Keep RSS Free for All

 
 
By Jim Louderback  |  Posted 2004-02-06
 
 
 

After discussions with NewsGators CEO, Ive gotten a better understanding of the API process used by his new service. Its still unpublished, and still proprietary, but limited to accessing premium feeds, building customized feeds and subscription related services. However, as any Microsoft watcher can attest, a proprietary API is the first step towards the walled garden I describe below.

You can read CEO Greg Reinackers rebuttal to this columm here.

Ive followed the RSS market for a while, exulting when cool new services are launched, and wincing when folks seem to miss the market.

RSS is a nifty way to get notified about new Web postings. A Web site typically generates one or more XML files—called an RSS feed—that simply include headlines and short descriptions of new articles posted in the last few hours. A software program on your PC—called an RSS newsreader—polls those sites, sucks up the XML files, and then parses them on your screen. If an article interests you, you simply click on the headline, which loads up a browser and displays the full article.

My colleague Brian Livingston recently waxed complimentary over a new service called NewsGator Online Services. Instead of having an application on your PC—which keeps track of all the RSS newsfeeds youre tracking—it saves those feeds into your own Web-based area on the Internet. That lets you access those feeds anywhere you happen to be.

But there are a few problems with the service. First, RSS has been designed to be completely open. Anyone who has an RSS reader can pretty much suck up any of the zillions of RSS feeds out on the Net. But the NewsGator service requires that a special API be used to access feeds inside that service. Alas, that API is not freely available and is completely non-standard—in other words this newsfeed service could turn RSS into a nasty walled garden.

Of course software vendors like walled gardens because they can charge. And thats my second problem with the new service. It costs $6 a month to subscribe. So for $72 a year you get access to a set of RSS news services, from anywhere you can access the Web—and from mobile devices as well.

Its not a bad idea, but unfortunately the tiny NewsGator company has been eclipsed, after just a few weeks, by powerful Yahoo. A new service from Yahoo lets you add any RSS feed to your own personal "My Yahoo" page. The service, still in beta, lets you add up to 25 feeds, and updates them whenever you refresh your "My Yahoo" page.

Ive been a fan of My Yahoo for a long time. Its my own personal home page (well, after eWEEK.com). And Ive added in all my favorite feeds.

Still a bit confused about all this RSS stuff? If you have My Yahoo, heres all you need to know. Simply click on this link:


And youll automatically be subscribed to our Tech News feed. Now youll never miss another headline. And if youre looking for a good Windows newsreader, check out Feed Demon. Its by far the best—and it supports all those zillions of available feeds.

Cast your vote for free choice, and away from restricted, proprietary services, by using open RSS news readers and all feeds. Walling RSS up inside a proprietary garden is wrong. And expensive too!



-------- LETTERS FROM READERS ---------

The problem with Yahoos service is that it does not allow you to check certain articles as having already been read. I use a beautifully simple PHP web-based system called Feed on Feeds (http://minutillo.com/steve/feedonfeeds/). The unfortunate part is that it is not yet multi-user, but those of us lucky enough to have a Linux box available through the web can set this up and access it from anywhere on the web. Since it allows me to only see what is new, I can use it from work and pick up where I left off when I get home. I admit that once Yahoo makes their service more like Feed on Feeds (more like the Usenet readers of old) then I would abandon Feed on Feeds, but until then I run my own RSS capturing service. Sure enough, the whole reason I came across your article was because http://rssnewsapps.ziffdavis.com/tech.xml was already in my RSS feed.

-- Ernie Oporto [ernie.oporto@viragelogic.com]



OK you are completely uninformed about Newsgator and it shows. Newsgator doesnt hope to set up a wall of any sort. It uses standards where standards are applicable. The great thing about Newsgator is that they have innovated in the RSS market where most have simply followed. The API is simply for the subscription service that you only have to use if you want the synchronization features. If you dont care about that, then look elsewhere. But dont slam Newsgator about being some anti-open company simply because they have innovated a little.

Newsgator (Outlook client) is for those like me who dont like to go to 4000 different web sites to view RSS feeds and dont like to use a web browser to do it. I want it delivered to me in Outlook where I can see it at my leisure. The subscription service adds the missing piece that I looked for, synchronization across computers. I read feeds at home and work. I subscribe in both places, but unfortunately when I get home at the end of the day I have to sift through all the feeds Ive read all day at work. Now with the subscription service that gets eliminated. A wall, that is so stupid. So they charge $5.95 a month for the service, you have to pay for the servers and the people that work on the software some time, everything cant be free, money has to change hands for the economy to work. My Yahoo is no different, they just force you to watch banner ads scroll across the top of YOUR supposed web page when you click a link. Funny I dont remember asking for that ad at the top of My Yahoo.

My opinion of you is that you need to spend more time getting the facts straight.

Kelly Summerlin [ksummerlin@tetradata.com]



I agree with your article on eWeek about Newsgator creating a walled garden. And I am thankful that you pointed out that not all on-line RSS services act like that. You mentioned Yahoo as a recent entrant, but I wanted to make sure you knew about Bloglines, which has provided a free on-line aggregation service for over 8 months now. We have many features that no other aggregator, desktop or otherwise, have, including a personalized recommendation service, and the ability to integrate email into your aggregation account. Please see http://www.bloglines.com for more information and let me know if you have any questions.

Mark Fletcher CEO, Bloglines [markf@bloglines.com]

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