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5 Mac OS X RSS Readers Worth Giving a Shot

5 Mac OS X RSS Readers Worth Giving a Shot

News

    There was once a time when my favorite RSS reader cost a fair but not insignificant price and the open source alternative wasn’t up-to-snuff. I won’t name any names, though you can probably deduce their identities by ruffling through some articles I wrote before I switched to a decent web-based solution (not all of us are able to resist the tides of trends and time, y’know).

    There are probably a whole lot of RSS readers for the Mac; I haven’t tried them all and I won’t claim too. In fact, I’ve only tried a few of the most popular. I’m not the kind of person to spend countless days and weeks trying out new applications. I like to find something that works well, lets me get my job done the quickest, and get on with life. In my opinion if you want to be a productive person, that’s a habit you should also develop — too many so-called “personal productivity enthusiasts” spend half their time looking for new software. Unless reviewing the stuff is your job, there’s no sense in spending more than a small amount of your time doing this. That is what articles like this are for.

    NewsFire

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    newsfire

      NewsFire has been around for quite some time. It’s a free download from the NewsFire website. NewsFire sports a very simple two-pane view, with feeds on the left and feed items on the right. That said, it’s attractive and easy to read from. It doesn’t make use of tiny fonts by default like one or two readers I’ve used in the past. Search is fast and will run your query through every feed you’re subscribed to pretty much instantly.

      If you’re a chronic sorter, then you might find NewsFire falls a little short. You can create smart folders, but you can’t use labels or tags to organize certain items or feeds. Its organization features are good enough for most users. Where it falls down for me the most is the lack of synchronization.

      Shrook

      shrook

        Shrook is an interesting application. It’s free, but the look and feel of the application is — to my eyes — very dated. I found the website to be much the same. Evidently Shrook’s founders are function over form types (like all programmers, right?). Looks aside, it has some really interesting features. Instead of setting up smart folders based on keywords, Shrook will use Bayesian statistical filtering to pick out items of interest, and you teach it by picking out examples. It’s a learning RSS reader. It also uses a Distributed Checking mechanism to keep you as up-to-date as possible with new feed items; when one copy of Shrook checks a feed and find new items, it broadcasts the presence of a new unread item to other copies of the application around the world.

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        Shrook features synchronization by way of Shrook.com, a web-based version of the reader that will sync with copies of the app on various computers.

        NetNewsWire

        netnewswire

          Maybe you don’t need to go checking my ancient articles after all. Before I moved to Google Reader, I was a NetNewsWire user. I was happy to pay for the software because it’s great. I can still get through all my feeds in NetNewsWire faster than any other reader, including Google Reader. NetNewsWire is now completely free, so there’s no obstacle to trying it out — just go here. NetNewsWire features a variety of views, a bunch of keyboard controls that don’t require contortionist acts and let you fly right through your feeds, detects microformats allowing you to quickly add data to iCal or Address Book, and has a tabbed browser right inside. All very cool.

          Additionally, NetNewsWire’s owners Newsgator own a web-based reader, a Windows reader and there’s a version of NNW for the iPhone. The web-based reader acts as a synchronization server. If you want synchronization between just about every device you’ve got, try this app.

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          Vienna

          vienna

            Vienna is the only open source reader on this list, and as far as I know the only open source RSS reader for the Mac that’s currently worth looking at.

            These days, Vienna looks a fair bit nicer than when I used it for a good six months a few years back. I haven’t been able to stress-test it though, but in times past it really suffered under a heavy load and got quite slow. Vienna’s got a nice quick filtering bar on launch that enables speedy research and trend monitoring, blogging app integration, and a bunch of helpful but pretty standard features. It has certainly come a long way over time.

            Google Reader

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            greader

              Google Reader is a good web-based feed reader, though not without its quirks (sometimes I’ve seen duplicate items I’ve already read in the All items view, and sometimes things just get stuck and items won’t get marked as read). You can separate your feeds into folders, though creating and maintaining them is tedious. When Google Reader isn’t being a pain, it’s great being able to fly through your feeds with just your scroll wheel — items are marked as read as you scroll past them — but more often than not this doesn’t work out. Sounds like an awfully negative review for the reader I’m actively using right now, eh? I suppose it’s all about convenience.

              But it is good. It does work well and the bugs aren’t serious enough to be worried about. It’s the only reader I’ve used that has a social aspect — you can share items, and if you’ve conversed with someone via Gmail you’ll see their shared items too. It features a Trends screen that lets you peruse your readership statistics, but no smart foldering or statistical sorting as yet. The Trends screen lets me know that my most frequently checked feeds are those pertaining to the forums or blog at the sites I manage and edit, which I’m sure will be happy news for my employers if they’re reading this.

              I’ve been a bit unfair by throwing Google Reader into the mix; it’s not fair on the desktop applications to be compared to a web service and it’s not fair on a web service to be compared to desktop apps. I use Google Reader myself these days, so it gets my vote, but it was a long and hard struggle to give up the comfort of a good desktop app. For that reason I’d have to call a tie between Google Reader and NetNewsWire, which is the best of the list in my opinion — especially now that it’s free.

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              Joel Falconer

              Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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              Last Updated on January 21, 2020

              Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

              Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

              Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

              This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

              The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

              The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

              Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

              Curiosity

              Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

              People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

              Patience

              Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

              When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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              Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

              A Feeling for Connectedness

              This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

              A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

              The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

              How to Self-Taught Effectively

              With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

              1. Research

              Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

              Learning the Basics

              Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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              Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

              What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

              Hitting the Books

              Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

              Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

              Long-Term Reference

              While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

              My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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              2. Practice

              Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

              A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

              Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

              Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

              3. Network

              One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

              These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

              Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

              Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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              4. Schedule

              For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

              Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

              Final Thoughts

              In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

              If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

              At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

              More About Self-Learning

              Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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