News in Your E-Mail
If Outlook already organizes your e-mail, calendar, and life, a reader like the $29 NewsGator 2 will deliver your news in the same place. NewsGator works as an Outlook plug-in, creating an area in your mail folders where you can store news feeds. Each feed appears as a folder, and you can organize the folders into topics as you like. You can configure the multipane display in the same two- or three-column layouts that Outlook uses, sort messages, hide or display previews of the full story, and add or remove columns.
Adding new feeds is easy. When you discover one you like while browsing the Web with Internet Explorer, simply right-click the link and then choose 'Subscribe in NewsGator'. If you want more options, $6- to $50-per-month plans from NewsGator Online Services offer exclusive content and the ability to create custom feeds that search the Net for new information. Other subscription features let you read your news feeds from any Web browser, e-mail client, or Web-ready mobile device. A new plug-in even hooks into Microsoft's Windows XP Media Center Edition.
Browsing for Headlines
As Newsgator is to Outlook, a more-modest free application called Pluck RSS Reader is to Internet Explorer. Pluck adds an icon to IE's main toolbar. Clicking that icon opens an Outlook-like left panel containing folders that house its default collection of feeds. Click a feed name, and headlines and summaries appear in the top half of the main IE window. When you click a headline, the item's full content pops into view below the headline listing. You can subscribe to new feeds by dragging and dropping XML icons into folders or by using a subscription wizard that searches CompleteRSS.com for feeds on the topic you want. A Pluck icon in your Windows system tray offers news alerts when your Web browser is closed.
Though it worked fine with brand-name news summaries, the beta release we tested ran into problems with some blogs that put full-page content in their feeds. A Pluck spokesperson said this shortcoming would be fixed in a subsequent release that also promises a couple of new features to let you use search terms to filter a feed or group of feeds and create public folders so a group of people can easily subscribe to the same set of feeds. The Pluck folks hope to pay the bills with specialized search services (starting with Amazon's and EBay's) that will be tucked into a corner of the screen.
RSS for Road Warriors
A Web service like the free Bloglines can help you stay in touch if you do a lot of traveling or work on more than one computer every day. If you log in to the service at the office and read a few stories, you can check in later at home and pick up where you left off--without having to backtrack over already-read news. Bloglines can export your subscription list in a format that other aggregators can import, in case you decide that you'd prefer a plug-in or stand-alone app.
The Bloglines layout resembles the layout of desktop applications: a two-pane arrangement with your subscription list on the left and item headlines on the right followed by a summary of each. Items appear in alternating bands of white and light blue in the right frame. Each feed display can be set to show just titles or summaries, or complete entries (on feeds that support the feature). Bloglines also lets you view items in a feed from the previous hour, day, week, month, or longer increment of time. The service currently checks feeds for updates once per hour.
Plenty of other Web services perform similar functions. NewsIsfree.com, for example, has more feeds, but it also has pop-up ads galore. MyFeedster.com is another strong contender, especially for inveterate bloggers and for IS types.