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December 26, 2006

RSS Aggregators on openSUSE 10.2

by @ 7:45 am. Filed under My Opinion, review, SUSE Tips & Tricks

OK, so Christmas was great and everything. Presents and family, and honey-roasted ham… we spilled no fewer than 3 drinks on the dining-room floor that I personally mopped this very morning. No idea how many were spilled on the carpet. Much fun was had by all.

I also wanted to talk about RSS. This, to me, is the single greatest means of transmitting useful information that there is besides email. And maybe instant messenger.

Really briefly, RSS means “Really Simple Syndication”. It’s like a channel to which people can subscribe to receive the latest content on a given website. It is great for news, blogs, forum threads, or anything else that may be time-sensitive. You simply copy the URL of the RSS feed and paste it into an aggregator. This program then downloads and parses all of the RSS feeds to which you are subscribed. It may then give you ways to manage the articles, search through them, or whatever else. In any case, RSS is the man.

RSS feeds initially hit my scene around July of 2004. The first aggregator on my machine was RSSOwl. It had lots of great features but it seemed like it crashed a lot.

Akregator was the next RSS reader installed for trial. It seemed usable enough. There were a couple of bugs, which I reported, but overall, it was very usable. It fared much better than RSSOwl, but couldn’t filter things very well. What it does offer is the ability to search through the feeds, but does not allow one to save the searches for availability later. That annoys the snot out of me. It also does not allow direct filtration. Again, I need a box of Kleenexes. Overall, Akregator does seem quite a bit snappier and more responsive. It does all of the basics really well. It definitely misses some of the essentials, such as filters and saved searches.

I then learned that Thunderbird could aggregate RSS feeds, and would let me filter them into different folders, too. Ever since ths fact was discovered, my RSS feeds have been aggregated by nothing else. Thunderbird allows for import and export of the feeds in an OPML file (which most aggregators do now). Mostly, I appreciate it and use it because of its rule-based filters and its stability. Two huge beefs I have with Thunderbird: 1) It is slower than mold growing uphill in Winter. As we already know, waiting gives me cancer. And 2) When I have “Unread” selected in the filter bar at the top, and I go into a given folder containing feeds, it doesn’t only show the Unread news articles. It shows them all. Sometimes, I have to click around on different folders and come back to even show any at all, when I know darn well it’s full of them.

Thunderbird is agonizingly slow as an aggregator, and has some funky bugs that really shouldn’t be there. However, I do greatly like the filters.

I have also taken a look at Liferea. It has some excessively cool filtration, searching, and the ability to save searches as virtual folders. It is quite a bit more responsive than Thunderbird, but not quite as much so as Akregator. It is also quite unstable on a 64-bit machine, and crashed 4 times just tonight. Overall, I think it has the most of the features that I personally am looking for.

RSSOwl found its way onto my machine again, tonight. It seemed like it would be a good idea to see how far it had come in the last couple of years. To be honest, the stability had improved quite dramatically. RSSOwl had redeemed itself and had made quite a positive impression.

Unable to make up my mind, it was time for the old comparison spreadsheet trick. The first task was to come up with some criteria that were important to me personally. Next, a weight was given to the importance (to me) of each criterion. Having done that, I listed all of the aggregators that were to be tested.

We had a bullet-proof system (or something) for selecting the best aggregator.

Below is a graph with the results of my evaluations of each of the aggregators. In the first column is each of the criteria. In the next column is how important that particular criterion is to me personally. Then there are the individual aggregator columns. In the left column is my grade for that aggregator. In the right column is my grade multiplied by the weight. At the bottom of each column is the total score for each aggregator. The image links to a spreadsheet that you can download. If you want, you can adjust the importance of each criterion to see which aggregator may fit your needs the best.

I also checked to see how long it would take to start up. I instructed each aggregator to download all feeds upon startup. The startup times listed below thus include the time to start the application and download all RSS feeds.

Aggregator Scores


As it appears that Liferea is my favorite RSS aggregator in terms of functionality, it is way too unstable for a 64-bit machine. Second most interesting to me is Thunderbird, which I have been using for about a year and a half. RSSOwl and Akregator are fine, but lack some necessary functionality, though they are both stabler and more responsive than Liferea and Thunderbird.

One of my very biggest problems is that I have about 150 RSS feeds to sort through. That is quite a bit of information overload. Hence the need for good saved searches or virtual folders.

Now for the big question: What slick little tips and tricks does anyone have to manage your RSS feeds, search through them, sort them, or otherwise optimize your experience? Any thoughts on managing the information overload?

I’m hoping that someday, someone will come out with Bayesian filtering for topics. That would be very helpful for me. In the meantime, please share your pointers.

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