Linux to Mac

An RSS News Reader with the Power of Google

- 2008.08.20 - Tip Jar

Rating: 3 out of 4

There are many ways to browse the Web. If you're an information addict like me, many of the sites you visit are updated frequently. Actually visiting each site multiple times a day is inefficient and slow. Really Simple Syndication (RSS) offers a way to track new content as it appears, and the Google Reader packs powerful features into a completely browser-based RSS reader.

RSS Redux

RSS readers are not new. Neither are web-based RSS readers. In fact, OS X comes with a more than competent RSS reader in the form of Safari. If you visit any website that publishes an RSS feed - a file that indexes new content for RSS subscribers - Safari will alert you to that fact by showing an RSS icon (Safari's RSS icon) in the URL bar. (Most browsers use the standard RSS feed icon:RSS feed icon) By clicking on the icon, you can view the site content through its feeds, and even bookmark the feed.

Although Safari makes a pleasant RSS reader, it is not optimized for the task. If you are serious news hound, it may not be your best choice.

Being browser-based, the Google Reader can be accessed from any computer and any web browser. It uses AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) techniques to highlight news stories as they appear on the sites to which you are subscribed. It updates RSS news feeds automatically in the background.

You can see a list of all your subscriptions on the left side of the window with the number of new articles at each site. On the right side is a reading pane where article summaries are read (most recent first) with links to the full articles. In the reading pane, you can see all articles for all sites, all articles for individual sites, or new articles from all or individual sites.

The Google Reader also offers a feature to email articles, tag articles, and share them with friends. Sharing is done through a unique Google assigned URL that must be provided to friends before they can be viewed. Finally, there are a couple of handy features like the "Mark all read" and "Refresh" buttons.

Google Reader

Finding Feeds

Google Reader offers two convenient ways to find and subscribe to RSS feeds. The first is by using the "Add Subscription" box. You can either type the URL of the feed directly into the box or enter a search term and Google will give you list of feeds to select.

The second way is by using the Discover link. The Discover option provides recommendations for new feeds by comparing your interests with the feeds of users similar to you. The Discover feature has turned up some interesting sites for me.

Trends and Statistics

Following the Trends link, you can see how many articles you have read at each site, the percentage read, how many items read/day and other metadata about your news habits. You can also see how many items per day on average are being added to each site, and the "Most obscure" tab on the Trends page shows how many other users have subscribed to the each of your feeds.

More News Is Good News

For me the main attraction of Google Reader is the portability and power of Google Reader, browser independence, and ease of use. When I first tried it some time ago, it was a little rough, but the hard edges appear to be gone. It has fed my information addiction steadily for last couple of months. LEM

Free RSS Readers for Mac OS X

Most modern browsers have built-in RSS readers, but a freestanding or web-based RSS reader lets you switch browsers without losing your subscriptions. Following is just a sampling of freeware RSS apps for Macs.

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Keith Winston is a recent Mac convert after five years of Linux on the desktop. He also writes for and created CommandLineMac to focus on the Unix-y power of the Mac. If you find Keith's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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