RSS is rapidly being perceived by companies as an empowering format, one that allows the user total control over subscriptions, being pulled when needed, bringing corporate intelligence even closer to the knowledge workers around the enterprise.
The RSS format, based on a set XML standards, is a popular form of content syndication over the Internet. Bloggers, news websites, industry organisations, corporate communications are all using or planning to use the RSS format to distribute content to a large audience.
To list some of the advantages of this medium, there’s a massive difference in terms of bandwidth requirements between the lightweight RSS format and the heavyweight web format. Also, when compared with the web format, RSS provides a powerful searchable resource, with tags including descriptions, author, and dates all in a standard format.
Individuals and small organisations interested in certain targeted content can probably do well by using one of the multitude of RSS feed readers available for all different computing platforms (from desktop PCs to PDAs, through web based services). But large organisations would have to cope with a multitude of disparate clients, different support options, and the redundant use of bandwidth by many users downloading the same feeds over and over.
The Newsgator Enterprise Server software is a robust solution that allows enterprise to bring this format closer to the people using the knowledge, maximising the use of resources (users and groups management, feed organisation, bandwidth optimisation, time) while providing the maximum business intelligence possible.
How did I come across Newsgator Enterprise Server and why is this review here? A few months back I was looking for a solution for what perhaps is a common problem: keeping up with a large number of RSS feeds I have in my feed reader, plus the out of sync situation where the status of each feed (last articles, read status, etc) was lost between all my devices (desktop, laptop, Pocket PC and Smartphone).
While the free Newsgator Online service offers a solution that works in some devices (web browser-based access to feeds) and even includes a fee-based PDA-friendly web version, it was still missing something I was looking for: having the RSS feeds sent to my mobile device automatically.
Newsgator Enterprise Server comes with a very good solution covering these requirements. With its ability to synchronise RSS feeds between Microsoft Exchange mailboxes and its own database I was able to have my preferred “Must Read” feeds organised in folders and have Exchange ActiveSync sending this information OTA (over the air) to my Windows Mobile devices.
It also provide the tools to manage users and groups, gathering usage statistics along the way. By the way, Administrators can add feeds to a group, making everyone in that group aware of the feeds' contents.
The most important part of this though is that regardless of where I read the article (desktop, laptop, Pocket PC, Smartphone) this status is replicated across all views.
Granted, it is not the platform end users alike will install and maintain (or even have the resources for it), but it uncovers the last piece of the puzzle I was playing, and it gave me the opportunity to taste what the enterprise can expect from the platform tool (and to gather knowledge that I can use in some of my consulting work).
First the delivery: the software arrived in a box containing a leather folder with a CD, mouse pad, pen, and the so important manuals in hardcopy (Installation and Administration).
It is an easy install, but a medium level of knowledge of your environment is required. You (or your IT department) will deal with things such as Active Directory, SQL Server, Exchange administration, and IIS configuration.
The requirements for this software are fairly common today across most organisations: Windows Server 2003, IIS web server, Microsoft SQL Server, Active Directory (optional), Exchange Server 2003 (optional).
After installation the software will start a series of services that will continuously monitor subscribed RSS feeds, pulling this information from the various sources, and entering this into its database. It will also monitor the web, through a web service, for keywords configured in "smart feeds".
This is important because instead of a multitude of feed readers within the organisation, with many of these pulling the same feeds, the service will pull the feed once, and make its content available to everyone that subscribes to it.
The feature list for this platform is impressive. Just for a start a very clean web interface allows users to subscribe to feeds, organise these in folders (including moving and nesting folders), read new articles or show previously read and archived articles.
The interface provides a search feature, which can bring information back from the current feeds, or archived articles.
Also through this web interface users can import OPML files containing their current feed list, or subscribe to suggested feeds. These suggested feeds can be added by the Administrator from an OPML file, creating a customised set for each company.
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Users can have articles delivered to different locations. Each of these locations is a different medium to distribute the content.
The default location is the Newsgator Web Edition. This is the web interface used to manage the personal feeds, mark them as read, and change preferences.
Users have the option to mark articles as read as soon as they are shown on this location, or to have to manually mark the items. Each page will show 50 items, with options to open the links in another window.
From this location users can also move an article to a “clipping” area, where articles will be stored for later use, like a bookmark section.
The next location is the Exchange Server (if enabled by the Administrator). This is very powerful, since it allows users to receive selected (or all) feeds directly into their mailboxes, in individual folders, corresponding to folder structure created by the user. Each article is a new post into its parent folder.
From here users can read the feeds via Microsoft Outlook or Microsoft Outlook Web Access (OWA). When using Microsoft Outlook a filter folder such as “Unread Mail” will quickly show new articles. This clip area can be shared with other users, of course through a RSS feed.
When an article is read on the Exchange Server, a synchronisation service will replicate this status back to the Newsgator Enterprise Server database. The frequency of this update from and to the Exchange Server is managed by the Administrator, with a minimum of five minutes delays.
Most importantly, having the Exchange Server location allows you to synchronise the folders to a Windows Mobile device via Exchange ActiveSync. Once read on the mobile device and synchronised back to the Exchange Server this status will be replicated.
Each feed is posted into a unique folder in my Exchange mailbox
Articles are entered as single emails, and read status is synchronised via ActiveSync
Another location is the Newsgator Mobile Edition. This is a PDA-friendly version listing the folders, number of unread items per folder, and the feed titles.
This location is very light and can be used from any web-enabled Smartphone or PDA - but I can say that reading this on my i-mate Jasjar Pocket PC with VGA screen, over Wi-Fi or 3G is a bliss.
The Mobile Edition is very light and can be used in any HTML-enabled mobile device
Articles are listed in folders and can be read individually
The last option is the Newsgator Email Edition. In short it is a POP3 server where users can login to download the articles as individual emails. Since I have the Exchange option, I decided to leave this off, so I did not test it after all.
Users can specify if new feeds will be automatically added to each location, or manually manage the feeds. This is essential due to the volume of data – for example over-the-air Exchange Synchronisation may be effective only for a small subset of feeds with the most important information, while the web version allows for easier use of the information.
One thing is for sure: I had no idea how much data can be generated from these feeds. My original OPML file listed more than 500 feeds, but most of us will only see a part of these feeds being updated. That’s because we will probably only run a RSS feed reader when in front of a PC, or only update some must read feeds on a frequent basis.
But when you have a server running 24/7, downloading all this information, then you realise how much excess needed to be cut.
This is true mostly for blogs, where you will notice that once one item hits the news, others will follow, so it will be an overload with the same subject.
After using Newsgator for a week or so I started reducing my list, removing the feeds with content not really related to my interests (why did I subscribe to then in first place?), and removing the ones that post about something a few days after the others. By doing this I managed to reduce the amount of information being collected, but I still think this can be reduced even more.
One interesting feature is the ability to determine how many days each article will live in the database, before going to an archive – and then dumped.
Other feature that will attract companies is the Smart Feeds. These are custom keybword-based feeds, that can be configured to search for specific words or links to web sites in subscribed feeds, or external feeds. This will appeal to companies monitoring specific markets or industry segments. External feeds are known to the Newsgator web service, and results will be returned even if no one in your organisation subscribe to the source feed. This is useful because it allows companies to find information even from unknown feeds.
My experience with support was very good. Just after installation I came across a few issues, and needed help configuring the environment. Newsgator provides a web based fault logging mechanism, but they also arranged for a conference call where we managed to go through the issues and sort everything out.
Managed RSS for your organisation
Multiple delivery mechanism (locations)
Automatic synchronisation between locations
Good, interested support people
The amount of information being generate is tremendous, and need good management/judgement from users
I'd like to be able to customise the feed details to show either the original feed title or my own title