I am going through an big instant messaging phase at the moment, partly due to my growing addiction with Twitter. I’ve been getting all my Twitter updates sent to my Google Talk desktop app and this has got me increasingly interested in what other types of information I can get sent to my desktop IM client.
So I went looking for a free web-based tool, preferably a chat bot, that would send pre-selected RSS feeds to an IM program. After trying several that didn’t work as advertised (I won’t name any names), I finally ended up using ZapTXT – although the set-up didn’t exactly go too smoothly at first.
What I like about ZapTXT is that you can choose to have the RSS updates sent to either your email, an IM program or your mobile phone (although personally I was only interested in the IM option). The IM program options are particularly good – all the major networks are covered including Yahoo, MSN, AIM, Skype and GTalk / Jabber.
When you first set up your account, you have to set up your delivery options. I chose the IM program option and entered my GTalk details. You then have to add the ZapTXT bot to your contact list.
Once that is done, you have to then specify what feeds you want sent to you and how often (immediately, once a hour, once a day, and so on). A particularly good feature is the ability to also filter those feeds by keywords so you only get feed updates based on what you are looking for. If you don’t specify keywords then you will get everything that RSS feed produces. If it is a feed like Digg, then you will be buried underneath an IM avalanche! So if the feed produces a lot of updates, it might be best to decide which specific subjects you are going to follow and set up filters.
If you’re not sure of the exact feed address for a site, the ZapTXT engine will auto-detect all the RSS feeds on a domain that you specify and you can then choose which ones you want :
The difficulty I initially had was that the feeds didn’t kick in straight away, despite new posts being added to those sites. The ZapTXT bot also seems to have problems accepting Google Talk’s chat invitation so it took well over a hour for me to receive my first RSS updates. But once it starts, it works extremely well.
Here is what one of the RSS updates on Google Talk looks like :
You might be wondering at this point what the advantages are of using a service like this when you already have excellent RSS readers such as Google Reader. Well for me, some feeds are more important than others – in particular, the sites I write for, including Make Use Of. I don’t always have my Google Reader window open and so it is good for me to get a pop-up window from Google Talk whenever a post from one of my favourite sites is posted online. I also like to see my favourite feeds coming in on Google Talk if I am stuck for story ideas. Sometimes just seeing the headlines of my subscribed blogs is enough to spark an idea of my own.
Another benefit is if you are following a comment thread on a forum or a blog, sometimes seeing new comments coming in on your IM program allows you to respond faster.
Want another benefit? If you use Google Talk instead of one of the other IM programs, everything that comes in is logged in your Gmail account for future reference!
As Amit Agarwal at Digital Inspiration points out, ZapTXT is not meant to replace your RSS reader, only complement it. I have only been using ZapTXT for two days and already I am finding it indispensable.