RSS: Gateway to News and Blog Content, Part 1

It’s difficult to imagine anyone hasn’t heard about blogging. Google’s recent acquisition of Pyra Labs, a major blog tool vendor, made it certain this popular form of self-publishing would gain increased attention.

Will Google offer blog-specific searching, as we now search discussions on Google Groups? It’s a strong possibility.

Even if the major search engines fail to make blog searching a reality, there are a variety of ways to do it. Last month, at least two new blog searching services were launched: Feedster and rssSearch.

Both are RSS search engines. They accept content not by crawling the Web but by receiving RSS feeds, a mechanism for site owners to allow others to easily learn about new articles and content they’ve posted.

Bloggers using popular tools such as Radio UserLand, Moveable Type, or Blogger Pro have feeds automatically created for their sites. RSS search engines can almost be considered blogging search engines.

Almost, but not quite. Any site can distribute content via RSS, so RSS search engines search more than blogs. Not every blog distributes posts via RSS, so any RSS search engine will miss part of the blogosphere, or universe, of Weblogs.

This column examines how content from blogs, news sites, and other sources is distributed via RSS feeds. Feeds are a great way for anyone to receive customized new information from a growing number of sources.

What’s RSS?

In short, RSS is a way for site owners to let you know what new content is available within their Web sites. A wide range of sites “syndicate” content this way. Among the top 100 most subscribed feeds reported by Radio UserLand (a news aggregator) are New York Times tech headlines, the daily Dilbert cartoon,, and former MTV VJ Adam Curry’s blog.

The beauty of these feeds is you can effectively create a custom newspaper or magazine of recent content. A number of news aggregators, or RSS readers, enable subscribing to and reading RSS feeds.

News Aggregators

News Is Free is an excellent example of an established Web-based news aggregator. With the free service, you can create customized pages for different topics. Headlines from various resources automatically fill the pages.

Radio UserLand, a popular blog-building tool, is another news aggregator. Enter the URL of a news feed, and it’s added to your personal list.

FeedReader is a small, free, software-based tool I tested. As with Radio UserLand, enter a feed’s URL. Headlines are returned and viewable in the application.

NewsGator is an reader that works with Microsoft Outlook, which looked promising. My life revolves around Outlook. The reason I didn’t try it is I dial-up to access the Web. The 20MB download of Microsoft .NET files would have taken forever.

NewsMonster is another tool that looks promising, especially its abilities to detect spam in RSS, rate for quality, and use ratings provided by others. But not for Internet Explorer users. It works only with Mozilla 1.0 and Netscape 7.0 or higher.

SNARF is a download-free RSS reader for Internet Explorer. I got the window to open in my browser and added news feeds. I couldn’t find a way to view the feeds. Others may have better luck.

There are many other news aggregators. Check out comprehensive lists of the programs, including Aaron Swartz’s nice, short list of RSS readers and another short list from Radio UserLand. John Abbe made a giant list of RSS readers, which looks well maintained. You’ll even get PDA readers on it. Haiko Hebig offers a similar list.

What about the major Web directories? LookSmart doesn’t provide a category, while Yahoo lists only a baker’s dozen. So, head over to the Open Directory’s RSS News Readers category’s 40-plus listings.

Finding RSS Feeds Via RSS Directories

Got your RSS reader fired up? Ready to use a Web-based news aggregator to build a custom news page? You need feeds! How to find them?

Look at your favorite Web site’s or blog’s home page. Sites increasingly promote the fact they provide information in RSS format. Often, with little icons that say “XML” or “RSS.”

An example is on the Search Engine Watch home page. Click the link to a feed, and what looks like a bunch a garbage comes up. Copy and paste the link into an RSS reader, and you’ll see headlines and story descriptions with the ability to click through and read a story or have it pulled into your reader.

A more comprehensive method to find feeds? Start with one of the two major RSS directories, where feeds are listed by category.

News Is Free, mentioned above, is also a feed directory. It organizes thousands of news feeds (called news channels) into categories. You can browse categories or search for feeds with your keywords in titles or descriptions. is the other major RSS directory. It lets you browse thousands of RSS feeds users submit or which are added by volunteers. It’s the Open Directory for RSS feeds.

Finding RSS Feeds Via RSS Search Engines

RSS directories are a helpful way to find feeds to add to your news aggregator. Keyword searches against directory listings may not reveal the true depth of content available on a given topic.

In contrast, a new breed of RSS search engines takes you beyond directories. Instead of searching through the 25 or so words that describe a feed, RSS search engines let you scan against actual feed content. You may find feeds related to topics you missed using a directory.

Next: Using RSS search engines.

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