There's never been a better time to be a news junkie. The Internet itself means that you can get your fill of news in record time, as it allows you to surf from news site to news site, taking in the headlines from disparate sources like never before. But now a new generation of software applications -- dubbed variously RSS readers, news aggregators, or RSS aggregators -- is taking news delivery and consumption to another level.
Put simply, news aggregators can potentially inform you about news that matters to you faster and more efficiently than any other type of news delivery medium.
Traditional newspapers and news sources are themselves aggregators. They receive news from multiple sources, select the news that they believe you'll be interested in, and then present it in a format that becomes familiar.
But if you like to be in control, there's a problem: the control over which news is presented -- and how it's presented -- is in someone else's hands. And even if you're not a control freak, you can see inherent inefficiencies in the way that most of us retrieve our news online. We still surf from site to site, analogous to moving from newspaper to newspaper, instead of leveraging the data-sending power of the Internet to have customized news pushed to us from various sources and combined into one format. That's what news aggregation is all about.
`really simple syndication'
The foundation of news aggregators is a technology known as RSS, short for "really simple syndication." RSS is a system that allows news providers to put news stories or other information into standard format that can be viewed and organized with an RSS-aware software program.
Lots of applications today are RSS-aware. Popular search engines such as Google and Yahoo can handle RSS materials -- called "feeds" -- as can some e-mail programs, including Mozilla Thunderbird. You can configure Google and Yahoo to display feeds that you select from other sites that supply news or information.
But RSS aggregators -- Web-based sites or applications designed specifically for the purpose of selecting and displaying RSS feeds -- are gaining traction as the tool of choice for those who want the best customized news experience.
There are two types of RSS aggregators -- Web-based and application-based. Web-based aggregators are nice because there's no software to install: any browser will suffice. Application-based RSS aggregators are handy if you want access to the news you download even after disconnecting from the Internet.
Newsgator (www.newsgator.com) is typical of the growing number of Web-based RSS aggregators on the market. After creating a free account at the site, you follow a wizard that takes you through the process of selecting initial news feeds that interest you.
You can choose from among dozens of popular news sources -- including major newspapers, news wire services, and Web-only news delivery services -- and sort your news into typical categories such as world, technology, business, entertainment, and more.
But because RSS feeds can come from just about any Web site, you can also include "news" from sources such as blogs and online forums that allow broadcasts of their information via RSS. Most sites that have the ability to supply information via RSS do enable RSS feeds, since someone receiving an RSS feed from a particular site will likely end up browsing the site itself to learn more. So information-rich Web sites have every incentive to offer RSS feeds.