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Aggregator Aggrevation

If you don’t use an aggregator or news reader, you may or may not want to read the rest of this post. (If you aren’t familiar with aggregators, they go out to the web sites you want to check regularly and bring back what is usually a snippet of whatever has been posted new on the site since you last checked.) If you regularly try to visit a lot of web sites, especially blogs like mine that get updated on an anything but regular basis, aggregators are the way to go. They tell you whether there is anything new on a site without you having to open it, and the snippets generally give you an idea if it is something you are interested in or not.

I started with Amphetadesk. It works well, and in the days before RSS was nearly ubiquitous on the web, it maintained a directory of feeds you could access. I liked it and it met my number one criteria (FREE). It just seemed a bit “clunky”. I don’t know how it is now, I haven’t used it for quite a while. It was a program that lived on your machine.

Later I tried Bloglines. Bloglines is a web-based service. I liked it fairly well, and subscribing to the feeds was easier than with Amphetadesk. But, I used to have a lot of trouble connecting to it, and if you can’t connect to it, you can’t access your feeds. (This was in my pre-high speed internet days.)

I dabbled with some others, and finally ended up using SharpReader. It is a machine-resident program. It’s clean, works well, and is simply a very good, no nonsense newsreader. (And FREE) If I wasn’t trying to blog, I would use SharpReader and be quite happy. It would do everything I need, if I were only interested in reading a lot of sites.

Still, I (at least potentially) process a lot of information (most of it useless) on a daily basis. I currently scan the RSS feeds for 41 web sites (plus Ratlands, just to make sure it is still working) every day that I actually sit down at the computer with the intent of reading or doing research. If you are just reading the new stuff at a web site, it isn’t really a problem. You find something you are interested in, you click the link, read the page, and that’s pretty much it.

If, however, you are trying to blog about it, or think you might, you have to do something with it. Your choices are basically, 1) click the link, write about it and link to it or 2) copy the text you want and the url into a program like Quicknote, or 3) bookmark it so you can (maybe) come back to it after you’ve read everything else. I have, in the past, routinely had an aggregator and a browser with multiple tabs open and in the process would forget to open a new tab and get multiple browser windows going. It’s just frustrating. I was pretty sure there had to be a better way.

A couple of weeks ago, I started dumping all the aggregator links in folders in my sidebar and then processing them after I finished scanning everything in the aggregator (based on the suggestions in this article). As an organizational strategy, it works pretty well, but I was still opening page after page and bookmarking all of them. I decided to try some other aggregators to see if I could streamline the process.

I spent all of last night (literally… until about 6:30 this morning) trying out aggregators that integrate into Firefox. I tried Sage and Wizz RSS. I think I like Wizz a little bit better but neither solved the problem of having to open and bookmark multiple pages.

The answer was somewhere I would rather it not have been and it doesn’t integrate into Firefox. I try to avoid getting tied into big operations whenever possible. I avoid Microsoft wherever possible (WinAmp instead of Windows media player, Comodo Firewall instead of the one that comes with XP, moving to Linux instead of Vista, etc.) I really wasn’t too keen on the idea of using Google Reader. But, it does what other news readers do, handles embedded images and it gives me the one thing I was looking for: I can drag and drop the headline to my bookmark sidebar and it bookmarks the webpage without opening the webpage. If you don’t blog, it might not be readily apparent how much time that saves when you are running through 40+ web sites.

So, I guess Google’s really got their hooks in me this time, because as I now operate out of Linux about 40% of the time, the fact that Google Reader is a web-based service means I can blog more or less effectively (OK, fine, insert your own joke here) while running either operating system.

Tonight’s project is evaluating bookmark synchronization programs.

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