Read It Later iPad App

The Read It Later app, Nate Weiner’s application that allows you to “save” Web pages for later reading has been updated and released for the iPad. Originally released for iPhone and iPod Touch, version 2.1 now supports iPads as well as iPhones and iPod Touch. You need to be running iOS 3.1 or later to use Read It Later. You first create a free account on the Read it Later Website, then use a special bookmark on your Web browser Toolbar to save Web pages for later browsing, on or offline, in any version of Read It Later, on any device that supports it. (On Firefox, the Read It Later installs an extension to the browser). That means you can mark pages for later reading not only on your computer, but on your iPad or phone, and they’re all synchronized. In Firefox, the Read It Later extension adds a small icon to the Address Bar (where you see the RSS icon, etc.); click it to save a page for later reading. In Safari, you click a bookmarklet in your Toolbar.

Read It Later can also extract plain text from Web pages, for easier reading (it saves two versions of every page you mark). You can organize your list of saved pages with tags, and sort them. You can choose to share pages in a number of fashions, via several Twitter clients for the iPad as well as variety of news readers have built-in support for Read It Later. There’s a simple tutorial here. If you use Google Reader in your Web browser, you’ll see a Read It Later button right next to the Google Star, for easily marking pages for later reading.

I note that the process of adding the bookmarklet to mark items to Read It Later for Safari on the iPad is a bit laborious—but that is a flaw in Safari, not Read It Later. Read It Later provides good step-by-step instructions for adding the bookmarklet; read the screen, and you’ll be fine. The Read It Later iPad application also has good built-in Help; be sure to read the Tips section. I note Weiner has included helpful Settings for downloading only when using on WiFi, or for text only.

The paid for version Read It Later Pro offers easier saving of pages to read later; you can “tap to save,” without having to first open the link/page. There’s also an embedded full-screen reader, among other features. The niftiest feature is the Digest feature; it sorts your saved pages, and presents them in an easily navigable list. There’s a shot of the Digest screen below.

ETA:Rich points out in a comment to this post that I did not make it clear that the Digest is an add-on feature. It is; it’s an in-app $5.00 purchase for either the free or the paid version of Read it Later. If you purchase the Digest for any version of Read it Later, it is available in all version of the app that you own. See this explanation.

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.

More Open Source for Education

Yes, I’m still looking. I’ve found a couple more sites that are collecting information about open source projects of interest to education. There’s an article in NewsForge about SchoolForge, but the stuff that looks viable to me is mostly at the more traditional sites like Fresh Meat, or CPAN, the mother lode of Perl modules. Which reminds me, there’s now a well organized site at perl.org, for learners.

Software doesn’t have to be New to be Good

Lately I’ve been talking to others in IT who are, like me, interested in solid products with good interfaces,and are taking advantage of stable but geeky standard protocols and unix tools and applications but putting a web front end on them.

I’ve been thinking about doing this with an NNTP server. Network News Transport Protocol is what makes UseNet newsgroups work, from a server perspective. Most of the discussion board products are monolingual; UseNet News is not, and readers are designed to support pretty much any language someone would post to UseNet in. News is threaded, and there are a number of ways to integrate HTML front ends. Why not use News as a discussion bard?

There are scads of News servers, but I keep hearing about DNews News Server, which runs on Macs, among other platforms. It’s particularly interesting since user authorization controls allow read and/or post access to be restricted for particular users or newsgroups; NetWin, the developer, also offers dBabble, chat server and webNews, a .cgi for a web front end to a news server. NewsRunner is a neat Mac application you can point to your News Server, and it will convert posts to HTML, text, digest form, email, or database and archive them. We were early adopters of Web Crossing, which supports UseNet news groups via the web or a client, email, private discussion boards with customizable templates, chat, and ssl connections.