IT: Technology, Language, and Culture

News Aggregators

In his piece on news aggregators, Dave Winer defines them as:

software that periodically reads a set of news sources, in one of several XML-based formats, finds the new bits, and displays them in reverse-chronological order on a single page.

News aggregators, like Yahoo and other web portals, use RSS or other similar web services that “wrap” HTML data in a way that allows content providers like web sites and blogs to publish their html data in a “feed.”

UserLand’s Radio includes an aggregator in the application’s tool suite. Radio’s aggregator is very easy to use, and it’s geared to easily finding, reading, linking and posting commentary about the news items to your Radio-driven web log. The way the aggregator fits seamlessly with the blogging tools makes Radio extremely powerful, for all failures in terms of ease of use.

There are other news aggregators out there. I’ve looked at some of the ones available on the Mac, or that are browser based, rather than using a browser in tandem with an external application. There are some Windows aggregators reviewed here.

AmphetaDesk written in Perl by Morbus Iff, is a free open source cross-platform (Mac OS 9 and earlier, Mac OS X, Windows, Linux) customizable aggregator that fetches the news you’ve indicated you want and presents the individual items in a web page. It’s very simple to set up on Mac OS X, and the number of sources or “channels” you can subscribe to is enormous. There’s a nifty Cocoa-based outline “skin” for AmphetaDesk from l. m. orchard.

Brent Simmons has written a nifty Cocoa application, MacNewsWire, that aggregates the Mac news sources from his Macintosh News aggregator web page. I don’t think he could make it any simpler to use than it is. It’s got one of the most OS-Xish, intelligent, logical interfaces I’ve ever seen. It “just works.”

PostalCode offers Pineapple. Pineapple, currently at version 0.3.1, is a shareware ($14.95 now, $20.00 upon release) beta application for Mac OS X. Pineapple fetches the headlines from web sites that syndicate their content using rss, sorts out the articles you haven’t read and presents them to you in an easy-to-browse format in your web browser. It’s a little tedious to set up, relying as it does on dragging-and-dropping included XML files for the sites you wish to “subscribe” to onto a window in Pineapple, but it’s not difficult, and it allows you to have multiple “sets” of subscriptions. It includes clever features like “feed packs” and a scratch pad that make it very useful for people who read and then write about what they’ve read. Granted, Pineapple is a “work in progress,” but it strikes me as both useful and worth following closely.

NewsIsFree is web-based, so all you need is a browser. If you’re not a commercial user or site, you can create a free account that will let you browse headlines from thousands of sources in many different languages, search for the latest news, create custom pages with your own choice of news sources, arrange them in boxes or scroll lists, send headlines to others by email, or post headlines to your weblog or read them in your news aggregator (Radio and AmphetaDesk are both supported, as is Blogger) via syndication. Similar commercial services are offered by NewsKnowledge. Unfortunately, there isn’t much built in help, though the FAQ is a helpful start. At the same time, I suspect that this is largely a labor of love, and it’s worth keeping in mind that it is a free service. There’s a lot of potential for NewsIsFree, so I want to devote a later entry and more time to it.

Moreover.com is another web-based aggregator, also free for non-profit, personal, higher educational institutional use, as their terms of service stipulate. If you belong in their not-for-profit category, you can create a free “feed” here. Moreover works slightly differently in that you use their on-site “wizard” to select your sources either via a keyword search or by using their categories, then you select a template for display (the template is customizable), then Moreover sends you code you add to your site. When you incorporate the code then send you (you can also copy it from a web page) a script runs that fetches data from Moreover’s database, and sticks it in your web page using the template you selected. You’ll have to go through the Wizard again if you lose the email, so be sure to keep it. There’s a web developer’s help page for Moreover here,that explains how to customize the code they send, and how to incorporate more than one “Category” into your “feed.” Another Help page offers assistance for those using WYSIWYG editors. You can see the Moreover page I created using Archaeology as the keyword for my category and the plainest template here.