I'm on a quest to find the perfect RSS aggregator. And I'm starting to feel like I'll end up having to write some code to get it. That makes me unhappy because I've got roughly a billion other things I need to be spending my time on.

I'm slowly convincing myself that I need an e-mail based aggregator. Yeah, that's right. I think I want an RSS aggregator that sends me all the interesting bits via e-mail.

The real problem is that I use several different computers and operating systems each day. And I've yet to find one that'll give me what I want. My current favorites are AmphetaDesk and NetNewsWire. The former is a client-server application (I have it running on a co-located server so I can access it from anywhere) and the later is a GUI application for Mac OS X. For me, they're two "best of breed" applications.

So, let's look at the general cases.

Web/Server based aggregators

The Good

  • Can access the content from anywhere.
  • State can maintained in once place, so you don't see the same content twice and you don't have to subscribe to the same feed several times.

The Bad

  • No off-line viewing capabilities.
  • Performance can be sluggish when net latency is high.
  • Browser-based apps aren't as feature-rich (compared to NNW).

Desktop/GUI aggregators

The Good

  • Great performance.
  • Rich user interface (sorting, mark read/unread, etc.).

The Bad

  • Can't easily share state between machines.
  • Source code is rarely available.

And now the specific cases:


The Good

  • Easy to setup.
  • Runs on my own server.
  • UI can be customized, as seen in AmphetaOutlines.

The Bad

  • Uses a rather strict parser. Feeds randomly fail to parse.
  • Has a memory leak. I've seen the process get as large as 96MB before I restarted it.
  • The default UI doesn't scale. I read about 80 weblogs. That makes for one really large page.


The Good

  • Fast development cycle. Author is releasing new versions a few times a week.
  • Awesome UI and features. It acts like a news reader but doesn't have any clutter.

The Bad

  • Only runs on the Mac. I use Windows and Linux systems more often than the Mac.
  • Lacks a few key features, like sorting and ranking of feeds.

What I really want...

I'd like to combine aspects of both models. I'm thinking of a server-based process that can gather all the data and give it to me in one of several ways. Maybe I can just point my browser at it and catch up on the news--just like AmphetaDesk. That's great for when I'm on-line and in a surfing mood.

I'd like it to do RSS auto-discovery.

I'd like the option of having updates sent to me via e-mail and possibly instant-messenger. Heck, I'd like to be able to subscribe via e-mail or IM as well.

By having an e-mail option, I can work off-line whenever the mood strikes me or connectivity vanishes for some reason. And if it provided a XML-RPC or SOAP-based API, I could imagine having a nice selection of desktop GUI apps that can provide a nice interface to the data--on any platform (Linux, OS X, Windows).

Anyone know of such a beast? Sounds like it'd be a fun project to build. It breaks down nicely into logical units, I think. There'd the be the core server. It polls all your feeds, figures out what's new, and so on. Then there's an API for subscribe/unsubscribe and reading content. You could then have clients or bridges that speak Jabber, XML-RPC or SOAP, POP or IMAP, etc.

Hmm. If only I had some more spare time. This is starting to sound really fun. Heck, it'd even be a good excuse to learn one of the languages I've been wanting to get into: Python or Ruby.

Sigh. Back to doing work.

Posted by jzawodn at August 31, 2002 10:32 PM

Reader Comments
# Sean Nolan said:

Disclaimer as always: my product. KBnow (www.kbnow.com) seems close to what you're looking for, although it's missing some pieces. It does keyword-based filtering of feeds, provides a web interface and can also email new items as they arrive. Feed content is indexed for full-text search. It has an XML-over-HTTP interface to retrieve items.

Currently no auto-discovery tho, and probably has some other stuff that's not perfect. It's not free, although it's cheap for personal use.

Take a look, would love to hear what you think.

on September 1, 2002 12:46 AM
# php scripts said:

here is a great
rss aggregator

on February 3, 2003 12:46 PM
# pqs said:

try jabber, it is an I.M. system.
there is a bot that sends you your feeds as messages. it is cool! there are clients for any platform!

more info about jabber at http://jabber.org

more info about the bot at http://JabXPCOM.sunsite.dk/jabrss/

enjoy it!

on February 24, 2003 09:17 AM
# said:

I have found this, but it requires .Net....

on March 10, 2003 12:01 PM
# Derik said:

There is an AIM RSS feed watcher (http://www.neuronwave.com/bcb/) but I've never gotten it to work well, or even halfassed.

on February 10, 2005 05:15 AM
# Michel Dumais said:

Have you seen that new aggregator?
It worth a look.


on February 10, 2005 12:41 PM
# Stephan D said:

You sound like you are looking for some pretty geeky stuff. Do you imagine your feed data, which you want to access remotly, wil be hosted by the RSS app itself (ie it will have some sort of server built in) or everything will reside on a remote server somewhere else?

Although it doesn't do the remote feed thing, you might like thepheeder xml reader It's a mac-based reader that handles just about any xml via XSL transforms. I've been playing with subscribing to OS X system files--they're plists, therefore xml and with a little work I was able to build a plugin for them and now am alerted when certain things change.

on February 12, 2005 09:46 AM
# gr8face said:

Currently I'm using rss-to-javascript.com to display my blog feed on a web page, however it's gotten so slow it's next to useless. Anyone know of a good substitute that's free?

on November 9, 2006 11:09 AM
# lysander said:

I don't have suggestions in terms of current soloutions that will cater to your needs, but I believe you are looking for an RSS email server, (think, MTA) for example (fetchmail+postfix+dovecot), a local or remote server that you can add, remove, update, archive feeds etcetera. that you can access in serveral different ways, be it pop3, built-in RSS, web. also this solution being a server could email, IM or whatever to inform you that there are X new objects. I don't believe there is such a solution out there, or if there is I don't know of a free, as in beer solution. Though it seems to be a great idea for a project, I just wish I had some skills in hacking, as It would be a neat use/management of RSS.

on September 13, 2008 03:21 PM
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