Cool Tool Alert: NetNewsWire
Years ago I purchased NetNewsWire, an RSS feed aggregator designed for the Mac by NewsGator Technologies. (Their Windows RSS feed reader, FeedDemon, also seems to get high reviews, but, being a Mac head, I have never used it.) I actually tried several feed readers at the time I began feeding at the RSS trough, but of all the readers I tried, I fell in love with NetNewsWire.
In an extraordinary move, a few weeks ago NewsGator Technologies made all of their RSS feed readers, including NetNewsWire, free downloads for everyone--not your standard business model! (They do sell other software and services.) I highly recommend this cool tool. No, I highly recommend this essential tool.
Many people still don't know or have a really fuzzy understanding of what RSS feed aggregation is. And for those who do know, RSS is often used much too little. RSS is far too powerful to be so little used. If you do not subscribe to RSS feeds, you are really missing out.
What Is It?!
The easiest way to explain RSS feeds and their aggregation (fancy word for "collection in one place") is by example: If you had a child at Mabry Middle School, where every teacher blogs (even the counselors, media specialist, nurse, the PTSA, etc.), you could easily have to check 10 or more web sites (blogs) to keep up with what is going on in your child's school. On some days the teachers have posted, and sometimes they have not. The daily process of checking each blog quickly becomes a little tedious--even with the generous use of numerous bookmarks.
So, let's make this easy!
On the first day of school, use an RSS feed aggregator, like NetNewsWire, to subscribe one time to each teacher's blog. (You never need to go to those blogs again if you don't want to.) From that day on, every time you launch NetNewsWire, or any RSS feed aggregator you choose to use, NetNewsWire tells you how many new posts have been published by which teachers. All of the posts come to you in one place--in my case, NetNewsWire. When I launch the program, it looks at every blog or website to which I have subscribed and brings me the new posts.
In NetNewsWire I can read a summary of each new post. If I find it of interest, I can click on the summary and see the entire post. I can even click on the title of the post and open the blog from which it came.
If I have two children at Mabry, I can have two folders: one for the teachers of one child, and one for the other child. I can have a folder for news sites like CNN and the BBC, a folder for technology sites like Wired and Boing Boing. I can even have NetNewsWire search the internet for posts about specific topics and keywords with which I want to keep informed with the latest information. In this post I am only scratching the surface of the many powerful possibilities, but lest I overwhelm those who are first learning about RSS aggregation, I'll stop here.
As far as I am concerned, every student in middle school and up (at the least!) should use an RSS aggregator daily. This can be a powerful learning and research tool when used well.
Why Not Use Your Browser's RSS Capabilities?
For one thing, only the latest version of Internet Explorer has any RSS functionality built into it. Since a significant number of internet users use older versions of IE, this may explain why RSS subscription has not become standard practice. The old version of IE can't work with it at all.
And while both Safari (for Windows and Mac) and the new version of Internet Explorer have RSS functionality built into them, they lack some of the amazing additional functionality provided in the free RSS feed aggregators you can download from NewsGator Technologies.
How Do I Use It?
All you need to know is that blogs and even many websites create RSS feeds. One of the ways you can tell a site has an RSS feed available (not all do): they are typically identified with an icon that looks much like the one pictured next to this paragraph--small orange, "radaresque" icons. (I picked one that's a little fancier than usual.) You click on the feed icon which launches NetNewsWire or whatever aggregator you have installed on your machine. (The fancy feed icon pictured in this paragraph is linked to this blog's RSS feed!) You select the folder you want the posts from the feed to appear in within NetNewsWire. You have now subscribed. Now all of the new posts from that feed, that web site, that blog will automatically appear in NetNewsWire everytime you launch it.
Go ahead and try it. Download a free aggregator from NewsGator Technologies. Click on my feed icon near the bottom left sidebar or in the paragraph above, and watch what happens. This is a better, more efficient way to work!
Teach the parents of your students how to subscribe to your blog. Teach your students how to subscribe to your blog. (Don't even tell me you don't have one! I'll leap right through this screen and point my finger in front of your nose for your not using best practices!!)
If You Are A Geek (Like Me)
You will want to check out this post about tweaking NetNewsWire to provide you with abundant functionality. Also read this post. You can: have NetNewsWire feed you your blog stats, your mail, posts about you, comments made to your blog, podcasts, create smart folders, post an article to your del.icio.us account, post an article or a highlighted section from an article to your blog, show you blogs that aren't actively posting, show you blogs that are using the most bandwidth, send podcasts to iTunes to sync to your iPod, send your feeds to Safari on your iPhone (or other mobile devices, or any computer browser in the world), have your feed summaries appear in the sidebar of your blog, and on and on and ...
Educators, this should rock your world!