[By Nic Lindh on Tuesday, 28 October 2003]
The biggest change for my own personal use of the web since the search engine is the advent of the news aggregator. Using an aggregator makes it so much faster and easier to keep up with what is happening on your favorite sites that it’s impossible to go back to the old way of going through your bookmarks, check site A; nothing new; check site B, ah, a new article; check site C, nothing new, ad nauseam.
How it works: You load up a list of feeds in your aggregator, and then it polls those feeds for changes at intervals you specify. Once there’s something new in a feed, it shows up in the aggregator, and you can then (usually) read an excerpt of the article and if the excerpt seems interesting you can visit the site itself for the full article. Most aggregators look like either email clients or newsgroup readers, so most people are familiar with the concept from the get-go.
By using an aggregator, you save tons of time by having it check if there’s anything new to read, and it also makes it easier to keep tabs of sites you don’t visit often but occasionally have new content you want to keep on top of.
News feeds are also good for site owners in that they obviate the need for mailing lists to keep people updated of changes you make to a site. Mailing lists require a lot of love and care, and with the rise of spam as Public Enemy Number One on the Internet, even opt-in lists sometimes get mangled by overzealous spam filters. News aggregators make an end-run around the entire problem.
For a list of aggregators for different platforms, visit hebig.org. On the Mac, the premier aggregator is NetNewsWire, which comes in full and lite (free) versions. Highly recommended.