Feed Readers: I Don't Get It

RSS feed readers are all the rage these days. Safari even now has a feed reader built-in. But most people aren't happy with this. So dedicated feed readers abound. I've tried a few, and I can honestly say, I just don't get it.

Basically, these feed readers -- applications like NewsFire and the ever-popular NetNewsWire -- are browsers for reading nothing but RSS feeds. Essentially, they present a list of feeds to which you've subscribed in one column, a list of articles aggregated as-you-like-them in another, and, finally, the full page of any article you happen to select in a window. Neat, right? I guess.

But what I do is to keep a bookmarks folder with my favorite blogs in Safari. I open that folder in a set of tabs, and I start reading. And that's it. It's that simple. I don't see why I need a feed reader to do this. What's the advantage of having all these feeds in a separate application?

One thing people seem to like is that the feed readers can tell you which articles you've read and which ones you haven't. But I already get this information from the regular web page in Safari. You know how I know whether or not I've read a given article? Simple. I remember. I don't really need an app to tell me this. I'm pretty smart that way. Another feature of the feed readers is that they'll alert you to new content. But I check my blogs daily. I'm already pretty aware when and if there's new content. And I don't need to be constantly pestered about new stuff, or constantly fed information. I'll take my daily dose, thanks. Every ten minutes is too obsessive, even for me, and that's saying a lot.

So these RSS feed readers come across, to me, as either crippled or repurposed browsers. Even the RSS reader in Safari seems pointless, though at least with it, I'm already in my browser of choice and don't have to go switching apps. Ironically, in the dedicated readers, clicking links usually takes me to my browser of choice anyway. So why not just start and finish in the browser? This business of apps opening other apps because they can't really handle everything on their own has always struck me as kind of dumb. Like in Quicktime, for instance: The idea that you can have URL links in Quicktime movies is cool. But it seems to me to work best from within the browser itself. Standalone Quicktime movies that take me to the web -- to a browser -- are stupid and irritating, and that's why no one uses them. (Well, no one but Apple, and that's just cross-marketing.) I mean, I opened Quicktime in the first place to use Quicktime, not to surf the web. Going that direction generally doesn't work: Browsers handle Quicktime content just fine, but Quicktime is a sucky environment within which to surf the web. I feel pretty much the same way about RSS news aggregators: Why use one when you can already get everything done right in the browser?

This, by the way, is why there's such a huge in interest in browsers, why browsers are so important. Browsers are the window to the world wide web, precisely because they're designed to handle any kind of media you can throw at them. Quicktime, iTunes, and in my opinion, news readers are not. All those apps open browsers to get the real work of surfing done. I guess my point is, we don't need these news readers; what we need are better browsers, though frankly, most browsers still kick the crap out of even the finest dedicated news aggregators.

But what I'd really like is for someone to explain this to me. It's quite possible I'm just not getting it. Can someone shed some light on the usefulness of RSS feed readers for me? People seem pretty passionate about these readers. So what's the deal? Am I just being shortsighted? Can anyone explain to me why I would ever want to use one of these things? Or why there's such a craze over them lately? Anyone?

I'd really like to know.