Reviews Intro:
Now I mentioned NewsGator to a coworker awhile ago and the first question they couldn’t wait to ask is “You mean that spy ware company?”. Of course NewsGator has nothing to do with the old “Gator” spy ware stuff from many years ago, but it’s curious that people still relate the name.

At any rate, this review is one in a number (not sure how many) on free RSS Readers. There will be some online products, some offline products, and some that cross the line using features of both. Along with NewsGator Online, I’m planning on reviewing NewsAlloy, Pluck, Attensa, and as many other free news readers that I can in the next few weeks. At work, I’ve got a chance at a large team meeting at the end of April to present the virtues of news readers, and I figured I’d share that information here.

Here are some links to read up on what RSS, ATOM, Web Feeds, OPML, and news aggregators are.

About NewsGator
NewsGator has a number of feed reader products – NewsGator Online, NewsGator Inbox & FeedDemon for Windows and NetNewsWire for Macintosh. NewsGator Online is a “Web 2.0” product that uses some AJAX features in its interface. The design is similar to other online news readers where your list of feeds is on the left and the content on the right. It does not use panes or any kind of scrolling system, so your feed list on the left will move up as you scroll down in the post list of the feed.

Since the product is online, you don’t need to download and install any software, set any proxy or port information, or use your bandwidth for synchronizing data. In addition, you can use the online account to sync your feeds with one of the previously mentioned “pay for” software choices above. I’ve got a coworker who uses the NewsGator Inbox and is very satisfied with it. You can import your feeds into the system and start reading right away. While the free web version does not allow you to change the update frequency of the newsfeed, the standard sync frequency seems to work fine for the average reader, however, hardcore RSS junkies will miss being in control of synchronization times.

In each post section, there are three little icons and a set of five gray stars. These tools allow you to mark individual posts as read, add the post to the “Clippings” folder, and the ability to forward the post to an email account. The stars allow you to rate the post. These ratings will flow back to the original source (if they have a NewsGator account) and also help to show other users online determine if this feed/post is of value.

The My Clippings folder is quite useful for “clipping” a favorite post and storing it for later reference. You can also syndicate your My Clippings folder in RSS, and make it available to the public. Its kind of a neat way of saving important posts from a variety of feeds.

The AJAX interface of NewsGator Online worked well in Internet Explorer, but worked better in Firefox. I believe the key on this is to have a current Java VM as AJAX makes significant use of JAVA, and my IE6SP2 install only has the limited MS Java VM installed. Some of the functionality I missed using IE6 were right-click options. These range from marking items as read, deleting, moving, expanding/collapsing, Unsubscribe, and “visit site”. These right-click menu options worked wonderfully in Firefox, and I’ll be installing an updated Java VM on my main home machine to test this out.

Additional features allow you to add a Blogroll to your blog from NewsGator Online, supply an OPML URL, add a NewsGator auto-subscribe link on your blog, add NewsGator ratings to your site, and offer API options to developers. The knowledge base was consistent and easy to use. Structured in a hierarchical format, the articles were easy to read and the system was quick. The customary FAQ was easily found and contained helpful starter how-to’s.

The one downside to the knowledge base, was that once deep within the system, there was no easy link at the top or bottom of the otherwise cleanly designed page to go back to the “reader” view. A few simply “back” clicks get me to where I wanted, but a simple “Reader” link would be better.

This online news reader was rather quick. I’ve seen faster ones (Attensa for example), but

I actually like this product and may keep my free account, but I did see some strange behavior when marking posts as read. When you click on the folder instead of expanding the folder, then mark the feeds as read, the folder closes. If you expand the folder, then marking fields in a feed as read does not close the folder. This makes sense, but when you click on the folder it appears to expand the folder and allow you to click on feeds, so it is a little confusing.


To finish up, I find that I like the speed, flexibility, style and ease of use of the NewsGator Online product. Here’s how I rate it (1 being low and 5 being high).

  • Pros: Good performance, adequate features, easy to use, nice blog add-on options, neat custom “My Clippings” folder
  • Cons: Some odd behavior in Internet Explorer (Java related), can’t set sync schedule, can’t export feed list.

UPDATE: I have to take back what I said about IE6 – at least for some installations the same full functionality will be available. After re-building my day-to-day system with a clean install of XPSP2, I find that all the AJAX functionality in Firefox is also here. Must have something messed up on my other system (sorry).

UPDATE2: While I was unable to find an export function, Jonathon McDougall from NewsGator recommends the following tip to save your OPML.  Enjoy!

  • Log into your account and go to My Settings | Edit Locations
  • Under each location you will see an OPML link.  You can choose to make the URL to your OPML public, or if you view your OPML online, you can save it to a file.

Thank you Jonathon!

UPDATE3: Check out the review of NewsGator Mobile at Arne Hess’ the::unwired!

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