There is an absolute abundance of information out there on the internet. Sifting through all the information available can be tricky and, when we find a good resource, we want to remember that site so we can come back to it. Bookmarks are fine, but wouldn’t you like something a little more dynamic?
I’m not going to sell you on the concept of an RSS reader today (I’ll assume you’re already an expert), but rather explore a type of reader. Many sites publish feeds and it is possible to use a reader to pick up those feeds. There are a lot of RSS readers out there, and not all are created equal.
I’ve been a loyal Google Reader user for a while now and when I spotted the Google Reader syncing NewsRack on the App Store I became intrigued. It was time to explore!
RSS and Newsreaders
First, a quick review of what an RSS feed reader actually does. I guess the question we should address before that is what an RSS feed is. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication and is used by websites to publish updates.
They are typically used for blogs and sites that publish a lot of new content at a higher frequency. It allows readers a way to keep track of the content without having to continually check back again and again. Some sites will publish entire posts (like Mac.AppStorm does) or just headlines, or headlines and teasers. It is up to the publisher, but there will always be a link back to the post on the actual site.
RSS feeds aren’t all that useful on their own. You need an application to render and organize the feeds. There are two basic categories of readers. Those that live on the web in the form of web applications (i.e. Google Reader) and those that are applications that live on your Mac and actually download the posts to your machine. This is where NewsRack comes in.
The core features of readers lie in their ability to organize and track your feeds. It’s pretty easy to get a bit feed crazy so having a good system of organization is incredibly helpful. Being able to see when a post came in and what the post is about along with where it fits in your organization and whether you’ve read it yet or not are some pretty basic things I think you should see in any RSS reader.
I’ve been a Google Reader for a number of years now and have grown quite attached to it. I’ve been on the lookout for a good desktop newsreader application for a while as well and I’ve tried out a number of them over the years. You’ll find there is no shortage of competition in this category. No matter what I tried I always seemed to end up back with Google Reader.
NewsRack syncs with Google Reader which is an essential feature for me. Along with that it has many other useful features including drag and drop organization, read/unread indication, sharing options, and an in-application web browser.
All of this fits in a nicely designed, fairly minimalistic structure. It does retain some of its Google Reader feel, but certainly feels like a Mac application.
NewsRack will sync with your Google Reader account after an initial one-time set up. This not only cuts down on possible feed management headaches, but also creates an online back up for your feeds. With your feeds living on the Google servers you can access them whenever, from wherever.
I was a little skeptical at how well NewsRack would actually sync with my Google Reader account. It does very well at syncing new feeds and folders, but seems to be a bit hit and miss with the read/unread indicators.
Only unread articles are synced to NewsRack. The items marked as read in your Google Reader won’t sync. This may not be a problem for everyone, but does bother me a bit. I use both Google Reader and NewsRack frequently and sometimes I’d like to refer back to an article that I read earlier in the day using Google Reader. If I use NewsRack later that night I won’t find the article.
This may not be a problem for everyone, but was a little frustrating for me. I wasn’t able to find an option to adjust the syncing to accommodate this.
I have also noticed some instances of articles not syncing at all, particularly with feeds I’ve had set up for some time. Some articles will by synced and some will not. Obviously this is a pretty substantial issue. Hopefully there is something I can do to resolve this, but even so I’m always going to be a little unsure if everything is actually coming across.
The organization method is simple, working exactly as you’d expect. It is essentially exactly the same as you’ll find in Google Reader and a lot of other news reader applications.
Your feeds are organized in a column on the left-hand side of the application window. It will show any folders you’re using, along with the number of unread items in that folder. The folder is also expandable to show the individual feeds if you’d like.
The entire feed list is collapsable as well. This is a nice feature that can really clean up your reading interface.
I don’t know if we can call this a must have feature just yet, but I think you could argue that we’re getting pretty close to that. Google Reader does have some nice sharing and social integration with their Reader application and most those features have been incorporated into NewsRack.
There are some control buttons in the upper right hand corner of the article view window. You’re able to star an article, mark it read/unread, share within Google Reader, or share to Twitter or email. There is also an option to view the article in your default web browser.
When you choose to share to email, your default email client will open with the link to the article already placed in the message body along with the subject line reading the post title.
To share via Twitter you’ll need to pass your credentials for Twitter the first time, and from there on when you select to share with your Twitter friends a tweet will be composed with the post title and a link to the source article. A separate window will appear for this and the default Twitter link shortener is also used.
Sharing to Twitter and to an email message works flawlessly and is dead simple, but there are a couple sharing options I found missing.
Sharing an article via email from within the Google Reader application will actually post a snippet of the actual article within the message post, rather than just a link to the article. This isn’t a huge deal, but I think it is a nice feature of Google Reader.
I should also point out that there is a message character limit when sharing within Google Reader. There isn’t one in this case as you’re just using your default email client.
NewsRack is also lacking the option to share to Tumblr. I actually used this quite a bit previously, but obviously it won’t make any difference to you if you’re not a Tumblr user.
When you’re browsing your feeds, you’ll notice that some will publish the entire article and some will only publish a title and perhaps a short snippet of the post. If the full feed is published you’ll see it in the reader – if not you’ll need to actually go to that website to read the entire post.
NewsRack acts as a web browser when you click on an article link. It uses a tabbed window style and will just open the webpage in a new tab from within the NewsRack application.
I found the browser to work quite well. It certainly isn’t as full blown as Safari or Chrome, and I’m sure you’ll find some situations where it doesn’t act as it should, but it does the job most of the time without any problems.
It’s nice to be able to stay within the same application to view web pages. If you do need to view the article in your default web browser that is possible as well. It is a bit reminiscent of using Google Reader and another tab being opened to view the source of an article.
The search functionality of Google Reader has come across to NewsRack and works in a very similar fashion. You’re able to search all your feeds or by specific groups or feeds individually.
It is pretty simple and seems to work quite well, located directly above the article list making it easy to to a quick search.
News readers are fantastic and I just don’t see a time in the near future when I won’t be using one almost daily. I’ve latched on to Google Reader pretty tightly. It’s a combination of becoming used to something and also the web application just having the features I need.
While Google Reader will probably remain my primary newsreader, NewsRack has certainly worked its way into my MacBook’s regularly used app list.
NewsRack does sync with Google Reader which scores big points in my book. Being able to use both a web application and a Mac application (there is an iOS version of the application available as well) in a fully functional fashion while essentially maintaining one chunk of data is great.
Having that backup of all of my feeds gives me peace of mind. I’m willing to sacrifice a few features on a given platform to gain that synchronization between them. Being able to sync all articles, both read and unread, would be nice for me, but I wouldn’t call it a deal breaker. Nonetheless I’ll be watching for that feature in an update.
If you’re new to RSS and news readers in general I would recommend trying out Google Reader. If you like the concept I’d say NewsRack is certainly worth the try. The application is available for $6.99 from the App Store and, for a polished application like this, it is worth it.