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RSS tools and stuff

Gearhead archive

So in last week's Gearhead we discussed a standard for news syndication called Rich Site Summary. To recap, RSS lets Internet sites with something to say make their content findable through an XML-formatted file that summarizes what is available and where it is. These summaries are called RSS feeds.

Through the good offices of our esteemed Online Executive Editor Adam Gaffin, an RSS feed for Network World's NWFusion Web site is available. Rather than burn precious column inches here, we will point you to "Network World Fusion's Do-It-Yourself RSS Feed".

A particularly interesting aspect of this feed is the DIY part: The RSS data is created on-the-fly from the output of the search engine used by the site, and you can embed whatever search terms you want in the RSS URL you request, giving you the ability to get just the news you want. Cool.

"But," you may well be asking "What am I to read the RSS feed with? If I just browse for that URL nothing happens, I get a load of unformatted text, which seems to me about as much use as a one-legged man in a butt-kicking competition."

Ah, young Jedi, that's because what is coming back is an RSS document that is a load of XML that is not rendered in a meaningful way on most browsers (we can't say all because we haven't tried this with anything but Internet Explorer and Opera).

Should you want to see what you are really receiving when you get an RSS document, check out a utility called NetInfo (eight gearteeth out of 10) from Tsarfin Computing. This is a Swiss Army knife-type tool kit and among its features, it can retrieve content from a URL and display the HTTP header and the "raw" (uninterpreted) content.

Anyway, if you want to use RSS feeds, you're going to need a tool for the heavy lifting. May we suggest Headline Viewer (eight gearteeth out of 10) from Vertex Development?

Headline Viewer is reasonably functional in that it crashes only occasionally. On the other hand, as it is currently uncharged for, we can't complain. We write "uncharged for," because the software is not actually freeware nor is it commercial yet - Vertex plans to charge for the program when it reaches Version 1.0, and it is currently stalled out at Version 0.97 (Version 1.0 was scheduled for last year but . . . ).

Headline Viewer polls a list of publishers for RSS files at intervals from one and 24 hours. As each RSS file is retrieved the headlines are added to a list that is displayed for the currently selected publisher. Clicking on an item will take you to the URL to which the headline refers.

Headline Viewer can load lists of publishers from a selection of built-in aggregators that includes Userland, XMLTree, GrokSoup and NewsIsFree. You can also define your own publishers.

The Headline Viewer user interface (which can be skinned) is divided into three panes that show a topical hierarchy in one pane, the publishers below that and, to the right of those panes, a list of headlines for that publisher. Double-click on a headline, and your Web browser will be sent to the corresponding URL.

You also can provide a search term. Each time you press "enter" the next list item that matches the search term will be selected. This feature is a little weak. Enter a search term that doesn't exist and there's no feedback to say the search has failed; the currently elected list item stays selected. And we'd like to see all matching headlines at once by themselves rather than having to jump through lists.

Another RSS browser worth noting is Novobot from Proggle.com - seven gearteeth out of 10). We found it prone to blowing up on our system, but the user interface is one of the most slick. Novobot offers a neat scrolling ticker that displays headlines sequentially. Novobot costs $25, but we'll put off buying it until it is far more stable.

Spill your guts to gearhead@gibbs.com.

RELATED LINKS

Comments and suggestions to gh@gibbs.com.

Gibbs Forum
The place to discuss Gibbs's columns.

Check out this week's edition of

Backspin for more musings from Gibbs.

Radio Userland
A Weblogging tool that can also be used as an RSS browser.


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