Friday, April 16, 2004

Sharpreader - Threaded RSS

Several people have asked recently about my aggregator — which one do I use, why, etc. I originally used Radio, then, when I switched off of Radio, I started using NewzCrawler, which I liked for a number of reasons (read more here). However, NewzCrawler got to be a CPU hog so I stopped using it. (Disclaimer: several subsequent releases are out, so it’s quite possible that NewzCrawler has improved in this regard.)

I’ve since played with a couple of the Outlook aggregators (NewsGator seems to be everyone’s favorite, but I liked intraVnews, in spite of its name), a web-based aggregator (Feed on Feeds, which was pretty capable for an early build of the product), and a handful of others. After reading Paul Boutin’s article in Slate that mentioned SharpReader favorably, I gave it a try.

I’m very impressed. Put aside the fact that it’s free (I paid for NewzCrawler, so I’m not averse to spending money on apps like this) — it added a feature to the reader that has drastically changed my RSS consumption. It threads entries. Here’s a screenshot:

Sharpreader - Threaded RSS

Here’s what’s going on: Dave Winer posted a quick entry that linked to something Phillip Greenspun wrote. SharpReader looks at links in all other RSS feeds I monitor — if anyone else links to that same Phillip Greenspun entry, then it lets me expand the link to Phillip Greenspun and see who else wrote about it. In this case, John Robb did.

Now SharpReader iterates: what else is linked to in the post that John linked to Phillip? A link to Technorati, which was linked to by other feeds I monitor: Jenny (who, in that post, linked to David, AKMA, and Jon), Doc, Joi

It’s a fascinating way of traversing the conversations that happen in the universe of weblogs you monitor. (I’m not aware of other readers that do this, though they certainly could be out there. Feel free to enlighten me in the comments.)

Some conclusions from this: weblogs that provide full feeds (and not just excerpts) are vastly more interesting and useful to me. I can now see them not just in the context of what they write, but also in the context of who they link to (and who links to them), which helps build up the implicit relationships between information at various weblogs.

Weblogs that not only provide excerpts but who also strip HTML (thereby depriving SharpReader of seeing what you’ve linked to) render themselves invisible in my reader (unless I happen to look at their feed specifically) and are therefore of the least value to me. (That’s not to say that what the weblog authors are writing is less valuable, just that their use of RSS is dramatically less useful.)

This is valuable in the context of weblogs, but think about the business value when your applications start producing RSS by default. (Hint: Socialtext already does.) Now it gets interesting…


  1. Visualizing Webs of BlogThreads

    Jon Schull attempts to map a conversation thread spread among several blogs. 03/17/03 update: Towards structured blogging. 05/21/03 update: Dynamics of a Blogosphere Story. 04/16/04 update: Sharpreader - Threaded RSS....

  2. Rick,

    #Reader is very cool...thanks for the tip. Another great facet of this application is dragging and dropping XML feed sources into the address bar and being given the option to subscribe to this new feed.

    I wish it had: 1)a back button and 2) the option to see all feeds linking to that source, not just the blogs/feeds in your aggregator (i suppose going directly to technocrati would suffice that need).

    One thing that I have found invaluable with Newsgator plugged into Outlook 2003 is the search folders and quick flag utilities. Having a single search folder with all recent feeds (one day, one week) aggregated together cuts down my "browse and filter" time considerably.
    I also have search folders by key words, which also search my listserv folders(by subject-lines and categories).

    Thanks again...

  3. Rick

    Just started using Intravnews aggregator, and must say it's performing very well. In fact, the greatest feature in my view, is its ability to pull the entire news item (not just the URL) into my Outlook. This allows me to read the items while offline (i.e. on an airplane) and catchup that way. Seems like NewsGator didn't offer this option, but I may have missed it.

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