Great News and More

I am well-known to my friends as an information junkie. Information overload? Ha! No such thing. I just need bigger barrels so I can get it into my system. This last week I found two tools that help me manage: PubSub and Great News. Info junkies are loving the proliferation of RSS technology. If you’ve missed it, RSS is a syndication protocol that lets various content providers distribute their content in a semi-automatic fashion. As a consumer of information, you can subscribe (usually for free) to various RSS feeds to grab the headlines and article summaries as they appear. The system is not glamorous; these are summaries, not full blown articles, but the immediacy and ease of use make RSS a real winner. To gather a variety of RSS feeds into one easy to use interface, you need an RSS reader. Readers can be clunky affairs, like the ones built into browsers and email clients. I haven’t seen one embedded reader that I thought was worth a darn; they all look like what they are: after thoughts. There is, however, an increasing number of stand alone RSS readers and a large number of web-based aggregation services. While some of the web-based services are very popular (like Feedster), they have never been favorites of mine. I don’t like having to visit the website, log in, be bombarded by ads, etc., etc. So, for me, the answer was a stand-alone reader. Try as I might, I had not been able to find one of those I liked, until I found GreatNews. GreatNews is a free program which you download and install on your local machine. Actually, you don’t even need to install it, just unzip it and run it (which makes it great for carrying around on your thumb drive). The program will help you find, organize and track RSS news feeds. One of the strengths of this program is the presentation of the RSS articles. GreatNews displays the articles like a page from a newspaper. The default two column full page display of stories makes browsing RSS much more like browsing a traditional newspaper and is a pleasure to read. You can also control the layout to suit your needs. The suite of tools including with GreatNews makes it an effective tool for organizing information. You are able to subscribe to multiple channels and group them into categories easily. You control the frequency of the updates. With the “Labels” function you can categorize individual stories on the fly and organize them into groups which can be called up and viewed as a collection of related items. I find this to be very helpful for those days when I am in a hurry and see stories I want to read later. I simply mark them with the Label I created called “Review.” Later, when I have more time, I start up GreatNews and review up all the stories I tagged earlier. You can use GreatNews to set up criteria-based Search as well. If you want to track stories on, say, Open Source, you set up a Search Channel and have GreatNews discover and collect matching articles. When not occupying the main screen, GreatNews minimizes to the system tray and pops up a reminder when new stories come in. GreatNews is only in Beta but it is already a rock solid tool. The product is 100% Unicode compatible and that means it supports a wide variety of character sets. A browser is integrated with the products, but you can also integrate GreatNews with your Firebox browser if you prefer. If you are a Loglines user, you can integrate GreatNews with your Bloglines account and view your news feeds from within Bloglines. The other product I wanted to mention this week is an online service called PubSub. PubSub is also an aggregator of content. You use the system by subscribing (it’s free) then setting up “subscriptions” (which are actually search strings). Thereafter, PubSub will track your subscriptions and notify you when new items match your search string. The system claims to track more than 13 million weblogs, 50,000 Internet newsgroups and all SEC filings. The content can be delivered to you via email, SMS, Instant Messaging or through my favorite, a sidebar that will appear in the Firebox browser. I use PubSub for the Firebox sidebar. I set up my subscriptions and then I downloaded and installed the sidebar in my Firebox browser. Now, as I browse the Web, I have the sidebar visible and can see new stories as they arise. When I need more screen space, I minimize the sidebar. It’s like having my own news ticker. The combination of GreatNews and PubSub is a winner. GreatNews tracks my primary sources, my regular reads, if you will. In contrast, PubSub searches much wider, checking sources that I may never wish to add to my personal list, but which may nonetheless periodically carry a story of interest. I love the immediacy of these two programs. They supplement my tracking of traditional publications and get me breaking stories from a variety of perspectives as they appear on line. Get GreatNews at Join PubSub by visiting Originally published in the Bangkok Post, 3 Aug 2005

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