Every week I bump into someone who complains about how much time they spend each day looking at web sites in their browser. In each case they tell me they’re just trying to keep up with what’s going on in the world. I ask them to spell R S S for me. It’s nearing the middle of 2008 and yet quizzical looks abound. Here’s how to view the news from 100 or more web sites without using Safari, without devoting hours to the job.
They say it’s better to use the K.I.S.S method. Keep It Simple, Stupid. Or, something like that. RSS is simple. It’s a technology which lets your Mac (or PC, if you live on the dark side from time to time) receive headlines and summaries from hundreds and hundreds of web sites.
An RSS document (which is called a “feed” or “web feed” or “channel”) contains either a summary of content from an associated web site or the full text. RSS makes it possible for people to keep up with web sites in an automated manner that can be piped into special programs or filtered displays.
In other words, lots of web site headlines and summaries show up in a single Mac utility, a single window. The world of news and information is a click away. No more scanning dozens of web sites to find out what’s going on.
Utility of Choice
Macs and Windows PCs have dozens of RSS newsreaders. There’s even one built into Safari, and most other browsers, though the feature sets are thin. My preference for RSS readers is NetNewsWire.
NetNewsWire has a familiar three-paned interface and can fetch and display news from thousands of different websites and weblogs.
Thousands? Who’s got the time? It turns out that by using an RSS reader you actually read more news headlines and summaries and do it in less time. You’ll have the time.
NetNewsWire sets ups with ease. All you really have to do is navigate to your favorite web sites, gram their RSS feed links and drop them into NetNewsWire.
Preferences are straightforward, though plenty, considering that this is a popular Mac utility (click on any image for a pop up, close up view).
The General heading has settings for the Dock icon, number of items per page, and archiving summaries. The Browsing heading sets up Tab preferences, and whether or not to open web pages in your default browser or NetNewsWire.
What? Why would you open web pages in NetNewsWire? Because you can, and because it saves you time from bouncing back and forth between your browser and NetNewsWire’s headlines and summaries. In essence, NetNewsWire is a browser.
No browser has the same features for handling RSS feeds as NetNewsWire. Yet, with all the features, you may only need the basics and those you can see right away in the interface.
NetNewsWire has a standard toolbar across the top which can be customize. The left column is a list of the RSS feeds. Find one on a web site, drag it to NetNewsWire and it shows up here. Create Smart Folders and organize RSS feeds however you wish.
The right column has two functions, both of which work together so you can scan headlines of dozens, hundreds, yes, even a thousand web sites, gather all the detail you need, read until your eyes hurt, and never leave this window.
The widescreen, three-column view is perfect for laptops and today’s monitors that have more horizontal space.
Click on an RSS feed in the left column and the right column displays the recent headlines. Click on a headline and see the summary in the pane below. It’s that easy.
Just from my example above you can see how quickly you can scan many web sites, many headlines, many summaries, and do it quickly. That’s just the start.
Open web pages in NetNewsWire’s browser and see them the same as in Safari with the convenience of staying in the same window. NetNewsWire remembers tabs between launches, so you come right back to where you left off last time.
Not Done Yet?
As you scan the headlines and summaries one thing becomes crystal clear. It’s easy. Drag in as many RSS feeds as you want from sites you visit. They will show up in the left column and the headlines in the right column.
A summary does not a web page article make. Click on any headline in the summary and look what happens. The whole web page opens in a tab inside NetNewsWire. There’s no need to jump back to a browser to see the page.
It’s like using Safari, but without opening Safari. NetNewsWire becomes the center of your web browsing experience when you use the browser for news from many sources.
Note the use of tabs, similar to those in Safari and other browsers. You can open full web pages, dozens of them (difficult to keep track of after a dozen or so), if you need.
Those are the basics to using NetNewsWire as your browser of choice for RSS feeds. However, there’s much more. NNW also lets you email links from inside the browser.
Two new commands appear in the File menu: one for emailing the contents of the news item or page, the other for emailing a link to the news item or page.
You can print pages, flag pages, archive pages. Create smart lists, sort feeds by which ones are important to you. The flexibility is there. The complexity is not.
Mark items that you want to keep; they stay forever or until you mark them as unflagged. Tell NetNewsWire how long to keep news items so you can still read them even after they disappear from the feed.
I don’t mean to be an Efficiency Queen™ but my time is valuable, yet I need access to a lot of different web site information. That’s what NetNewsWire does. And it’s free.
What’s your experience? Do you use Safari for RSS feeds? Or, a standalone newsreader such as NetNewsWire?