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23 October 2006

Feed Readers


Google Reader Screenshot


According to Wikipedia, a Feed Reader, or News Aggregator or whatever you want to call it, is a client software that uses a web feed to retrieve syndicated web content such as weblogs, podcasts, vlogs, and mainstream mass media websites, or in the case of a search aggregator, a customized set of search results.

So, what the heck are all these technical names? Let's say you know a group of blogs that you like to read their updates daily. So, they came out with an invention, which is Web Feed. Web Feed is a web page written in a special format, where the updates of a site or blog or whatever content are shown. You may click here to see my blog's feed to know what I am talking about. The point of using a special format is to make it standard so that the Feed Reader software can read and understand it easily. And there are different standard formats, such as RSS and Atom. Now, back to the group of blogs you like to read daily, one solution is to remember their addresses and visit them one by one. But what if they are 10, 100, or even 1000 blogs, how can you manage to remember them. So, here comes the Feed Readers, where you add the Feeds of those blogs, and let it show you the updates in them in a single place. And that's why they call it Aggregator too. One more thing, it is not limited to blogs, you can add feeds from News sites, Podcasts, Photos Sharing Sites such as Flickr, etc.

The Feed Readers can be in the form of a Desktop software, but due to the webifying hype we live in today, there are many web based feed readers. You go to a web page and add the feeds you like there, and then you'll be able to see the updates from those sites, and blogs there in that page. Google Reader, as well as My Yahoo!, Newsgator, Rojo and Bloglines are the most popular web-based feed readers out there

I tried Bloglines a while ago, but I didn't like it's interface, and I am using Google Reader now. Actually, visiting Manalaa.net and AlArabiya were more than enough to know the latest updates in the Egyptian Blogsphere and the News respectively. But later on, I wanted to explore blogs from different countries. Limiting yourself to your local Blogosphere is not a good idea, it's like limiting yourself to our local Media such as our crappy Channel1 and Channel2. But the question now, how can I pick the best blogs from zillions of blogs out there. Let's say I want to pick up some Lebanese blogs, that I think they worth reading, one way to do this is to go to a couple of Lebanese blogs, and then follow the links - and comments - there from one blog to another, and read three or four post in each of these blogs to know if it worth being added to my aggregator or not. Another method - the one I am trying now - is to add an aggregate for blogs from a specific country, like Manalaa, there are some locations where you can get aggregate feed from *all* the blogs in a specific country such as Lebanon for example. But the problem with this is that you'll find yourself getting zillions of posts everyday, and that's why I think I am supposed to filter them later on.

One good feature in Feed Aggregators, is that you can categorize/tag the feeds you read, let's say "Egyptian-Blogs", "Technical-Blogs", "MiddleEast-News", Movies-and-Cinema", etc. But the way of tagging the feeds in Google Reader is really annoying, you have to go to the Reader's Settings and edit the feeds one by one. I think, they are supposed to make it easier, let's say by giving the user the ability to drag and drops the feeds in the categorie he/she likes.

Another feature, is that you can make one of these categories public, then you can share it with a friend. The public feed has a unique URL, so if you want to share it with a friend you can send him an email with this URL. However, I think Google are supposed to make it easier too. They are supposed to let people browse each others' profiles in order to see their public feeds and add them if they want to.

Finally, feel free to share your Google Reader public feeds here if you have any. And Happy Eid, i.e. Feast.

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