Hack 87 Reading Syndicated Online Content


NetNewsWire is to syndicated content from weblogs, web sites, and online magazines as newsreaders are to Usenet news of old.

If you have been surfing the Web in the last couple of months, you undoubtedly have come across sites known as weblogs (also commonly referred to as blogs). Simply put, weblogs are like diaries of the thoughts and wanderings of a person or group of persons, pointing at and annotating things of interest on the Web. On the surface, a weblog looks no different than a conventional web page, but one salient feature of a weblog is that its content is usually exposed, in addition to the default web page view, as an XML document (RSS, to be precise) for syndication.

Rebecca Blood's "weblogs: a history and perspective" (http://www.rebeccablood.net/essays/weblog_history.html) provides a nice overview of the emergence of weblogs. For more on the culture and practicalities of weblogs and blogging, may I suggest O'Reilly's Essential Blogging (http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/essblogging/).

87.1 News Aggregators

News aggregators are applications that collect all these RSS documents at regular time intervals. The advantage of using news aggregators is that you need not visit each individual site in order to know about the latest happenings. You can simply aggregate the news into one central location and selectively view the ones that you are interested in. Nowadays, a great number of online news sites and magazines have caught the syndication bug and are distributing news via RSS, which makes it all the more convenient for you to travel the world from the comfort of your Mac.

87.2 NetNewsWire

Ranchero's NetNewsWire (http://ranchero.com/software/netnewswire/) ($29.95 for the Pro version; the Lite version is free) is probably the most popular syndicated content reader for Macintosh. It sports a clean, intuitive Aqua interface (see Figure 8-6), not unlike those of Usenet newsreaders of the past.

Figure 8-6. NetNewsWire Lite's interface

On the left pane is the list of news, web sites, and weblogs to which you are subscribed. NetNewsWire comes presubscribed to a list of popular and Mac-slanted blogs, news sites, and online magazines. The top-right pane shows the list of headlines from the site that you have selected on the left. Select a headline and an abstract of the content appears in the bottom-right pane. Want to read the story in its entirety? Simply double-click the headline and your default web browser will fetch and display it for you, as shown in Figure 8-7.

Figure 8-7. Loading the source of the news

Of course, with the proliferation of syndicated online content, the list of presubscribed feeds provides only a starting point. NetNewsWire comes with a list of well-known feeds, in addition to those in the default subscription list. You'll find them in the Sites Drawer (see Figure 8-8). Type figs/command.gif-L or select View Show Sites Drawer to open the Sites Drawer.

Figure 8-8. The Sites drawer

Feeds in the Sites Drawer are grouped nicely into categories for your convenience. Option-click on a feed and you're presented with three choices (see Figure 8-9): subscribe to the feed, open it in your browser for a quick taste of what it has to offer, or open the RSS feed itself in your default browser.

Figure 8-9. Subscribing to a feed

Another way of subscribing to sites is supplying the RSS URL yourself ? perhaps you've copied it from a web page of interest. Select Subscriptions Subscribe . . . or press figs/command.gif-Shift-S. Type or paste in the RSS feed's URL and click OK to subscribe (see Figure 8-10). You'll notice the feed appearing and updating itself on the bottom-left.

Many weblogs have a link to their RSS feeds right from the home page. These usually appear as easily recognizable orange XML buttons.

87.3 Housekeeping

With a long subscription list, it makes sense to organize feeds into groups ? akin to keeping like with like in folders on your hard drive. Option-click the lefthand pane and select New Group (as shown in Figure 8-11) to do so.

Another feature that you may want to configure is the rate at which subscriptions are refreshed and new stories dropped into your reader (see Figure 8-12). The default refresh is manual. If you are pretty much always on a network, you're better off setting it to refresh at regular time intervals so that you're always reading the latest.

Figure 8-10. Subscribing via the RSS URL
Figure 8-11. Grouping subscribed feeds
Figure 8-12. Setting the refresh interval

?Wei-Meng Lee