InformationWeek review of web-based aggregators

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This article at InformationWeek by David DeJean reviews and compares BlogLines, Google Reader, and Newsgator Online as web-based aggregators. It’s not a bad review of features, but I’m interested in DeJean’s view 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.

I have utterly no complaints about his second crtierion, but the first and third deserve comment.

His “first,” needs to be split into two separate criteria. “must make it easy to find RSS feeds” is one, and “display feed entries in ways that make sense to you” is …well…one-point-five. These two criteria are very, very separate in all three aggregators reviewed, and it makes no sense at all to roll them together.

Regarding the first (“must make it easy to find RSS feeds”), I don’t necessarily want an aggregator to aid me in discovery of new feeds. I have nothing against these features, but I would never rely on them, any more than I rely on a single search engine. Besides, I think that in the not-so-distant future, pretty much all web-based content (and lots of content that doesn’t have a display-in-your-browser component) having feeds. Because of this, I think the time of specialized portals designed for feed discovery may be limited. It might be handy to have such a service rolled into an aggregator, but it is far from essential for me.

Regarding DeJean’s third criterion (“an RSS reader should support collaboration by giving you a variety of ways to communicate both the information in the entries and the metadata”): I think this is true, but that it doesn’t go nearly far enough. I want an aggregator that provides limitless flexibility in reparsing any data from feeds or metadata that I apply to any output format I want.

Also, I’m still waiting for a web-based aggregator that can be used by an enterprise and centrally administrated so that users can receive assistance troubleshooting aggregator problems and receive immediate updates of new feeds available through the enterprise (See paragraphs under “What I’d like” in this post).

I’d also like to see aggregators that can combine and/or filter feeds for the user instead of forcing the user to use 3rd party solutions.

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