RSS is dead, they say! They, being all of you who now get your news, information and various social updates from one of the many online platforms you subscribe to. But let it be said that all the Twitters, Facebooks and Reddits in the world can’t put a stake through the heart of the undying Really Simple Syndication feed. It’s a powerful part of the information distribution system that makes up the general Web, and its use on the mobile platform is unquestioned: Tablet PCs plus RSS equals sublime.
Where RSS has died, however, is on the desktop: There just isn’t much room any more for the standalone RSS application, not when 35,000 (approximate count) different web apps exist that use RSS in all sorts of crazy and interesting ways. But as we sing a sad eulogy for the once-popular practice of firing up an application to check the day’s events, we celebrate the growth and uniqueness of all the new uses of RSS-including those that reduce the complexities of.XML feeds and management to more graphics-driven displays of easy-to-navigate news.
So join us as we take a trip down RSS lane. We’ll be checking out some of the best-in-class Web apps, the handful of remaining desktop apps, and cool apps for your iPad and Android tablet. For every app you download or use, an Angel of RSS gets its wings.
This extension for Firefox, Chrome and Safari delivers the headline-based feeds you’re used to seeing on most RSS apps in a novel, approachable fashion. It mixes just enough information to whet your whistle about a given feed’s story alongside effortless navigation that allows you to quickly dig deeper into the information you find most interesting. Feedly taps into your existing Google Reader account to deliver RSS-based information in an almost web-magazine-like style, but you can subscribe to (and unsubscribe from) new feeds using Feedly itself. The beauty of this web app is its presentation-you’ll swear you’re reading a customised news blog, not a combination of simple RSS feeds.
What Good Noows loses on spelling, it gains on usefulness. Instead of giving you a boring old list of items to check out – that dull subject-plus-text-dump combination that’s common to a majority of current RSS applications – Good Noows stashes your latest information into a visually appealing grid by default. Clicking on any story in your grid pulls it up as a background tab in your browser, and Instapaper connectivity allows you to stash any article into an offline reading queue. But the real enjoyment of this web app is its instant customisation: filtering news, sorting by popularity, and finding brand-new RSS sources to read is just a few mouse-clicks away.
YOU HAVE A 30-INCH MONITOR. That’s the strength of the message you’ll be sending if you fire up Glow Dart on anything but a 30-inch display, for this waterfall-style RSS display is ideally suited for the many Maximum PC readers who rock huge displays as a secondary monitor. If that’s you, you’ll love the fact that huge headlines of information-clickable if you want to view the actual story behind the tease–travel down your screen in real-time without you having to do a thing. Register for Glow Dart (it’s free!) and you’ll be able to customise this giant, scrolling list of information with all the personalised feeds you want.
We would have called this one “The Morning Report” ourselves, because that’s basically what this web service creates for you. Input a list of RSS feeds whose contents you’d like delivered to you on a daily or weekly basis, and Tabbloid does just that. On your preset time interval, the service will deliver you a PDF via email that contains the contents of the RSS feeds you noted your interest in. That’s it; no sign-ups, no craziness. You can just as easily stop the delivery as you can create a brand-new PDF report. Or 10. Or 20.
Is this an RSS feed? No. Consider Postrank to be the whipped cream to an already delicious Google Reader sundae. Assuming you use the big G-R for your RSS needs, and assuming that you’re using Chrome, Firefox or Safari as the browser that accesses Google Reader, than the Postrank add-on will allow you to quickly scan through your items for news that the greater Web has validated to be interesting. How’s that? Each story is tagged with a Postrank rating, calculated from its user interest rating across a wide number of news aggregates. The more popular a story among the web at-large, the higher the number, and the more you should read those stories above the other items in your feed.
Bon voyage, news traveller. Now this is the kind of application we’re talking about – one that considers the graphical element of RSS on equal footing to the data a particular feed carries. If that didn’t make any sense, allow us to summarise: timeline. Voyage is a timeline. It doesn’t look anything like a conventional RSS reader, even any of the ones we’ve listed above. Scroll through the various feeds you’ve configured into the app using your mouse and scroll wheel or keyboard arrow keys. Within the giant cloud of news Voyage creates for you are all the different stories you might be interested in, organised by the time they were pulled into the feed.
Ever have the urge to create a CNN-like news feed that scrolls across the bottom of your Windows desktop? Look no further than the Adobe AIR app Snackr, which slaps a scrolling ticker of RSS stories overtop a transparent background right above your Windows taskbar. Moving your mouse over any part of the scrolling feed stops the action, just in case you want to spend a few extra seconds reading your headlines or clicking on an article to find out more info. Configuring the specific feeds shown on the scrolling bar only requires you to enter them Snackr’s simple setup screen.
So maybe a scroll bar full of RSS news isn’t your thing. How about a transparent desktop item? Feedling is just that: The application creates transparent boxes overlaid on your actual windows desktop, with each “box” of information corresponding to a different RSS feed that you’ve entered in the program’s configuration screen. You can set the specific opacity of the background transparent effect at whatever level you want, and you can also configure the app to display feed headlines in different colours (mouse-hover colours, too). There aren’t a lot of options to configure in total, but that doesn’t do anything to detract from the usefulness of this headlines-on-your-desktop utility.
Beeeyouuutiful-that’s the first thing you’ll say when you fire up Feedly on your Android tablet. We love this app for its presentation most of all, because it’s a perfect replica of the aforementioned extension for one’s desktop browser. The sheer level of organisation you can pack into your handheld blog page-at least, that’s what Feedly’s interface looks like-is one of the best-kept secrets of this simple feed viewer. A handy sidebar on the app gives you access to your latest feeds, the most popular stories, and featured feeds at the tap of a finger. And tiny icons at the bottom of stories viewed allow you to share information with others almost as quickly as you can pull new stories up.
You don’t want news; you want a photo essay. That’s the premise behind the Pulse RSS viewer, which combines headlines and excerpts with beautiful, thumbnail graphics for all of your news sources. Each source within your Pulse page lists its stories in a sideways, scrollable fashion – pulling up specific news is as simple as tapping your finger on the associated graphical box. It’s a beautiful way to read news, and this horizontal scrollbar of items stays with you when you go to view the text of an actual post or item. Pulse’s coolest feature, however, has to be its Bump support-yes, you can now share RSS feeds with your friends by physically tapping tablets together.
For the ultimate graphical treatment of an RSS feat, you’ll have to pick yourself up an iPad-Flipboard transforms the entire premise of RSS into a kind-of digital magazine that one flicks with a finger to turn pages. We confess that RSS this app isn’t specifically designed for RSS per se. It’s more tuned into the general social universe, allowing one quick access to Facebook friends, Twitter feeds, and a variety of preselected content (like TED feeds, or VH1 news or All Things Digital, etc). Provided you have a Google Reader account to pull into the app, however, you’ll be able to bundle your news alongside a bunch of beautiful, customised, digital magazines… of sorts!
If you’re just interested in a pleasant way to display RSS feeds on the iPad, MobileRSS is a no-frills feed reader that presents information in an unobtrusive, easy-to-digest style. You get the full text of a feed by default, with the quick option to tap on a button if you actually want to read the original post instead. The app connects up to both Google Reader and your Instapaper account for massive feed organisation and/or saving-for-later treatment for posts. Switching between “all posts” and “unread only” is as easy as flicking a little digital switch on the side of the app.
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