There are many ways to check RSS feeds. Two of the most popular are using a local RSS client (such as RSSOwl) and using a web-based reader (such as Google Reader).
This posting will present nine interesting (and at times unusual) free ways to check RSS feeds, including using dekstop widgets (KlipFolio), RSS feeds as tabs on the side of your screen (Stick), RSS feeds within a dockable desktop area (SideSlide), as desktop sticky notes (Note Mania), embedded in your desktop wallpaper (Chaos Wallpaper), as news-tickers scrolling across your screen (EasyDeskTicker), and delivered as emails in your inbox (FeedMyInbox).
I am interested in the larger question of the different ways we request and consume information, and often think about the many different ways that RSS feeds are delivered and read, which is how this post was borne.
1- Using a web-based reader [Google Reader]: probably the most successful of the many free web-based RSS aggregators, Google Reader is the one I use to handle the many dozens of RSS feeds I subscribe to. The advantage of using a web based reader is, of course, the ability to access your RSS feeds from anywhere (say from a computer terminal at your local library), or even from a mobile device such as an iPhone.
Google Reader offers the ability to organize feeds in categories and tags and supports multimedia feeds such as podcasts. But what I like about Google reader is that it will maintain a history of RSS subscriptions that is preserved long after the original feed has moved on (i.e. you can see the backlog/history of an RSS feed previous to the latest 20 stories that a feed will typically display at any one time). Another unique feature is the option to “star” an RSS entry and have Google Reader broadcast your starred items within your very own RSS feed, which is a great way to filter out just the stuff you are interested in (and share your ’starred items’ RSS feed with others or on a widget on your site if you like). Instructions on how create a “starred items” feed in Google reader here. Also note that Google Reader also provides the ability the follow other users that use it and/or to share news items amongst users.
Alternative: Bloglines is another web-based aggregator option that is excellent.
2- Using a desktop aggregator [RSSOwl]: I’ve used many local freeware RSS clients, but the open source and multiplatform RSSOwl is my favorite (available for Windows/Linux/Mac). One feature I particularly like is its sophisticated, multi-criteria searches which you can actually save for later use. For example you could search for the terms “freeware PDF” and specify which feeds you want it to search in (say, only in 4 feeds) as well as where you want it to search (say, in just the headline, or the entire text). Finally you can save the search so it becomes an item in the sidebar alongside all the other feeds, and gets updated with new search results as new feeds are downloaded.
RSSOwl also supports tagging (which it terms adding “labels”) and will let you organize your RSS views using many different criteria (by date, by author, by category, by topic, by state, by “stickiness”, by label, by rating, or by feed). It also supports the so-called “river of news” viewing style where it will aggregate stories bases on date irrespective of the feeds they belong to. The other thing I like about RSSOwl is that it supports ATOM newsfeeds, which some clients strangely miss). It also can display RSS updates as they come in in the system tray area.
Two things I would love to see are (a) better support for Podcasts and multimedia feeds, and (b) an interface that is a little more user friendly; still, RSS Owl is definitely my favorite local RSS client.
3- Using a desktop widget [Klipfolio]: at one time it seemed that everyone was clamoring to put widgets on your desktop, from Google desktop to Yahoo widgets to Microsoft desktop search (and not forgetting Vista’s internal widgets). But my favorite freeware widget engine by far is Klipfolio, which manages to combine an excellent user experience with low resource utilization on your PC (and offers a wide range of powerful widgets to boot). Klipfolio is a winner when it comes to the coolness factor alone. And aside from RSS feeds, its also a great way to put Facebook, stocks, weather, and other information on your desktop (assuming you want all those things to lay claims on your attention bandwidth at all times ).
Klipfolio can dock to the side of your screen or be displayed as a floating window. You can click on an RSS item to view it in the browser or hover over it to view the story, in-place, as a hovering tooltip (see screenshot).
4- As tabs on the edge of your desktop [Stick]: Stick is a nifty freeware app that allows you to place all sorts of information (such as notes, folders, and RSS feeds) within tabs on the side of your screen (see screenshot). It will also optionally display real-time notifications of incoming feeds in the system tray area.
What’s different about tabs, of course, is that unlike say desktop widgets they are less obtrusive and in-your-face, yet instantly and immediately accessible through a simple click. They can, in other words, be used to both organize information and de-clutter your desktop as well as make that information available at your fingertips simultaneously.
5- Inside a dockable area on your desktop [SideSlide]: similar in concept to “Stick” above, SideSlide delivers a sort of virtual desktop that you can dock and undock in the top of your screen, and where you can place many different things including notes, shortcuts, “virtual” containers that point to actual folders, and RSS feeds.
SideSlide’s dockable interface presents another interesting option for making information instantly available within a couple of clicks yet being able to keep it out of your way when you don’t want it. The interface takes a little bit of getting used to and is a little clunky, and the RSS function provides options such as searching and tagging, among others.
6- As post-it sticky notes [Note Mania] : I was considering a review of a freeware sticky notes program a few weeks ago called Note Mania. I didn’t end up writing one (although I probably should have, as it is a really good one), but what struck me as being really unique and original was the option to display RSS feeds as sticky notes on your desktop (see screenshot).
Just imagine: you log into your PC and the RSS feeds you subscribe to are displayed as sticky notes on your desktop. You can then delete the stories you are not interested in and either click on the ones you want to read or simply keep them as desktop sticky notes to remind you to read them later on.
7- Embedded into your wallpaper [Chaos Wallpaper]: this program will embed RSS feed stories into your active desktop. Feed items can be clickable as well as scrollable through the on-screen slider on the right, and will update/refresh your feeds periodically. If you know a bit of HTML you can tweak the CSS stylesheets in order to modify the way that feeds are displayed on the desktop.
Note that aside from this functionality Chaos Wallpaper also functions as a very competent wallpaper changer.
8- As scrolling stock-tickers across your screen [EasyDeskTicker]: EasyDeskTicker displays your RSS feeds as horizontally scrolling news-tickers reminiscent of the scrolling stock and/or news tickers that are displayed on TV and even in some public venues. It allows you to add any number of news-ticker streams, to place them anywhere on screen, and to customize their behavior and speed, their color scheme as well as the size of the fonts, etc.
I would say that this is one of the most versatile and powerful stock-ticker type RSS feed readers out there, and is visually very smooth and problem-free. Note, however, that this program is free for private use only (vs. commercial). Also note that the way it works is each horizontal ticker you add has its own options dialog, which at first I didn’t realize and caused me some confusion.
9- As email in your Inbox [FeedMyInbox]: if you prefer to receive email notifications rather than subscribe to RSS feeds, FeedmyInbox is a free web service that can receive RSS feeds for you and automatically email them to an address you specify. Please note, however, that many sites (such as this one) offer the option to subscribe to both RSS feeds or to email notifications, so in theory for many sites you will not need the FeedMyInbox service. However, if a site does not offer email notifications, or if you like its RSS feed better than the emails that it offers (and I know that for example that for Freewaregenius the emails are very abbreviated) then FeedMyInbox may be for you.
If you know of other interesting ways to access RSS feeds using free software or services please share in the comments section.