By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

RSS aggravationator

I’m trying to make more than a half-hearted effort at using Bloglines, a Web-based RSS aggregator. In the past I’ve tested the free NetNewsWire Lite, which resides on your own hard drive, but haven’t liked it enough to keep at it. In theory, a Web-based program is the way to go, so we’ll see.

I definitely like the idea of RSS — it pulls together content from across the Web and lets you read it all in one place. But there are some problems and shortcomings. For instance:

  • The most basic: Not all of my favorite blogs have RSS feeds. If a solution’s not comprehensive, then it’s not really much of a solution. (By the way: When Jon Keller gets back from vacation, he should tell the tech folks at Channel 4 to add one to the Keller @ Large blog.)
  • Bloglines claims to run no more than an hour behind in grabbing freshly updated content. I’m not sure that’s true. For instance, Josh Marshall posted this little tidbit yesterday morning. It didn’t pop up in my Bloglines list until this morning.
  • Some blogs and sites are so well-designed that they’re a pleasure to read. But if content is sent directly to my aggregator, I don’t get to see the actual site. In many cases, I also lack access to comments and other supplemental material unless I leave Bloglines and go directly to the site.
  • The left-rail material on Jim Romenesko’s media site doesn’t seem to be part of his RSS feed. That’s a huge omission.

Gee, it sounds like I’m talking myself out of Bloglines, doesn’t it? Not really. I would like to see if it makes my life easier. I’d also be curious to hear from other folks who use/have used aggregators. Just post them here. Of course, you’ll have to go directly to Media Nation to read those comments.

Update: Several commenters say that Keller does have an RSS feed. But they add that they can’t get it to work — and I can’t, either. Also, I’m told that there’s a feed for Romenesko’s left rail, but I can’t find it. Besides, do I really want two feeds for a one-man site?

Update II: OK, I did find the feed for Romenesko’s left rail, and I’ve added it. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Update III: Since I’ve already received a request, here is the RSS feed for Romenesko’s left rail: Enjoy.

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  1. Kenneth Sutton

    Hi Dan, I use Bloglines, and by-and-large I’m pretty happy with it. It’s true that not all blogs can be read in Bloglines, but that’s because they don’t produce a feed, not because Bloglines isn’t a good aggregator. Compare it to the telephone: If your friend doesn’t have a phone, does that mean that the telecommunications system is not much of a solution? (And Keller’s blog does have an RSS feed.)You’re right about how feeds update irregularly. Sometimes a post will be reflected in Bloglines within minutes of being posted, and sometimes it will be hours. And sometimes things are relisted in Bloglines for no apparent reason. Some blogs also relist a post if it’s been edited. I don’t know why this happens, but my guess is that it is once again the RSS producer. I guess one would have to run several aggregators in parallel to be sure.You’re totally right about the comments. There are some blogs that produce feeds of the comments on specific posts, but you have to read the blog directly to know that, and then subscribe one at a time to the comments feeds. Perhaps that’s better when using browsers that can directly subscribe to and display feeds.Another shortcoming of Bloglines is that sometimes you don’t see images. You can edit the subscription and change your preferences for how much of a post you see. That might help in some cases.I’ve seen two ways blogs deal with different kinds of content. Making Light, the blog of Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden, has sidebars that are obscure links chosen by Patrick or Teresa. You can subscribe to them independently, and this seems like a good solution to me. Kottke differentiates between two kinds of posts, both of which appear in the main posting area of the blog, which have separate feeds. This feels like an artificial separation, and I’d rather have a single feed.Finally, Romenesko does have a feed for the sidebar. What I suggest you do if you want to know about multiple feeds is to copy the url of the blog (not a url for the feed, just the regular url you’d use to read it), go to Bloglines, click “Add” (in the left-hand panel below the tabs), and paste the url into the field that appears on the right. The right panel will reload, showing all the feeds Bloglines can find at that url. It can take some careful reading to determine which ones you want, but Bloglines does have a link for each that lets you preview it.Good luck! Aggregators certainly aren’t perfect yet, but I’m glad that I can follow several dozen blogs without going directly to each one to see if they’ve posted anything new.

  2. sco

    Dan, Keller’s blog does have an RSS feed, it’s just not the one listed on his page: I use bloglines myself, but you’re right some sites are worth visiting even though they’re on your RSS feed.

  3. Sven

    Bloglines had some kind of server problem yesterday. It doesn’t happen very often, and when it does they almost always put the “Bloglines Plumber” up to let you know they’re having technical difficulties. It looks like Keller’s blog does have a feed – – but it doesn’t seem to be working.This is a nifty little service for tracking blog comments. It has a bookmarket to let you add a thread, and lets you track all your threads through RSS.

  4. John, Tucson

    I have used Bloglines for many months. A year maybe? I don’t recall exactly. It has some occasional aggravations (technical glitches), but for the most part it works for me. I’m not reading on “deadline,” so I don’t worry about how soon feeds come through.Bloglines is the solution for me, because I read both at work and at home and don’t have to worry about software or syncing. With RSS feeds I am able to read far more (including Media Nation) because I don’t have to click to all those places myself.For some sources (e.g., NYTimes, local daily), it’s definitely easier than navigating the originating site.I’m not usually interested in comments (given they often lack value added [uh, oops!]), but when I want to indulge, they’re only a click away.If nothing else, aggregators can serve a “newsflash” function, alerting you to check the sources in whatever manner suits your needs.

  5. Jess

    I use Bloglines, but not so much to read content there but to know which of my regular haunts have new content. I keep a folder of each category of site, and keep the folders collapsed – then the folder name shows me the number of new posts in that category. I can click on the folder name, and it will bring up all the sites in the right hand window, and I open each site I want to read in a new tab, then mark ’em all read in Bloglines when I’m done. I’d rather read content in its original state than in an aggregator, unless that particular site’s font is too small, or on a black background or something else eye-searing.Since I bounce between at least three different computers, this works for me – though I also keep a page of Bookmarks on my own website, so that I can get places quickly no matter which computer I’m using.

  6. Rhea

    I, too, use Bloglines. I think it does a pretty good job except, like you, I am irritated by the delays between someone posting and my hearing about it. However, because I track about 150 different blogs, I find it indispensable. When I want to see the full blog (photos, sidebar materials), I just click and go in and look. Otherwise, I just quickly scan the new stuff. It’s a lifesaver.

  7. another face at zanzibar

    I like the idea of RSS, but rarely pay attention to the feeds. I surf where I want to go. RSS still reminds me too much of PointCast from back in the mid-1990s.

  8. Chuck Tanowitz

    Yes, Bloglines and other readers have their problems, but I think a lot of this is going to change. Whenever Microsoft can get out of its own way, the next version of Windows will have RSS capabilities baked in. Meaning, people will start building programs that use RSS in themselves, kind of like a lot of programs take being online as a “given.”Bloglines can sometimes be slow, and others are inconsistent, but you’re watching a technology evolve. Give it time.

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