Fighting Mobile Bandwidth Costs with RSS

Nick recently talked about full-text feeds and why he felt that they were good. I approached the issue from a different angle: the cost of bandwidth for those of us reading feeds from a PDA/ cellphone/ smartphone. I’m happy to report that a partial solution to the problem exists: offloading.

I use the term offloading in the sense that you offload content to a PDA, after you’ve downloaded it to your desktop. As I found out a couple of days ago, the cost of data bandwidth for a smartphone is immensely higher relative to what a DSL line might cost, monthly. So a simple solution is one that’s actually been in use for several years: offloading.

There are also a number of RSS readers for mobile devices, however, all of them either use a browser or cost money. I know, I know. What’s the big deal with spending a few bucks for software when you’ve spent several hundred for a spiffy new device? Well, a lot of things. Sure I use commercial software, but I mostly try to stick with OpenSource. And I’ve not yet come across such a mobile RSS reader.

I have, however, come across Plucker, which is an OpenSource file format, and Plucker Viewer. Unfortunately, Plucker is only available for PalmOS-based devices for now. The Plucker Desktop and other tools will work on MS-Win, Linux, and Mac OS X desktops/laptops. Maybe someone will help produce a Plucker Viewer for devices running other OSes.

Plucker Viewer runs on your PalmOS device by letting you scroll through Pluckered text/HTML documents, much like an ebook viewer. Plucker Desktop lets you define channels for mobile editions of websites, schedule channel updates, and convert to Plucker format. You then hotsync the document(s) to your PalmOS device.

What Plucker cannot handle yet is RSS feeds. (It supposedly handles RDF feeds and PDF documents, but I saw no proof of this in the help files.) So in comes Sunrise Desktop (which also runs on MS-Win, Linux, and Mac OS X). Sunrise Desktop is very similar to Plucker Desktop, except that it can convert RSS feeds to Plucker format, as well websites and local text files.

I’m happy because I can download my (partial-text) webfeeds when I’m planning to be offline, then offload the resulting Plucker files to my Palm Treo. But hopefully, Plucker usage will spread and someone will help out so other devices can use the Plucker format. The interesting thing is that Project Gutenberg is now offering some of their free e-texts in Plucker format, so I’m guessing there are more PalmOS-based

Even if you cannot use Plucker Viewer, there are software tools that download mobile editions of websites for whatever OS your PDA uses. So you can still use this technique to save yourself the cost of going online with your PDA. However, you should be aware that downloading more than a few pages of a site all at once classifies the software you are using as a spider/bot. Overdoing the updates may get you banned on some sites. This may or may not be true for RSS feeds.

Technorati Tags: offline content, mobile browsing, plucker, sunrise