[To hit the mainstream] RSS has to become brain dead simple to use.
- Fred Wilson
Particls is well on the way to managing this, and this isn't something I say lightly.
The above quote was the first immediately-arresting thing I saw when I fired up the Particls web site a few weeks ago. Mind you, until recently (the 13th) it wasn't called Particls, it was called Touchstone.
"What the hell is Particls?" Good question. Particls bills itself as "personalised aggregation", or, in a sentence, automated aggregation which solicits your initial input to refine its scope, and then goes off and collates appropriate news.
Personalised aggregation IS snappier, come to think of it.
It's a desktop client, which, once installed and given a list of keywords to look for, just... Goes off... On its own... And reads the news. Sure, once it's read the news it then assesses it for relevance and then feeds back to you, humble user, providing you with relevant and (hopefully) interesting news articles from a cornucopia of feeds. Indeed, the Particls blog mentions such terms as "Personal Relevancy or Attention Management" to describe Particls (this is during a blog post discussing how Particls is not Web 3.0 which I found most amusing). The idea is that it (eventually) integrates with your calendar, email and web through a series of modular interfaces, displaying news items in popup alerts on your desktop which fade in and out. You have the option to close them sooner or sticky them with little icons in each popup.
This is what a popup looks like:
And this is how you define what you want it to keep a look out for - the Watchwords / Blacklist lists.
Blacklist (well, I had to put something to demonstrate, usually it's blank)
All this and more is accessible via one small tray icon - the menus are pretty well laid-out, so nipping round the options isn't much of a hassle.
You might think "pfft, this is a gimmick, unnecessary software which does little for me," but it DOES work! I just leave it going, if I'm busy and don't want to be disturbed I can set it either to a 'Low level of interruption' or define a custom level where I can choose individual thresholds for the news ticker, pebbles and popup alerts (or I can disable each one altogether, individually). That way I can avoid unnecessary procrastination when I'm trying to write my essays for Uni! The rest of the time, I just leave it on low or medium depending on how much I want to drift off whatever I'm up to at the time (because usually reading one interesting thing leads me off on a voyage of discovery around the web, usually spending 40 minutes or more reading around the subject). Particls achieves the best of both worlds: it helps me keep current with stuff I find interesting whilst not having to trawl around and manually go through RSS feeds looking for related entries to my interests.
There's a great deal of customisation available; you can define an 'interruption level' via the tray icon, and depending on the threshold, you can have a ticker along the top or bottom of your screen which shows news as it comes in, or you can just have occasional popups of relevant information.
There's also a very cool Web 2.0 interaction possibility with Particls: the Pebbles. By default, the Pebble adapter is disabled, but once enabled, it's like publishing your own "what I'm interested in" feed without having to manually update it all the time. Here's how it works:
The Particls Pebbles Adapter and Publishing Service is, by its very nature, designed to publish your Particls Item Stream to a publicly accessible hosted RSS feed. For this reason the Pebbles Adapter is turned off by default. Please note that opting into using Pebbles does make it available via the internet via an open RSS feed - we may add authentication later.
The main Particls Pebbles page has more information and suggestions on how you can use your own personalised RSS uberfeed, but this paragraph I feel highlights its usefulness in making 'your own personal Pebble':
Particls allows you to subscribe to information you care about, it learns what your interests are keeps you informed while you work. Pebbles makes Particls even more powerful by aggregating and syndicating your filtered Particls items to your very own RSS feed.
That's pretty cool by any stretch of the imagination! I do the work in the first place, the software goes off and checks out all that's available, sifts the chaff from the good stuff, and presents the end results to me for my perusal. Truly, this is RSS news how I've been wanting it to be for a long time now: just for me - all killer, no filler!
(If you got that Sum 41 reference... Well done... I think
I have 10 - yeah, ten! - invites to give away for Particls if you're interested in joining the small community of beta testers for this project. Just add your request (with an email address) to the comments page for this entry, and I'll fire you off an invite lickety split. Sharing is caring :)