NetNewsWire

I get really annoying when I find a new toy. I tell every person I know about it, I construct my day around it, and every answer to every question passes through the new toy neuron in my head. This means if you ask me, “Hey Rands, what’s 7 + 3?” I first think, “How can the new toy help me answer this?” before I say, “10”.

nnwThe toy (which is not a toy) is NetNewsWire. This product has allowed me to not only change the way I gather information on the Net, but it’s also given me the ability to digest much, much more information. To understand the complete holy shit here, we first need some background.

Long ago, I read a lot of Usenet news, but over the years, the signal to noise ration grew intolerable. I know there was good content to be had, but I didn’t want to sift through crap to find the rare gems. Yes, you could use kill files to filter out the crap, but suddenly you’re spending more on your kill files than reading actually content.

Enter Weblogs. The problem of high quality content is solved by a trustworthy individual finding and sifting through the web to find content they care enough about to post. Content is centralized and filtered by a person.

It works like this for me. I search for information on Google, say, “Safari change log” which invariably, points me at a weblog. Finding the data on the weblog useful, I bookmark the site thinking, “Well, if she/he had that data surely they’ll write/find something else relevant”. So, I bookmark the site, but what I’m really bookmarking is the person because what I care about is not the content on their site, I care about how the person sifts through fact, fiction, and opinion and weblogs it. The person has credibility, not the website.

The next step is monitoring these weblogs. Occasionally, I crawl through my bookmarks looking for changes. Two problems with this process: first, I’m a data freshness nut case. I want to know as soon as humanly possible when something goes down and bookmark surfing is pull technology which means I only hear about when I happen to stumble on the weblog. I want push because I want to know and I’m on the Net ALL THE TIME.

The second problem is the time it takes to go to a site and figure out if there is new content. I can keep track of ten or twenty sites in my head, but more than that and I start wondering, “Did I already check this site?” Suddenly, I’m limiting the amount I can digest because my memory blows. This is an additional violation my data freshness ethic.

NetNewsWire gives me a terribly sexy data consumption rate by giving me great tools to manage my credibility networks. Wondering what a credibility network is? You can probably guess, but I’ll explain in my next column.

NetNewsWire does two things amazing well, first, it reads RSS feeds. I’m not going to explain RSS here, but I will point you at this. The good news is that most weblogs I care about sport an RSS feed. When I asked Emma why her site didn’t, she claimed, “I think weblogs are about the content and the presentation” and she’s right… they are. They’re also published with the intent that it’s reasonably easy to discover and read them.

While I appreciate the huge amount of work that goes into sites, I’d argue that without an RSS feed, the individual weblog has less of a chance of being discovered, let alone read because more people can read RSS-based sites than crawl their bookmark files (keep reading re: scalability). Besides, it’s just a matter of time before NetNewsWire embeds a browser to gracefully display weblog content in it’s fully HTML rendered glory thus making this concern irrelevant to both Emma as well big media types who avoid RSS because of a few of lowering click-thru rates.

The other rock star feature of NetNewsWire is its scalability. I discovered this in two distinct phases. Phase #1 we’ll call, “What’s the RSS-thing all about anyway?” This was when I downloaded the application and subscribed to ten of my favorite weblogs. Now, whenever I schedule it, NetNewsWire pings all the weblogs, finds new articles, and flags them, Depending on the RSS feed, additional sortable data shows up in the table at the top as well as an excerpt or the article in the detail view.

The side effect of a successful Phase #1 is Phase #2, “Scale, Scale, Scale”. As soon I got in the zone with 20+ feeds, I find more weblogs I want to read and I start adding them to my list because my credibility network is growing. The list grows longer and suddenly fills the entire list. Wait, I don’t want to start scrolling, so what do I do? Groups. Using the collapsible tree control, NetNewsWire allows you to group sites and then does a spectacular job of rolling all the new content contained in ALL the sites to the top level. This means that for every group, I only see the content that is hot and juicy. Are you drooling, yet? You should be.

NetNewsWire has painlessly scaled to handle hundreds of weblogs for me. This means I’m scanning the fact/fiction/opinion of hundreds of people every minute of every day. I challenged anyone who is currently bookmarked or tabbed based to efficiently read hundreds of weblogs in the time it takes to drink your coffee. If your answer is, “I don’t care about hundreds of weblogs”, I would suggest you are a state of technical denial where your tool (i.e.: a browser) has limited your vision. Think about it like this, if you were lucky enough to find ten weblogs that you like isn’t it possible there are, at least, another ten and wouldn’t it great if there were a whole lot more?

Other random NetNewsWire comments:

1. The application is stunning because it’s on a Mac, but, well, it’s on a Mac which inherently limits its popularity to 5% of the PC market. Fortunately, for NetNewsWire, many of the popular webloggers appears to Apple fanatics. This bodes well for NetNewsWire. [Sidebar: Would it be ironic if the technology which toppled the Microsoft monopoly was information packaged in weblogs?]

2. I have many machines and they’re not all Macs which means I’m currently out of luck when I’m sitting at a machine which a) isn’t a Mac or b) isn’t my primary machine with my NetNewsWire preferences. This likely to lead to web-based RSS-readers since it’d be really handy to be able to surf my news independent of what computer I happen to be on. [Sidebar: I’m distinctly unwilling to part with the Cocoa smoothness of NetNewsWire]

3. NetNewsWire comes in two flavors a Lite and (presumably for pay) Pro version. The Lite version is simply the RSS browser while the Pro version includes a weblog publishing tool as well as a notepad-like outliner. Considering Ranchero is currently a one man effort, this seems like a lot to bite off especially since I’d be more than willing to part with twenty ducks for the Lite version.

13 Responses

  1. Ditto. To all of it. Except the part about owning PCs. Heh heh. 🙂

  2. Yeah, RSS is the bomb, I agree. I’ve previously ranted on about the two things that really get under my skin about it though.

    #1 Clients. Right, laugh it up mac boy, you’ve got NetNewsWire. Basically in PC land there’s no RSS reader that I’m 100% happy with. I’m using Amphetadesk for the time being but the UI makes me wretch.

    #2 Websites (really bad) implimentation of RSS news feeds. Slashdot for instance, all their RSS feed is is a list of article titles and links to the articles. Hey thanks a lot, I might as well just go to the front page myself to get a comprehensive list of articles. Kudos to you Rands for actually putting some content into your feed.

  3. T ZHIXEL correct. I’ve used this thing since rands first told us about it, and his feed is beautific. Why not the big sites? No other weblogs I’m subscribed to display the entire article with pics and all. It only proves, I guess, that rands is superiour.

  4. Yes, I have not found a good RSS reader on the PC side, yet. I am wondering out loud if this is a feature someone should wrap around Mozilla because of the intimate tie between feeds and sites.

    Yes, RSS feed quality is variable. I’m assuming this is due to the many versions of it. I used this:

    http://feeds.archive.org/validator/

    to make sure the RandsInRespose feed was solid. NNW is also groovy as it allows you to sort on article categories — if they exist in the feed.

  5. Jeff Schilling has been blogging about the state of RSS readers on the PC for a while now over on manicwave:

    http://www.manicwave.com/blog/archives/000055.html

    He has links to a number of options for those stuck with using a PC and is working on his own news aggregator:

    http://www.manicwave.com/blog/archives/000062.html#000062

    Jeff has a Mac and knows how much better things for the switched:

    http://www.manicwave.com/blog/archives/000044.html#000044

    Worth a look.

  6. Apparently a Windows-based news aggregator is looking good… I’ve yet to try it:

    http://www.yole.ru/projects/syndirella/

  7. I agree that there’s no really good PC RSS feeder, but I have little doubt that this will be resolved shortly. I, like Rands, think that RSS feeds are a true blessing in terms of linking to high-quality content; I also think that they provide a happy middleground between flat links (which are the past) and push content (which I never really liked as more than a novelty anyway).

    Trillian Pro has a plugin that lets you add RSS feeds to it, but it requires the paid version of Trillian.

    (link: http://www.ceruleanstudios.com/plugins/index.php?componentID=7 )

    I agree that a Mozilla plugin for RSS feeds *would* be terribly nice, and I’d guess that it’s probably in the pipeline somewhere, or if it isn’t, it ought to be.

    Finally, when are we going to see an RSS feed for Rands in Repose?

  8. doh, just noticed it. I am a moron.

  9. Syndirella seemed kind of cool until I tried to run it and it took 15 seconds to load and instantly ate up 30MB of ram. uh. yeah. no thanks.

  10. I vaguely remember someone mentioning that Syndirella was .NET based. I don’t know what the hell this means, but your load time and memory hogging observations seem to indicuate .NET = Visual Basic runtime included? Why so slow and piggish? Hmmmm…

  11. Is Ranchero accepting waterfowl as payment?

    Seriously, NNW-Lite is fantastic. There is nothing I can say that hasn’t already be aptly said, but I was thinking….

    Is it possible for a Holy Shit to be part of a Greater Holy Shit? I see NNW as just that – one aspect of an incredible evolution in the way we explore the Internet.

  12. haughl 14 years ago

    Shouldn’t the MAGICAL POWER OF NETINFO somehow let you export your prefs to other Macs on the LAN? Maybe?

  13. Wow.

    And again.

    Wow.

    I just got a 15″ TiBook for Christmas (thanks Mom!) and it’s my first Mac in many years (last one being a PMac 7200/90). So much about it has revolutionized how I interact with my machine, but now I’m begininng to discover how it (OS X and associated applications) revolutionizes how I interact with the world.

    Blogging, et al never interested me because of the work involved in polling for new info. If I couldn’t rely on a site updating it’s content at least every other day, I kicked it due to the waste of effort. That there is a clean and efficient way to keep me notified with minimal effort has already changed my outlook. Now, I can feed off of many sources regardless of update schedule. I forsee many good things to come.