Seattle-based Real Networks, best known for audio services, has released a customizable news and feed site with an accompanying toolbar. Named Realtime, the ad-supported, beta service provides news, feeds, weather, stocks, and search. The toolbar and site are extensions of each other. Unfortunately, the toolbar is currently Windows only, but a Mac client should be available by Q1 of 2007. I spoke with several people from Real today, including Jeff Chasen, the VP for this product.
The site and toolbar work together and sharing settings. The service does not require an account to work and if you are not logged in all of your settings (weather, stocks, and feeds) are stored locally. Creating an account gets an increase in the number of feeds that can be stored – I loaded in over 100 via OPML – and it enables you to keep your subscriptions in sync across computers.
The site is slick looking (except for the size of some of the graphical ads) and is easy to navigate between the major sections (news, feeds, stocks, and weather). The homepage provides a customized view of these sections. Alerts can be assigned around stock, news, and feeds. The news is hosted AP and Reuters. The feed section has defaults, but they are easily changed. The feed reader imports and exports OPML. The layout of the news and feed pages are a single column that work well for reading small amounts of headlines, but not for the 100 feeds I loaded in. The individual feed pages function very nicely and have an email to a friend function. If you are a heavy feed reader this will not replace your RSS reader, but it will work fine if you want to occasionally look at headlines.
Toolbar (top of the screen) and an individual feed page:
Search is given prominent placement on the toolbar and in the header of the Realtime site. All toolbar searches navigate to the Realtime site. Realtime provides access to 3 different search verticals: web, audio/video, and realguide. The web results are provided by Yahoo! The audio/video vertical displays 3 different sets of results. The top two, Music Store (audio) and Real Guide (video), pull from Real’s existing properties, while the bottom feed displays audio and video indexed on the web by Singingfish (now owned by AOL). Personally, I wish that this tab included Rhapsody as will many existing Rhapsody customers. The RealGuide searches news (AP & Reuters hosted on Realtime) and feeds, powered by Feedster. In a very nice move, both of these searches can be subscribed in RSS. I hope that the ability to search my personal feeds comes in time. Contextual ads, visible only on the web vertical, are powered by Yahoo!.
The toolbar is what I really like about this product. The install package does not install anything other than the toolbar on your machine. The toolbar can be placed on your desktop and can be set to rotate through news and feed headlines. The bar also provides a search box and a small weather display. I have mine at the top of my screen and i like having the headlines float by. Clicking a headline opens the story on the individual feed page in the Realtime website, clicking on the feed name displays the same content in a small window off of the toolbar. Another nice piece of work if the feed detection. If you navigate to a webpage that has a feed the toolbar will notify you and allow you to add it. I was able to do this in IE, Firefox, and Maxthon. They are going to consider hooking into the Microsoft RSS Store when it becomes available – this would make their discovery mechanism very useful.
I was pretty surprised when I learned that Real was making this product and was equally surprised that I liked it as much as I did, but I am not convinced of its future. For this product to grow i think that they will have to allow developers to create plugins to hook into desktop search systems and other useful systems. The toolbar takes up too much space to not provide more functionality.