NewsGator Desktop Sync Beta

Post ImageToday I started using a new aggregator for my web feeds. Well, sort of. I downloaded and installed the beta of NewsGator’s Desktop Sync, and now I can read all of my feeds inside IE7 RC1. It’s beautiful! Here’s the details on Desktop Sync:

Desktop Sync is a system tray application that keeps your feeds, folders and read states synchronized between NewsGator Online and the Windows RSS Platform. This means that any application that uses the Windows RSS Platform will be automatically synchronized with your NewsGator Online account!

Yeah baby! That’s what I’m talking about!

The product is the evolution of a demo that NewsGator head honcho Greg Reinacker did back at Microsoft’s MIX06 conference.

I have now used NewsGator Online, NewsGator Inbox (formerly Outlook Edition), FeedDemon and Desktop Sync. As you can see, having the synchronization story that NewsGator provides is incredibly important. Of them all, I think I like Desktop Sync the best. It allows me to read my web feeds in IE7, which means I can take advantage of everything I have inside my browser like favelets and other tools, but without losing the sync capabilities of NewsGator Online.

The application seems really solid for a beta, give it a try!

Read: NewsGator

New Feed Icon

Post ImageYou might have read lately that Microsoft and Mozilla have decided to standardize their icons for feeds on the one used in Firefox. The Microsoft RSS Team reported they would adopt the Firefox icon a couple weeks ago:

We’ll be using the icon in the IE7 command bar whenever a page has a feed associated with it, and we’ll also use it in other places in the browser whenever we need a visual to represent RSS and feeds.

The Outlook 12 team has announced they’ll be using the same icon. Great news!

I think it is great news indeed! A standard icon will go a long way towards making web feeds even more mainstream, especially since I would expect many other companies to now adopt the icon as well. I have added the icon to my website, which you’ll see on the black bar above, next to the web feed icon. I haven’t yet decided if I’ll get rid of the web feed icon or keep it. I guess the new icon is really the “web feed icon” now!

The new icon is a departure from the RSS or XML icons, which is very good. Here’s what I wrote in August:

There’s some really simple reasons that we should be calling them web feeds. When you ask your friend or co-worker about something on the Internet, do you talk about visiting an “HTML page” or a “web page”? Does your web browser (not “HTML page browser”) load up “HTML pages” or “web pages”? Clearly, you talk about web pages, and that’s what your browser loads. There are three very good reasons we use the term web pages…For the very same reasons, we should be using web feeds, not RSS feeds.

Now that the graphic no longer says “rss” or “xml” or any word or acronym at all, I think it will become much easier to adopt the name “web feed”. And yes, we still need a name you can say in words, just like Prince was still called Prince after he adopted an icon to represent himself!

Using NewsGator Online

Post ImageAs many of you probably are aware, my aggregator of choice is NewsGator Outlook Edition. I like it because I always have Outlook open anyway, and I can take posts offline and read them when I don’t have an Internet connection. It’s also handy to take advantage of the search folders, flags, and other features of Outlook. Since installing Visual Studio 2005 and switching tablets, NGOE has not worked. I am told there is a conflict that they are working to fix, and I expect it’ll be working again before long. So in the meantime, I’ve been using NewsGator Online, or Web Edition, and I’ve made the following observations:

  • I really miss the ability to read stuff offline. You don’t realize how much you use it until it’s gone! And since I always have my tablet with me, I don’t find being able to access my subscriptions anywhere just because they are online all that handy.
  • I rather like the Web Edition’s “mark all items on this page as read” feature. It would be good if the Outlook edition had a similar feature that hid items you’ve already read. Each post in the Web Edition also has a “mark as read” button, but unfortunately the item doesn’t disappear, it just is grayed out. Would be much better if the item disappeared!
  • I find the online interface clean, but very pale. Sometimes it’s hard to read because everything is so white and grey.
  • The “My Clippings” feature works well and is akin to dragging a post to a different folder in Outlook, or perhaps flagging it.

So I guess that while it works quite well, I’ll probably go back to my Outlook version when the conflict is all fixed up.

Web Feeds or RSS?

Post ImageLots of discussion going on lately about whether or not Microsoft, and everyone else for that matter, should call RSS feeds “RSS” or “web feeds”. It all started with the first beta release of Internet Explorer 7, in which the term “web feeds” is used. Instead of delving into the complete history of this little debate, I’m going to instead point you to the excellent roundup by Ed Bott. Dave Winer, creator of the RSS standard, chimes in and says, “Don’t screw around with things you didn’t create and don’t understand.”

The debate is not much of a debate, in my opinion. There’s some really simple reasons that we should be calling them web feeds. When you ask your friend or co-worker about something on the Internet, do you talk about visiting an “HTML page” or a “web page”? Does your web browser (not “HTML page browser”) load up “HTML pages” or “web pages”? Clearly, you talk about web pages, and that’s what your browser loads. There are three very good reasons we use the term web pages:

  1. Saying “HTML page” is awkward. The masses like comfortable and simple, not awkward and complex.
  2. Calling a web page an “HTML page” is, technically, misleading. You’d be hard pressed to find any page on the Internet right now that consists of only HTML.
  3. Conceptually, a page that is only HTML, or combines HTML and JavaScript, or combines HTML, JavaScript, and CSS, etc., are all the same thing. When you load a web page, you don’t think about the technology behind it.

For the very same reasons, we should be using web feeds, not RSS feeds. The term “web feed” is comfortable and simple. It doesn’t exclude RDF, or Atom, or RSS with extensions, and so it isn’t technically misleading. And finally, a web feed is a web feed, regardless of the technology that powers it.

There’s other reasons “web feeds” is better than “RSS” too. For the technology to become as natural and invisible as web pages, it needs a simple name. And the technology is so very young – who’s to say that something newer won’t be created that does the same thing, but in a different or better way? Think Atom 1.0 here.

There’s really no reason to publish more than one web feed, and thus no reason to call them anything else. Certainly the applications which consume web feeds should support multiple technologies, like both RSS and Atom, but publishers shouldn’t really have to worry about what technology to use. They should, just as with web pages, pick the technology best suited to the task at hand. You don’t have separate browsers for HTML and HTML with CSS – same goes for web feeds.

If you’re reading this post on the web, you can no doubt see that I am pretty hypocritical. No where on my site will you find the term “web feed”, and I publish both RSS and Atom feeds. Well, my excuse is that until recently, I hadn’t given much thought to the terminology I used. Heck, I even use the orange “XML” icon for my “RSS” feeds (talk about confusing!). Now that I have given it some thought however, I’ll definitely be making some changes. Look for a web feed button soon!