Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi
 


Monday, October 29, 2007

BlogBridge 6 Reviewed: RSS Reader, News Aggregator and Blog Publishing Tool Adds Strong Meme-Tracking Features

The only open-source, cross-platform RSS reader, news aggregator and blog publishing tool available today, BlogBridge, has just released a new, more powerful version: BlogBridge 6.

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As I strongly believe in helping out small companies that build great products get the visibility they deserve and as a long-standing member of the BlogBridge advisory board, I have once again sent out trusted senior technology reviewer Michael Pick to look at the newest version of BlogBridge and to see what great new things it has in store for us.

Finding the right RSS reader is an increasingly tough task now that there are several online and desktop solutions. BlogBridge, however, packs in some best-of-breed features to its free, open and cross-platform RSS feed aggregation software - now including some powerful meme-tracking capabilities that can help you to tune into what's hot in your content niche.

Meme trackers such as TechMeme and Slashdot attempt to gather the most-talked about, hot news in the tech industry. Recently, newer contenders such as Megite have tried to personalize the trend, allowing users to upload OPML reading lists to effectively customize the news they receive by means of their reading habits.

What BlogBridge has added to the trend is personalized tracking of the most highly discussed news items right inside its free RSS reader, along with some other great new features. This means that you can instantly get an idea about what all of the bloggers and news sources in your list of RSS feeds are talking about most.

Add to that some impressive stats and metrics capabilities, keyword highlighting, post filtering, great looking RSS photo albums, del.icio.us tagging and "SmartFeeds" (allowing you to create thematic newsradars on just about any topic you want), and you have a very capable RSS reader indeed.

Take into account the fact that BlogBridge also has a fully-functional and direct publish-to-blog capabilities, which I reviewed back in June, OPML import and export, and a considerable amount of other features and this is why this is one RSS reader, news aggregator and newsmastering tool well worth checking out.

Intro by Robin Good

 

BlogBridge - Overview

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Blogbridge is a cross-platform, open-source, free desktop RSS reader capable of running on Mac OSX, Windows and GNU/Linux. Robin Good reviewed BlogBridge in full some time ago, and since then I have written about both the excellent BlogBridge library service, and the blog publishing updates in the main application released earlier this year.

BlogBridge has everything you'd expect from a RSS reader, and a lot more besides.

You can bring in your OPML files, publish them out, arrange your feed collections into "Guides", make use of subscription extras such as syncing your data to the BlogBridge server, and publishing to your blog right from the reader, the list goes on.

In the space of the few months since my last review some very useful features have been added into the mix, however, making it even easier for novices and power-users alike to navigate and make the best even of the most densely populated RSS feed collections.



Getting Set Up

Getting set up with BlogBridge is a straightforward, wizard-based affair, and with a few simple questions you are not only well on the way to getting your feeds in order, but also to making your future feed navigation a lot easier.

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One of the things that BlogBridge asks you to supply during setup is a list of keywords that defines the subjects that particularly interest you. If you have a few minutes to spare, this is well worth doing, as from that point onwards you will be able to filter your entire feed collection for news items including your keywords, or set BlogBridge to highlight any in-post text when it corresponds to your selection.

While BlogBridge also has integrated search as you'd expect, this is nevertheless a useful feature that gives you further filtering opportunities.

Another helpful feature long built into BlogBridge is its excellent selection of RSS feeds and topic guides to help get your collection started, or to complement your existing set of feeds.

Right from the setup process you are given the opportunity to access a diverse range of niche-themed collections of feeds, including Robin Good's own collaboration and presentation guides.

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You'll also want to create some "Guides" as you set up your BlogBridge reader, and besides the selection offered by BlogBridge you can import your own OPML reading lists. Guides are essentially folders for you to store collections of feeds in, and each can be assigned its own icon. You also have the option to turn notifications on or off, so long as you have Java installed on your Windows box, or the excellent Growl notifier for those running Mac OSX.

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OPML files can be brought in from any URL, or right from your desktop. This takes the pain out of getting started, whether you choose to tap into a power user's feed selection, or just bring in your own personal favorites from another RSS reader.



Personalized Meme Tracking - What's Hot

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The feature that has me most excited, as you might have noticed, is "What's Hot", which is an effective way of finding out what the bloggers in your feed collection are talking about most at any given time.

This smart tool will search your feeds for the links that appear more than once in the current week, or on the current day. Thankfully it will filter out any links that blogs have made to themselves, unless you ask it not to, effectively bypassing internal deep linking strategies in favor of identifying the buzz generated across the range of your news feeds.

You can also suppress links that appear from the same blog, add in any URLs you'd like to filter out, search within specific collections of feeds (known as "Guides" in BlogBridge), and also filter your feeds by the star rating you have assigned to them.

This gives you powerful control over which news sources you deem most trustworthy, and then allows you to tap into the buzz - the recent talking points in your niche - before you even begin browsing your feeds. Anyone with a feed collection of a less than compact size is going to appreciate this kind of baked-in functionality from an RSS reader.



Filtering and Highlighting Content

To make both your meme tracking and regular RSS feed reading easier, BlogBridge has a powerful set of filtering tools that, used effectively, can reduce or remove the need for third party filtering services in cutting through the noise to get to the most relevant information.

The first is the ability to assign each feed a rating, using the "Starz" feature. This means that you can assign priorities to your feeds, from one star to five, and then filter incoming content or search results - including those generated by the "What's Hot" meme tracker.

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If you have a good number of feeds over time you are likely to find that some information sources are more valuable, or time-sensitive, than others. By applying higher star ratings to the most important feeds, you can instantly cut your more trivial, less pressing RSS feeds out of the equation without having to rely solely on a folder-based system.

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You can then further filter your results by selecting to display all of your incoming content, unread items only, posts that you have pinned (a means by which you can mark out particular articles for later attention), or even narrow your content down to those news items containing one or more of the keywords you supplied when first setting up BlogBridge.

BlogBridge_keyword_highlighting.jpg

In this latter case BlogBridge will highlight instances of your selected keywords within posts, giving you a great way to jump to the part of a longer article that refers to what interests you most. If you are using BlogBridge to monitor trends, news or references to your company or online publication, this is undoubtedly another very useful time-saver.

Having this granular array of controls will appeal to RSS novices as much as it will to hardened RSS veterans, given that with a few small tweaks and menu selections you can instantly cut through masses of information and pull up laser-targeted information on the things that interest you most.

Bloggers, newsmasters, PR professionals, marketers and other knowledge workers relying on RSS as a staple of their daily information processing routine also have much to celebrate. Being able to follow the press your service is getting, beat others to the punch on news scoops, and analyze trends in your chosen marketplace are made very simple with BloBbridge, and that makes it a very valuable proposition indeed.



Metrics and Statistics

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Additionally, Blogbridge now has metrics and statistics built in, and gives you the opportunity to check and filter your reading trends very efficiently thanks to its mapping of your usage data onto easy-to-grasp charts.

You can filter this information by:

  • Which times of day you read most posts
  • Which days of the week you read most posts
  • Your most visited, most read, or most pinned Guides
  • Your most visited, most read or most pinned feeds
  • Visible feeds without traffic
  • And any feeds that appear in multiple guides

Some of these options will be more useful than others in analyzing your reading trends and the times and days in which the most news seems to catch your attention. Personally, I like the "visible feeds without traffic" setting, which will tell you how long it's been since your news sources last published if they have no current content. In a busy RSS feed collection this makes for a simple means of weeding out defunct blogs or less prolific bloggers putting out content on a more ad-hoc basis.

While I see myself using this feature less than the new meme tracking capabilities, I think it will nevertheless prove to be a valuable addition to the BlogBridge feature set, perhaps more on a weekly than daily basis in my case.



Photo Album Feeds

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On a less technical note BlogBridge also has the ability to organize incoming image-based feeds into a photo album like rows and columns of thumbnails, which you can organize according to a number of parameters.

If you have Flickr sets, or photo-blogs in your collection of feeds this makes for a far more effective way of navigating incoming images than the traditional list or river of news formats, allowing you to select the pictures that interest you most rather than having to work through them one at a time.



SmartFeeds

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SmartFeeds are another useful feature for dynamically gathering content from a range of social media services, what Robin calls familiarly "newsmastering", and which is increasingly becoming a much in-demand ability for anyone wanting to become a news hub of some relevance.

With SmartFeeds You can search and bring in content by way of defining specific keywords or variables, by determining a "starz"-threshold, by a tag selection or by framing specific date ranges and content categories.

But the newsmastering power BlogBridge doesn't end here. In addition to being able to create custom thematic newsradars from all of the above resources and content filtering variables, Blogbridge also allows you to tap into the power of additional and very useful content and news sources like:

While you can obviously do this manually with a bit of time on your hands, it certainly does streamline the process of both research-type meme tracking as well as the one of news selection and filtering (newsmastering).

Tapping into the buzz generated by social media destinations is an excellent way to spot trends as they start spreading, and making use of SmartFeeds newsmastering abilities in conjunction with the new "What's Hot" meme tracking functionality, is likely to yield some impressive results.

Whether you are looking to report and publish the latest news, or trying to analyze which books or products are selling well within your particular thematic niche, the combination of SmartFeeds and What's Hot could prove useful or even profitable if used creatively.



Tagging

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Finally to further aid navigation through your feeds, BlogBridge supports tagging, making it easy for you to later track down content of interest to you. BlogBridge tags not only will integrate nicely with popular social bookmarking service del.icio.us, but it will also bring in tag suggestions for you should you be stuck as to how to best categorize your content.

This rounds out a set of features evidently designed for making filtering and quickly accessing key information as quick and push-button simple as possible, and this is the biggest strength that BlogBridge brings to the table.

Successfully marrying RSS power-user features to the kind of usability that won't repel newcomers is not an easy feat, but I think that BlogBridge has managed to successfully tread the line between the two.



What (I and Robin) Want to See Next

In my conversations with Robin Good about BlogBridge we have often discussed how great it would be to integrate the awesome front-end, features and usability of BlogBridge with the even more robust newsmastering features that make MySyndicaat a unrivaled - albeit much less pleasant to use - newsmastering tool for independent publishers and RSS professionals.

The fundamental difference between the two, besides BlogBridge having all of the usability and accessibility factors in its favour, is the fact that MySyndicaat is a hosted service tracking and archiving all of the news you subscribe to. BlogBridge instead relies fully on your local machine, making it a much less robust and fitting backend for true professional news outlets. MySyndicaat is also available as a server-based solution that small to large companies can install on their servers.

This is why from the surface, MySyndicaat appears more like a more robust and enterprise-ready solution while BlogBridge fits in more comfortably in the consumer arena.

While the challenge is great here, with the two services catering to some extent to different core user bases, the end result would make for a truly unique and powerful solution for end users on both end of the spectrum.

Certainly, with the inclusion of publish-to-blog features BlogBridge has moved closer to this dream.

What me and Robin Good would love to see next in fact is the ability for BlogBridge power-users to mark and publish news items a-la MySyndicaat (the same can be done in Google Reader) ,in order to publish them to a separate RSS feed or web page. Such a feature would complete what is otherwise fast turning into a near-perfect blogging and news publishing tool for information professionals of all stripes.

I think the issue that prevents the realization of our dream at this stage is that BlogBridge obviously needs to target as broad a user-base as possible to be a viable enterprise and therefore doesn't want to over-complicate the tool. Nevertheless, done right this could be a decisive selling point for early adopters and RSS power-users. We can but hope.

In the meantime, the addition of meme-tracking capabilities is a further lure for those that might previously have been on the fence about BlogBridge, and I expect this feature alone to give a boost to uptake of what is already a popular RSS reading solution.



Review Summary

The new BlogBridge 6 packs in a very powerful set of RSS filtering and publishing tools while managing to retain and even improve usability for novices and non-technically-oriented RSS users.

Pragmability is the name of the game for BlogBridge, a cross-platform, free, open-source RSS news reader, aggregator and publishing tool that, for what I have seen so far, has absolutely no competitor in the market. If you are serious about using RSS feeds and about leveraging news monitoring for your own professional needs, you must take a look at what BlogBridge can do.

Considering it has been less than six months since I last checked in on the product, it's impressive that Pito Salas, the one-man-band BlogBridge team factotum, has really managed to add several significant improvements.

Adding to the existing capabilities covered in Robin Good's earlier review of the service, BlogBridge has brought on board some truly useful additions that will make navigating your throng of RSS news feeds even easier than before.

My favorite among them is the new "What's Hot" feature, which is a great way of discovering which sites and services are being linked to and discussed by the blogs within my RSS collection or collections. This personalized "meme tracking" tool is very useful to see not only "what's hot" in the thematic niche of your blog, but also to get an at-a-glance idea of how much has been written on a given topic.

If you value timeliness in your blog posting, this is an excellent way to find out if you are late on the uptake or first on the scene - a valuable tool for anyone involved in news-making. Combined with the excellent BlogRovr add-on for the Firefox browser (previously reviewed at Master New Media), you have a very capable way of monitoring the latest buzz around any topic you are interested in.

The addition of at-a-glance metrics and statistics to the mix is also a very welcome one, and gives you a simple way to analyze both your own reading trends and the publishing trends of the feeds you are subscribed to.

Among the older standout features in BlogBridge 6 are great looking photo album feeds that make for a nice way to quickly browse incoming images, "SmartFeeds" which allow you to easily monitor keywords across a number of social media sources alongside with some excellent RSS feed filtering capabilities to further enhance your ability to focus on specific topics and themes.

In short whether you are an RSS power-user, a casual blogger, or just someone looking for an effective way to separate signal from noise in your daily news reading, BlogBridge 6 is definitely worth checking out.



Additional Resources

If you would like to read more about BlogBridge or personalized meme tracking, you might want to check out the following links:




Originally written by Michael Pick for Master New Media and titled "RSS Reader Turns Niche-Targeted Meme Tracker: BlogBridge 6 Is Here"

 
 
 
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posted by Michael Pick on Monday, October 29 2007, updated on Saturday, February 27 2010


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