The Web has spawned a plethora of new ideas in publishing information, only one of which is the garden variety Website. Web “blogs,” which are interactive pages that read like personal diaries, replete with random observations and impromptu hyperlinks, represent a new breed of e-journalling. “Wikis” are Web-based documents that are collaboratively written and edited by visitors over time like a permanent Web graffiti board. And rapidly gaining popularity, RSS News publishing, short for “Really Simple Syndication,” is an ingenious method of distributing articles, essays, or commentary across the Internet by labelling select content so it can easily be found by others. The XML-tagged articles might show up in a laundry list of story listings on other Websites, or neatly organized by publisher or by category in a nifty tool known as an RSS News Reader.
While you can add RSS headlines to any Web page, making it possible to create your very own on-site industry news center (focused on specially themed subject matter from a variety of sources), the real harvesters and combines of the RSS world are the News Readers themselves.
Ask Seattlelite Brent Simmons who has built what many consider to be the ultimate News Reader for the Apple Macintosh OS X platform. It’s the flagship product of Ranchero Software, which Brent runs in partnership with his wife, Sheila. NetNewsWire is already a runaway smash hit winning kudos for its simplicity of design and ease-of-use. Its clean 3-window pane design looks and acts a lot like Apple’s Mail application or Apple’s iTunes.
In fact, NetNewsWire is so cool it recently garnered a first place award in the annual O’Reilly Mac OS X Innovator’s contest, netting Brent both recognition and reward, including free, top-level access to this year’s upcoming Mac Developers Conference complete with all the accoutrements.
Brent moved to Seattle in 1986, when he was just shy of 18 years old, and he has spent half his life here. His experience with this new breed of RSS software stems from a telecommute he made repeatedly from the Pacific Northwest to California while working for Userland. Userland pioneered a server-based aggregator (My.UserLand.Com) — and then a Web-based news aggregator, one of the first personal aggregators. NetNewsWire is a standalone application.
But the inspiration for NetNewsWire has always been there. “As a science fiction reader since I was a kid I always knew that “personal newspapers” were coming. That’s an old science fiction prediction. I didn’t know what they’d look like — and they’re still in the early stages — but they’re here now. So I always thought of RSS syndication as publisher-to-reader rather than publisher-to-publisher,” said Simmons.
Should NetNewsWire become a golden goose for Ranchero, Brent intends to share the wealth. “It’s good karma to be as generous as I can, not just with people who use my software but with other developers. As a developer I’ve always appreciated when other developers do that, so I try to do it too. Even though I’ve put nearly a year of my life into NetNewsWire, and there’s a freeware version, and the price is only the cost of a couple pizzas and a pitcher of beer.”
As a small Mac-only developer, what are your thoughts? Do you worry that Apple is going to create an RSS aggregator now that NetNewsWire has become a hit?
“I agree — there are some things Apple has to do. One of the biggest complaints about OS X was the slow browsing experience. [Apple’s new Web browser named] Safari totally changes that, and that’s going to help sell Macs.
And as a developer I want to be able to use the Safari renderer in NetNewsWire. Apple might make an RSS aggregator, I totally realize that. My hope is that either they don’t do it or, if they really want an RSS aggregator, they make a deal with me.”
The nature of NetNewsWire puts you in a unique position. In addition to being the developer of the application, you also get to decide which RSS [publisher’s content] feeds are in the default subscription list.
“I take this responsibility very seriously. The prime directive is “do no harm.” In earlier versions I just put sites in there that I liked without thinking of the extra bandwidth costs they may incur. So now before adding a personal or small-business site I ask if the extra bandwidth use will be okay.”
Brent’s personal weblog is inessential.com. [24×7]
Brent Simmons is the creator of NetNewsWire, an award-winning RSS News Reader for the Apple Macintosh.