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Advanced RSS: a review of RSSOwl

Last time I introduced RSS as a way to keep up with all of your favorite websites without having to visit them one by one. I recommended a popular online RSS reader called Feedly to start off. Feedly has many basic features such as feed categorization, mobile access, and easy sharing to social networks.

But what if you want other features like offline access, advanced grouping, labeling, filtering, searching, and more? Then you will probably be best served by a more powerful RSS reader. Enter RSSOwl

Everything but the kitchen sink

One of my readers (@wataruen) introduced me to RSSOwl. RSSOwl is a free, desktop-based RSS reader available for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. The easiest way to describe RSSOwl is a mail client for your RSS feeds; it comes with all the filtering, sorting, and categorizing tools that you would normally use for your email, allowing you to carefully control your reading experience on an individual feed level. You also get other features like notifications, lots of keyboard shortcut keys, secure site support, and advanced sharing as well.

Setup and first use

You can download RSSOwl from their homepage

After installing the software and running for the first time, you are prompted to add feeds to your reading list. Since I already had a collection in Feedly, I used Feedly to download my feeds as an OPML file and then imported them into RSSOwl.

rssowl opml import

After importing your feeds, you are presented with the program’s main interface.

You can change the layout of the interface to match your personal taste. I prefer the “widescreen” layout which shows the list of feeds displayed in the left column, the unread items of the selected feed in the middle column, and the current item in the right column. After reading each article, you can move on to the next one by clicking it in the middle column, or by using keyboard shortcuts to jump between items (CTRL+left arrow and CTRL+right arrow by default). You can also apply labels for categorization, mark a post as sticky (gives the title a yellow color for easy retrieval), archive (save to your computer for later reading), or share to social various networks and services.

Advanced features

One of the major differences between RSSOwl and Feedly is that RSSOwl allows you to create filters for your feeds, which allows you to automatically search and sort through your content in whatever way you choose. For example, here is a filter that I created which will look for posts written within the last week that haven’t been read yet, which also contain “typhoon” in their title and “weather” anywhere in the item. It will then automatically label the news as “Important” and make a copy of the article in the folder (RSSOwl calls them “bins”) called “typhoon alert!”. In this way, you can pick out relevant posts matching any criteria that you want and perform actions on them.


Another unique feature of RSSOwl is the ability to create saved searches as a feed. This allows you to search a site (such as YouTube or Google News) for a keyword and have new results matching that query delivered to you as a feed. This could come in handy if you are monitoring news on a specific topic instead of a regular source.

keyword feeds

Finally, if you dig into the settings panel, you will see many of the other features that RSSOwl supports, like customized keyboard shortcuts, d-protected sites, add-ons for additional functionality, and a news update notifier.

In conclusion

Compared to Feedly, RSSOwl pulls out all the stops with a very full feature set. Personally, I will be sticking to Feedly because I don’t really need all of the advanced sorting and filtering functionality that RSSOwl provides, but if you need to monitor hundreds or thousands of feeds and need a way to make sense of that firehose of information, RSSOwl will have you covered.