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For years, there have been only two applications I use day in, day out, every day: my email client and my web browser. Recently I've added a third, which is almost to the Web what Tivo is to television. Now I can't imagine being without an RSS aggregator.

"A whaaaaaaaaaa?" I hear you grunt. Increasingly, web sites are offering their content in two distinct flavors. HTML is what we see when we visit with our browser, and it's all most people know about. XML is the wizard behind the curtain. It often doesn't contain a site's content per se, but rather a description of that content. Big deal, you say? Actually, it is. Those descriptions-- offered in a consistent format-- are called RSS feeds. And where your web browser can understand and display HTML pages, other applications can understand and display these RSS feeds.

An RSS aggregator collects these feeds into one convenient interface, notifying you when something new is published on the feed. If you read a bunch of news sites or blogs, this means instead of visiting each one individually to see if there's anything new, your RSS aggregator will automatically tell you when anything happens on any of them. Then you just click on the feed to see what's there. It's kind of like having news stories or blog entries getting emailed directly to you, except they don't clutter up your mailbox.

I use SharpReader. I don't know if it's the best or fullest-featured, but it's free and I'm satisfied with it. I use it not just for news (Wired, Yahoo Entertainment) and blogs (Defective Yeti, Metafilter), but also for the latest comic strips (FoxTrot, PVP) and bargains (Slick Deals). Using an RSS aggregator makes it easy to bring the best of the web directly to you.

Anyone have other feeds to recommend?

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I keep quite a few on my LJ friends page, so they're added to the group of journals I already read. Since it's two clicks off your sidebar I hope you're familiar with the board game news source at http://gamefest.com/news/subscribe.php . I also keep the official Gaiman blog, the Get Fuzzy comic, and /.

You probably know this already, but...

If there happen to be any journals you enjoy following on sites which use the LiveJournal code, you can follow them through RSS feeds automatically. To follow the derived RSS feed from, say, http://www.livejournal.com/~persona , just follow http://www.livejournal.com/~persona/data/rss/ in your aggregator. The quality of the feed served is rather higher if ~persona is a paid account, incidentally (whole article syndicated rather than first few hundred characters). Incidentally, this works backwards, too - you can follow the thegamereport and staticzombie RSS feeds as so-named users on LiveJournal.

One of the many ways in which LiveJournal is nifty is that it keeps track of who is following which journal; from here you get a huge great connected graph of "who sees what" which could be used in all sorts of nifty ways and in practice is used in a number of trivial-but-fun ways. I understand that Bloglines does a similar sort of thing, though LiveJournal has lots of these handy sorts of tools. (And a set of drawbacks all of its own, too.)

Gameblog - http://www.melankolia.net/gameblog/ - is rather cool and has its own feed. It calls it an XML feed and it has the extension .rdf but it all seems to work.

So that's how they're used! People have been telling me for ages that I have to install an RSS feed on my web site, but no one ever mentioned how to read one.

Recently I've added a third, which is almost to the Web what Tivo is to television. Now I can't imagine being without an RSS aggregator.

What an excellent comparison. Consider TV programs of one particular series, or of one particular type, being broadcast as being serial posts to a weblog pertaining to that series. A TiVo and a RSS aggregator would have many of the same functions (though each extends the functionality in a different way).

Consider, instead, the concept that people might produce their weblog as a series of video clips rather than a series of written ones. (Unlikely to be the case, 99% of the time, because it's so much quicker to read a piece of text than it is to watch a video clip, but there are things that video clips can do that prose cannot - see, for instance, the dearly remembered "The Board Room" on fromusalive.) Would it not be incredibly nifty for a TiVo not only to line up your favourite shows to watch, but also new episodes from your favourite video weblogs? Wouldn't it be a terrible duplication of resources to have to use one tool (a TiVo connected to a TV) for some sorts of video content and another tool (a media player connected to a RSS aggregator) for other sorts?

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