Wednesday, November 17, 2004

RSS in Firefox and Thunderbird

I've been using Firefox as my primary browser for a while, and recently started using Thunderbird for mail both at home and at work. Particularly in their latest versions, these two programs are rock-solid and really wonderful. Today I discovered the RSS capabilities of each program, and am more in love than ever.

For those who don't know, RSS is a way for web sites to publish little standardized summaries of their recent content. (Monkeyspeak's RSS feed is here, though it may not be easily readable in your browser.) This allows programs--called aggregators--to slurp up the summaries and present them in a unified way. The idea is that you no longer need to visit each site manually; instead, summaries of the recent content are presented to you by your aggregator.

thunderbird feeds

Firefox and Thunderbird each have ways of displaying RSS feeds. Firefox has a cute feature called Live Bookmarks. When it detects that a site has an RSS feed, an icon appears at the bottom right; by clicking it, you can add that feed to your bookmarks. Thereafter, a new "folder" appears in your bookmarks, containing links to the recent stories contained in the feed. Since Firefox already has a solid system for managing bookmarks, it's neat that they can incorporate RSS feeds into that.

Live Bookmarks are cute, but aren't intended to become a full-fledged aggregator system. Thunderbird has one of those, and it's fantastic. Like most modern mail clients, Thunderbird lets you manage multiple accounts at once. For example, I have my personal mail and my work mail visible--but managed separately--in the same program. And it turns out that Thunderbird lets you add another account for "News and Blogs", which serves as an RSS aggregator.

The screenshot on the right shows my thunderbird session at work. My personal and work accounts are visible, along with the collection of RSS feeds I've subscribed to. When you click on a feed, the recent entries appear as "messages" at the top right. Clicking on a message shows the linked content (usually the article itself) in the bottom right.

The important feature here is that Thunderbird can check these feeds regularly, just as it does for your other accounts. It also knows which entries you've read before, so it only highlights the feeds with content you haven't seen. It's really an excellent way to present RSS feeds, and it's the first form of aggregator that might make me stop using my links page.

1 comment:

  1. Have you checked out sage? It's a plugin for Firefox which has been around a while (before Firefox added the built-in support). I still use it since it has some nicer features than the built-in Firefox support. You still manage RSS feeds via bookmark management, and has two other minor but very useful pluses: feed article titles get into another pane (separate from feed titles), and there's tool-tip-style windows showing the articles if you hover over a article title. Oh, and it has this weird method of rendering just the feed context into the main browser window that's actually useful for quick debugging inside a browser.