At long last, Real Networks has launched RealTime, their desktop RSS reader. I've been under and NDA on this since I negotiated Feedster's deal with Real almost a year ago. I've heard rumors that the formal launch will be at this week's DEMO conference, but the site is up, product is launched, and you can download the toolbar and reader.
Real Networks sees themselves as uniquely capable of delivering software to massive numbers of desktops very quickly. Given how many Real Players there are in the world, it would make sense that when they update a Real Player, they can offer to put out a RealTime RSS reader. And, if you control the RSS reader and the serving of data to that reader, the vertical integration allows you to do some pretty interesting things.
For one thing, you can turn RSS into a "push" technology. By having a central server subscribe to, say, the TechCrunch feed, and then push the feed out simultaneously to all of the people who subscribe to that feed is both efficient (and likely to be appreciated by the people hosting those feeds, especially if they pass back the subscription information so bloggers can get accurate stats) and likely more timely (since Real could choose to listen to the ping servers, pull the feed immediately upon getting a ping, and push it out to everyone right away). Traditional RSS readers refresh every half hour, or hour, or even less often.
For another, you can have truly seamless integration of your online and desktop feed readers, so items read in one place will be marked as read in the other. In theory, this service is offered by NewsGator for my NetNewsWire reader, but I've never tested it, and I frequently get error messages saying that newsgator could not update the online feed reader, so I'm not sure how well that works.
In general, though, it appears from the site (there is not a ton of info there, and frankly it's been so long since I worked on this with Real that I don't know which features ended up in, and which ended up out...I'm going from publicly available info here) they are doing a lot of things to make RSS more approachable by a broader audience:
- Seamless integration of blogs, news, sports, weather, stock quotes, etc.
- A combination of editorially driven ("Top Stories") and user-driven ("Subscribe to a feed on a search term you provide") content.
- Integration with your browser, so if you surf to a site that provides a feed, you can subscribe with one click (yeah, we mac folks have had that for awhile, but it's nice to integrate it tightly)
- Integration with your screensaver, so you can see headlines - and even images - from your feeds as they come in. The headline screensaver hack has been around on the mac for awhile, but adding in images is a nice touch
It seems to be an interesting concept, and it is great for Feedster to have another big customer online.
But until they have a mac client (or I get around to upgrading to an intel-based macbook pro that can run parallels), I won't be able to try it out and comment on anything other than the concept and the promises. No idea how well it actually works.