Google Reader, Bradbury Software's Newsgator Online, and Bloglines from IAC Search & Media, the parent company of Ask.com. All three are available for free, although Newsgator is also offered in a fuller-featured paid-service version called Newsgator Online Premium.

Keep in mind that there are three things that a good RSS reader must do well. First, it must make it easy to find RSS feeds and subscribe to, manage, and display feed entries in ways that make sense to you. Each of these three readers handles read and unread items differently, for example. There isn't any right way or wrong way, but one of them may work better for you, and it's easy to try them all out.

Second, an RSS reader must provide knowledge management tools to help you prioritize and categorize entries so that information can be put away and found again. This can be as simple as marking an entry "Keep New" so it doesn't disappear from the feed, as Bloglines does it, or the much more complex and useful tagging features of Google Reader.

And finally, an RSS reader should support collaboration by giving you a variety of ways to communicate both the information in the entries and the metadata: the blogroll (the list of subscribed feeds), the original URLs of the source entries, any categories and tags you apply, and comments.

These are the standards by which all RSS readers must be judged. I took a look to see how these three Web readers measured up.

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