Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Surviving in a world of zombies: using news aggregators

Not too long ago a wrote a short piece entitled "Take revenge on the bastards now!" in which I recommended a total boycott of the Zionist corporate media. I also provided the URLs of some websites which provide streams of alternative TV and radio stations. If all you have is 10-15 mins a day, listening to Russia Today, Press TV, Telesur or al-Jazeera is not the worst option. Listening to shows like DemocracyNow! or Guns and Butter is another excellent option. Lastly, you might want to sign up for one of the many excellent mailing lists out there (too numerous to list here). But for some of you this might not be enough.

When the purpose is to research a topic, or to get hard to find information or analysis, you need to canvass the Internet much wider and deeper. One option is to use Google or another search engine, but those rely on popularity ranking: what if what you are interested in is not popular at all, or the popular slant on your story is the "official" one? You can also visit your favorite websites, but what if there are too many such sites? There is a far better and effective solution: use a "news aggregator", sometimes also called a "news reader".

A news aggregator is a special program which makes use of something called "real simple syndication". You can think of it as a "headlines collector" (check out the Wikipedia entry on RSS for mode details). Depending on how it is configured, it will tell you what items have been added to a website, give you a headline/title, and possibly a short blurb. This information will then be combined into a single interface which you can conveniently consult and, in most cases, which can you search for specific keywords.

There are plenty of good and free news aggregators out there. Check out the website RSS Readers for a list. Personally, I use Liferea, an excellent news aggregator for GNU/Linux and UNIX. If you are still one of the most unfortunate users of Windoze or Mac OSX, you can try RSSowl: it's free software and multi-system.

Both Liferea and RSSowl are easy to use with an intuitive interface. Basically, here is how they work: you go to your favorite website and see if they provide RSS feeds. This will be indicated with with "rss" or "atom" and, sometimes, "syndication" or even "subscribe". Look for the RSS logo (shown here). You will need to find a special URL which will point to this feed. It will look like something like this: (I took the one of RSSowl as an example). You copy this unique URL and add it to your news aggregator. Repeat that with all your favorite websites and, voila!, you have a single place where to read all your news. By the way, Goggle offers a very good newsreader online. Check it out here.

Keep in mind that, unfortunately, not all websites offer rss feeds. And some do offer them, but they do not work. So trial and error is the way to go, but it is well worth the effort.

The beauty of it all is that once it is installed and configured, your news aggregator runs in the background. You can tell it to refresh all the subscriptions as often as you want (I set mine for every 3 hours), and it does so automatically. I leave my main computer on 24/7 so it also does it overnight, and once I wake up in the morning I find all the news updated within the last 3 hours ready to be parsed with a minimal amount of time and effort.

To save you some time, I would like to share with you the OPML file I am personally using (you can think of the OPML file as a list of websites with rss feeds). You can download mine by clicking here. What you will need to do is download this short text file to your computer and import it into your rss reader. Then you will automatically have the full list of websites I use to do my research. Currently, I have 29 personal blogs listed, and 124 websites. Combined, they are currently showing 7887 unread news stories! I have setup Liferea to keep 100 stories per subscription. So if I search for the word "Gaza" 616 hits; that is 616 news items. And the search only takes a few seconds (depending on the power of your computer).

Now, if you take a look at my list, you will see that it contains a real hodge-podge of websites, including some major corporate news sources (Asia Times), to personal blogs, to some really specialized ones, all this is 5 languages. Please do not think that I endorse or "trust" these information sources. The only reason why I have included them is because I have found interesting news items or analyses on them, that is all. At the end, caveat emptor and the rest of the usual disclaimers apply: you need to decide for yourself which sources you trust and which you don't. My personal main criteria of selection was "news sources which the Empire would not want me to access". Naturally, my sources are skewed towards topics and regions which I know more about, YMMV. And, of course, many are missing.

In this context, I would like to ask you all for your help:

Please share with me, and the rest of us, all the websites which you turn to for info or which you can recommend. In particular, I would like to identify websites with rss feeds from Turkey, India, Far East Asia and Africa. I would be interested in news sources not only in English but also French, German, Russian, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese or Dutch. I would also be interested in personal blogs, of course, as I find that often they have much better analyses than regular news sites.

I hope that you find news aggregators as useful as I do and that you will share your experience with them with the rest of us.

Many thanks in advance!

The Saker