One of the "problems" with online news is that there's so much of it. Simply keeping up with your favorite news sites, let alone finding time for new resources, is enough to inflict a severe case of information overload on even the heartiest searcher.
Fortunately, there are sites that let you create your own customized view of the news. For example, most of the major news sites offer some degree of customization for their own stories. But if you want a broader perspective, the sites we're going to describe today let you pull in snippets of news from all over the web, aggregating everything for easier access.
CRAYON (CReAte Your Own Newspaper)
Crayon was one of the Web's first sites to offer an aggregation service, and it's still one of the best, thanks to its ease of use. To create your "own" newspaper, simply sign up for a free account and select the sources you want to include.
There are hundreds of online newspapers to choose from, ranging from those with world coverage like the International Herald Tribune to local papers like the Maysville Ledger-Independent. You can also include specialized sources, with topics including politics, business, weather, religion, sports and so on.
The list of sources is ordered by popularity -- a nice touch that shows you what other Crayon readers have included in their papers.
Your Crayon paper is displayed in two frames. On the left is a list of links to the sources you've selected. Clicking any of these links displays the news site in the right frame. Your customized "paper" is actually just a list of links that makes it easy to access your favorite sites. But this simplicity is actually quite powerful and appealing once you've tweaked your sources to get exactly what you want.
Quickbrowse automates the process of loading selected web sites into your browser window, "joining" them into a single long page. The program works in a number of ways. You can create your own "newsstand" by selecting and saving a list of your favorite news sites that load automatically. You can also create a customized list of "cherry picked" portals based on your interests (sports, comics, tech, etc).
The program also lets you rapidly scan headlines, clicking those that interest you and building your full page in another browser window running in the background, or, alternately, delivering the stories to you via email.
Quickbrowse has a nifty feature for searchers, too -- the ability to do a metasearch on a number of the web's most popular search engines and specify how many result pages you want returned. Rather than being limited to 10, 20 or even 100 results, Quickbrowse will fetch the exact number of results pages you want, sparing you the need to click the "next results" link to get additional pages.
Unlike the other services reviewed here, Quickbrowse is fee-based. Subscriptions are $12.95 for three months, but there is a free 14-day trial available. If you find yourself spending a lot of time manually loading the same sites each day, Quickbrowse is probably worth the cost given the savings in time it provides.
Like Quickbrowse, MyOctopus allows you to aggregate content from multiple sources in a single browser window. But rather than a single long page, MyOctopus uses "views" in the form of multiple windows that can be opened, closed and dragged around within your browser.
Views can be made up of virtually anything -- web pages, headlines, search forms -- even email, contacts and calendar information from Microsoft Outlook.
The idea is to provide a single location for everything you need for a particular task or information need. It takes a bit of effort to learn how to assemble and customize views, but it's well worth the time. Once you've created a view, you can save it as a Favorite View.
To help you get started, Octopus provides eight "starter" view templates. For example, the "Start My Day" template includes a view that lets you access a Yahoo email account, news headlines from Moreover, a search form that does a metasearch on Yahoo, Excite and Google, and a form that lets you get weather information from weather.com.
Each of these views can be customized -- you can add or delete news sources, search engines, and the type of weather information retrieved, for example. And it's easy to add other views -- stock information, a job search form from Monster.com, or even entire web pages.
Octopus has numerous other features that should appeal to the power user who wants maximum control over customized online information sources.
NewsIsFree collects headlines from 2068 sources around the web. It's an excellent resource for browsing both news sites and weblogs. The site also provides "Aggregations" of content, as well as browseable "News Channels" that function essentially as a directory of different types of news, organized by category, name and date.
Tomorrow: A personal take on a few sources providing alternative points of view on the news -- with a particular emphasis on those trying to make sense of the changes in the world over the past month.
NOTE: Article links often change. In case of a bad link, use the publication's search facility, which most have, and search for the headline.
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