I read a lot of Web sites on a regular basis, as I’m sure many of you do. Staying current is an important part of working in the technology industry, and no one can afford to get behind. Surfing takes a significant amount of time, though, and I can’t always visit every site I’d like to every day. I’ve tried a few news aggregators in the past, but they didn’t bowl me over. Then, a friend recommended AmphetaDesk, and now I’m hooked.

AmphetaDesk is open source software written in Perl by the folks at Disobey.com. It allows you to peruse Rich Site Summary (RSS) material from your favorite sites within a single, customizable, locally generated Web page. RSS news feeds have become more and more popular, and a variety of tools are available for generating headline digests in this XML format. Within AmphetaDesk’s Web interface, you can easily select from thousands of available feeds, and all of your choices are presented within a single browser window.

AmphetaDesk News Aggregator

The standardized RSS format was first popularized by Netscape as a means for delivering Netcenter headlines in a consistent and easy-to-use layout. Since then, the convention has taken off, becoming the preferred way to distribute summary information about a Web site’s current news content. More recently, with the increased adoption of XML, news aggregators have been given a boost in popularity, and many options are now available.

For me, AmphetaDesk is the perfect solution. Management of news feed subscriptions and personal preferences is easy, and all the information I’m looking for is consolidated within a single Web page. Furthermore, I can completely change the look and feel of the interface.

Many other readers I’ve tried attempt to maximize real estate by including cutesy scrolling headlines and separate pages for each summary, or they present information in a format that just isn’t conducive to rapid reading. AmphetaDesk’s success is its simplicity and flexibility.

A few quibbles
On the downside, there are a couple of annoying issues with AmphetaDesk, mostly resulting from too much of a good thing. The news feed selection interface is so chock full of options, you’ll find yourself scrolling forever to find the button to submit your selections. But since this is merely a configuration issue and not part of reading headlines, I consider that to be a very minor inconvenience. Also, selected sites seem to appear in the order that their download is completed, which means that a large number of sites aren’t ever listed in the same order twice. But that’s the beauty of open source: If this is truly an inconvenience, the code is available for any changes you deem necessary.

The upshot
Using AmphetaDesk, I’ve been able to review the material from almost all of my favorite sites every day, and I’ve saved a huge amount of time while doing it. I’ve had no problems with bugs, either. I recommend AmphetaDesk to anyone who spends any time reading online news.