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4 May 2007

The Web-based RSS Feed Readers

Syndication is undoubtedly the heartbeat of the whole Web 2.0 arena and lifestyle. An RSS feed reader, the most common solution to consuming syndicated content, saves you time by monitoring many, many sites and sources and providing damn near real-time updates to one place.

There are plenty of different types of readers: web-based, desktop, Outlook based, etc. I will focus solely on web-based RSS feed readers. I’ve included the big guns, plus some new readers with great new features or performance like Gritwire, FeedLounge, Attensa and News Alloy.

All the web-based RSS feed readers reviewed are free except for FeedLounge, which charges US$5 per month.

The Web-based Feed Readers

I had a look at nine web-based feed readers :

IN addition I think MyYahoo! is a great option for a quick read of your RSS feeds or for on the go RSS feed readers viewing the Internet via cell phone or mobile, but it does not have the feature set for a heavy information consumer.

Researching these readers further highlights the extremely competitive arena surrounding this industry’s development. On a feature-set basis only, two companies stood out: Rojo and Bloglines.

Google Reader and FeedLounge won the subjective feed-load test, which determines how well the application pulls up a particular feed. The test consisted of loading five feeds and taking the average of the load times and rating the reader on a five-point scale. Interestingly, FeedLounge is the only premium service of the group at $5 a month. Aside from the exceptional performance rating, I wonder what else sets FeedLounge apart from its free competitors. However, many users are religious about readers with a three pane display that FeedLounge, Attensa and Gritwire all offer.

Web 2.0 Features

Rojo, a San Francisco-based company which was reviewed previously on TechCrunch, has the most prominent web 2.0 swagger. News Alloy offers a close second though with itís tagging, rating and other content repositioning (i.e. add to Digg, add to del.icio.us).

User Ratings: Several of the readers offer rating systems, but I think Rojo’s “Mojo” is the most appealing. Mojo, a term reflecting user-generated reviews, mirrors a feature on the popular social news aggregator digg. After entering an item in the feed you can Mojo it to boost its relevance. NewsGator Online also offers a user generated content feature called “Latest Buzz,” which determines and displays the number of people linking to items in NewsGator. News Alloy employs a rating system similar to Rojo that tallies the number of times someone rates an item.

Tagging: Rojo generates a tag cloud from user-generated tags. Google Reader offers the same feature under a different name, “labels.” It seems FeedLounge uses tagging as the sole search and discovery mechanism. News Alloy also allows tagging of posts.

Social Aspects: Rojo and Gritwire feature “contacts,” which adds a social aspect to the reader, allowing a user to share information within a network of contacts.

Feed Discovery & Recommendations: Pluck, a Texas-based social media company, built a feature called FeedFinder into its Web Edition, which improves feed discovery. Rojo recommendations feeds in the top right corner of the layout while you browse.

Up and Coming Readers

Attensa, a Portland-based company, offers a reader that has a very professional and clean interface. While lacking many features the rest of the pack has, it pulls feeds up very quickly. In talking with Matthew Bookspan, Attensa’s Director of Product, I learned Attensa will be launching a new and improved version of the web-based reader that should fare better on the comparison chart. Additionally, Attensa will soon offer a mobile-enabled view of its reader, rendering nicely in handheld devices or cell phones.

Gritwire, a company based just north of Chicago, boasts a Flash-based feed reader that performs very well and offers integrated social networking features similar to Rojo. Gritwire uses a contact-list approach that allows you to share feeds among friends. I spoke with Ian Carswell, Gritwire’s co-founder and COO, who said Gritwire has more web 2.0 features in store, and I am curious to see them in action.

News Alloy, offers an Ajax driven reader with lots of power user bells and whistles. Though it underperformed in the subjective feed-load test others have found it to be extremely fast in other operations.

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