Now that I've had a chance to see Attensa's solution in action (here at the Syndicate Conference in San Francisco), I can understand why John Palfrey's RSS Investors venture capital outfit selected the company as one of its initial investments (valued at $9 million).
Like Newsgator, Attensa offers RSS subscription software that works inside of Outlook. Personally, after trying a lot of RSS newsreaders, I think it makes the most sense to take receipt of RSS-delivered content in my e-mail client which is what I've been doing with Newsgator. I spend so much of my day in Outlook (the officially supported email at my company) Attensa prioritizes RSS items based on what you're historically paying the most attention to. and the way Newsgator can shuttle content from specific RSS feeds directly into a specific Outlook folder is an organizational principal that's perfect for my style of consumption. Natively, Newsgator (at least my version of it) has one problem which is that it lacks a central RSS "inbox" that updates in real time (each time a new RSS item from any subscribed-to feed comes in) the same way Outlook's e-mail inbox updates itself each time a new e-mail arrives. Thankfully, the folks at Newsgator showed me how Outlook's rule authoring tool makes it possible for users to build such an inbox on their own (I should probably write a blog on how to do this.. everyone who sees my central RSS inbox in Outlook asks how I managed to "find" that feature).
Both Attensa and Newsgator are doing something else that clearly position them as the catalyst for the next generation of RSS readers. First, Outlook isn't the only platform that's supported. Both also have a Web-based version as well. In other words, instead of using a thick client to take receipt of and store your RSS-delivered content, a Web server does all of that for you and all you need to view your subscriptions is a browser. While it's a more lightweight approach to RSS subscription, it also lacks the off-line reading benefit you get with something thicker (with access to local storage) like Outlook.
Newsgator users can also access their subscriptions through their cell phones but the handset must have HTML-reading capability (some sort of mobile browser). Not to be outdone by Newsgator, Attensa also has a mobile strategy as well. According to Attensa's director of marketing Scott Niesen, the company will soon be releasing a mobile version of its technology that works across handsets such as cell phones and BlackBerry's and that's based on a partnership that his company has entered with Java-based mobile RSS reading technology solution provider FreeRange Communications (also exhibiting here at the show). While here at the Syndicate Conference, I conducted a podcast interview of Niesen. The interview is available as an MP3 that can be downloaded or, if you’re already subscribed to ZDNet’s IT Matters series of audio podcasts, it will show up on your system or MP3 player automatically. See ZDNet’s podcasts: How to tune in.
Across all platforms, both companies go a special extra mile to make RSS consumption more efficient: they synchronize. In other words, if you use your handset to consume an RSS item and then delete it, that deletion is synchronized across the other versions. This way, no matter which of the three methods you're using at any given time to take in your RSS delivered content, you never have to wade through stuff you've already read somewhere else. But both platforms also have their differences.
Attensa -- whose co-founder and vice president of R&D Eric Hayes is a co-author of the Attention.xml specification -- has figured out how to prioritize RSS items based on the what you're historically paying the most attention to. In other words, subjects that are of the most interest to you or that have the highest relevance to your work (based on what you're reading and how you read it) rise to the top (or the mouth) of your RSS reader. Attensa does this "habit watching" regardless of which of its clients (Outlook, Web, or mobile) you use. According to Newsgator officials (also exhibiting here at Syndicate), a similar feature is in the works for its RSS readers. So far though, according to Attensa's Neisen, there's no way to manually override the automatic prioritization scheme or manually enter new rules. During the interview, Neisen told me the company is interested in getting feedback from customers on the best way to do this.
Here at the show, Newsgator was highly critical of one of Attensa's design choices -- to host all of the business logic (behind the synchronization and prioritization) on its own servers as opposed to giving enterprise customers a way to host it themselves. Newsgator, by comparison, provides a self-hosting option. That design choice could affect the comfort level that some enterprises have with Attensa's approach.
By locating all the logic and the associated data outside a corporate firewall, not only might confidential attention data be in place that enterprise would rather it not be, but it could force information about confidential behind-the-firewall RSS feeds onto the public network. I'm not suggesting that Attensa's approach is insecure. But, regardless of how proven the security is, some corporations simply can't bring themselves to host confidential data outside their firewalls. Attensa's Neisen confirmed that the company's solutions are currently outside-the-firewall only but that a behind-the-firewall version should be available sometime in the April-June 2006 timeframe.