We've already talked about using RSS as a business intelligence tool, but how do you choose the right software to get maximum benefit out of your news reading? With a number of options and myriad features on multiple platforms, it can be a daunting task to even get started.
In this article we'll take a look at some of what you might consider when shopping for a news reader. Do you need cutting edge, up to the second information at your fingertips? You might want to look at "ticker" style applications that scroll new headlines continuously. Or maybe you need to monitor a large number of feeds but are primarily interested in a subset of specific keywords or topics. In that case, you'd want to look for an RSS reader that supports a Smart Folders or Saved Searches feature.
If you need to keep news feeds in sync across multiple platforms, from Mac to Windows or from the web to a desktop or mobile clients, there are solutions out there for you too. Many of these readers also help you share individual articles and posts with your colleagues and collaborators as well. Let's take a look at some of the options available online, on your desktop and on your phone.
The reigning king of online newsreaders is currently Google Reader. One of the advantages of an online RSS reader over a desktop version is accessibility: you can use it from any web browser, even if it's not your primary computer, and all your feeds will be exactly the way you left them. Of course, one of the disadvantages of a web-based newsreader is that you typically need an active internet connection to make use of them, whereas a desktop client can download feed items you can later read offline.
One of the areas Google Reader excels, however, is in its ability to also sync with various desktop and mobile clients. Not only does that give you some measure of offline access to your feeds (as does installing and enabling Google Gears), but it prevents you from having to sort through some of the feeds you've already read elsewhere when you switch from your computer to your phone, or even from web to desktop client. We'll look at some of the desktop and mobile clients Google Reader syncs with in the next two sections.
Another potential option in this category is NetVibes. Though it's officially classified as a Start Page moreso than an RSS reader, it can import and monitor news feeds along with a number of other apps or widgets designed to bring various types of information into one at-a-glance interface. NetVibes offers far more flexibility and customizability than a straight up RSS reader, but the downside is it's not the best solution to monitoring a large volume of feeds. Google also has a similar product dubbed iGoogle worth checking out as well.
If keeping news feeds in sync between a Macintosh and a Windows computer is part of your requirements, you'll want to take a look at two industry-leading news readers on their respective platforms: NetNewsWire and FeedDemon. Both of these readers sync with Google Reader, making cross-platform feed reading a lot more painless. Even if you don't need cross-platform compatibility, both readers are full-featured and worthy contenders for your desktop feed reading needs. Both offer the ability to watch for specific keywords or set up saved searches that automatically bring up important topics in your niche to the forefront of your news reading sessions.
Another worthy option on the Mac is Shrook a free RSS reader that syncs back to the web to keep your feeds in line whether you're reading from your Mac, iPhone, or any computer with an internet connection. On Windows, take a look at the free and open source RSSOwl.
For a news ticker type experience on either the Mac or PC, check out Snackr, an Adobe AIR client that continually scrolls headlines from your feeds across your desktop. This type of news reader can be handy for those who want to be able to see stories at a glance without having to switch back and forth between applications or browser tabs.
On the iPhone, Reeder is a solid mobile client that syncs with Google Reader. Newsstand is another iPhone client that does so, along with the ability to easily export or send stories to a number of external sources like email, Twitter, delicious and more. There's also a special iPhone-formatted version of Google Reader you can simply use in the Safari mobile browser that works quite well.
On the Android platform, FeedR is a great option for reading feeds, with a free demo version and a reasonable $0.99 version that removes certain intermediary dialog boxes. You can import feeds from an OPML file and even cache feeds for offline reading as well. For a solid client that syncs with Google Reader, check out NewsRob.
Palm webOS users might want to see if the iPhone-formatted Google Reader works for your needs; it's not specifically customized for Palm devices yet still tends to work rather well. BlackBerry users can also access Google Reader in the phone browser, or check out FreeRange or Viigo. Windows Mobile users can also use the browser method to access Google Reader, or try the free NewsBreak Lite or YoMoMedia, which syncs with its own web-based feed reading client as well.
Don't hesitate to spend some time shopping around and trying several clients before settling on your feed reader of choice -- or even continuing to use more than one at a time. Thanks to the OPML standard, it should be a relatively simple process to export and import your feeds from one client to another. This means that building a master list of news feeds in one client is highly worthwhile, since it can travel with you even if you move to a new RSS reader down the road.
Image Courtesy of iStockphoto, AndrewJohnson