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September 13, 2005

Loving Google's Sidebar -- my new RSS aggrgator

By Charlene Li

I have a confession to make. I may research and write about RSS, but darn it if I can’t remember to actually check my feeds! It’s just not part of my daily habit and after trying about 20 different aggregators, I have yet to find one that 1) works with the Forrester laptop configuration; 2) that I actually use on a daily basis.

That is, until now. Enter Google Sidebar. This is the new extension of Google’s Desktop Search offering – it’s a panel that sits on your desktop and provides a single source of personalized information (like news, weather, stocks, and yes, RSS feeds). Think of it as a personalized portal, but one that lives outside of a Web page (no need to have to surf over to my.yahoo.com or my.msn.com – this application is just THERE!).

A quick glance lets me see recent feeds – no need to have to start another application or open a browser window. Even aggregators embedded into Outlook didn’t do the trick for me as I spend only a portion (albeit, a large portion) of my time there.

What I find interesting is that Sidebar acts like one really big widget – and additional plug-ins are available, similar to what Yahoo’s Konfabulator and Apple’s Dashboard offer. While I’m a big widget fan, there was one major problem with them – I never see my desktop (it’s usually buried under umpteen windows). There are only a few plugins available today – but I’ve already found the “To Do” plugin useful. And I’m really looking forward to getting the eBay Sidebar plugin which is under development!

There are just two things to point out about Sidebar. First, the new search query box in Sidebar provides “search as you type” functionality, albeit, it’s a bit delayed compared to other desktop search applications like Yahoo! Desktop Search and Copernic. In keeping with the "no browser" philosophy, the search query box allows you to look at the initial results quickly and to go directly to that file or email.

Msn_dashboard Second, when I downloaded Sidebar and used it for the first time, I was struck by how similar it is to MSN’s Dashboard, which MSN has included as part of its Premium access service Internet software (click on “Custom Tools” to learn more – I’ve also included a screenshot from my archives). One of my favorite features of Dashboard was the ability to “pin” it anywhere on the desktop. Granted, there are a lot more advanced features in Sidebar AND it’s more configurable. But MSN introduced this technology in 2002!! They had the foresight to develop it years ago but kept it tucked away in a hidden part of its offerings. Look for them to quickly dust off the covers and make it available forthwith.

Lastly, I've been asked if this will Sidebar and it's inevitable market followers will speed along RSS adoption. There's no doubt in my mind that it will. Making RSS readily accessible AND visible puts it top of mind and spurs usage, which will drive adoption.


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» Google's Sidebar + RSS from Nooked Blog
Google's Sidebar is impressive - and it will help consumers adopt RSS in growing numbers. Charlene Li has some great commentary on how the Google Sidebar is becoming her RSS reader of choice and how it will speed up RSS... [Read More]


Alan Reid

Hi Charlene,

In your first sentence I think you hit the nail on the head. 20 Aggregators, too many feeds. The marketers dream is you just have their feed and no other with no expiry date, however the reality is I have 500 unread feeds in Pluck and my Google sidebar is overflowing. So do I expire feeds within an hour or rely on search engines to find out what I need to know. The feeds may not be spam however I can only process a few things at a time, the rest even if it is valid information might as well be spam.

Welcome back.


Sumit Chachra

In yahoo widgets you can set all of them to be in the Konpose display mode. So you can bring them to focus with F8 (just like F12 works for dashboard). So it doesn't matter how many windows you have opened.

The major problem with Dashboard and my limited experience with Yahoo! widgets is that they hog a lot of memory and can end up slowing down many apps.

Charlene Li

Alan: I'm actually pretty strategic about what feeds I put into my Sidebar tool. Only a few feeds go in there (I think I have four in total right now) and they are the ones I really depend on a daily basis. I have a ton of other feeds in FeedDemon, which allows me to search them as needed (I've basically created a mini-index of the sources I care about).

Prolific Programmer

Have you given RRsR a try -- http://hasan.wits2020.net/~hdiwan/RRsR? I'm still developing it, but the login to try out what I have right now is guest, password guest.

Charlene Li

Sumit: That Konspose button sure is handy, but I have to *remember* to push it! I know it sounds lame, but that extra step kept me from routinely using it. The beauty of Sidebar is that it's always hanging out there, unless I minimize it down to a Deskbar if I need the full screen. And I use search often enough that I remember to show Sidebar again when I do a search.

Luke Rattigan

Hi Charlene
I have been using side bar for a couple of weeks. I agree its pretty useful, but I find that it really slows my laptop down. Does anyone else have that problem also?

Steve Smith

Hi Charlene,

I thoroughly enjoy my Sidebar. However, I have noticed a couple of glitches in the matrix:

1. Duplicate feed updates (You delete one clip, and it pops back up later. You delete, it returns. Ugh.)

2. Feeds, Interrupted (You double click on a link, nothing happens. You single click and then click the link in the summary window, and nothing happens. But you can get to it on the blog. Weird.)

3. I once had a half hour where I'd click on a web clip and Sidebar would ask if I really wanted to delete my hard drive. Now that was spooky.

Have you had or heard of such buglike experiences with this graduate of Google Labs?

Suresh Kumar

I agree...

Im completely hooked on Google Sidebar...

and ive stopped keepying record of useful blog sites since the Web Clips gadget in Google sidebar keeps a record of websites that i visit! -- great! since it then pulls feeds from there.

another point, i have the sidebar set to auto-hide... so it only pop up when i however my mouse over the left-hand edge of the screen.. totally unobtrusive and no need to fire up another browser...

and i have not notice any performance issues at all.. mind you there was an updated version that was released about 2 weeks ago....

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