DEMO is rolling along into its first afternoon, and I just got done meeting with some folks from RealNetworks. They've announced something that's a departure from their video/audio offerings--RealTime, a hybrid desktop/browser system for reading Web-based feeds.
RealTime can be used purely on the Web, in which case it's a pretty typical browser-based reader that lets you browse both RSS feeds you specify and some pre-programmed ones from Real partners like the AP and Reuters. But it's the RealTime Windows desktop client that makes the service interesting. It's a skinny horizontal bar which, by default, sits on the bottom of your screen along with the Taskbar. (You can move it to the top of the screen or have it live inside IE and Firefox.)
The bar is right there in front of you, but it's also pretty unobtrusive.
Actual reading of feeds and the articles they link to happen in your browser, which loads them when you click on items in the bar.
The desktop client includes a screensaver that turns your feeds into a rotating, animated sequence of images and headlines--kind of a PointCast for an era with faster computers and persistent data connections.
Real has a deal with feed search engine Feedster that lets you search for feeds within RealTime--and then, if you like, create RSS feeds based on your searches. Interested in XM Radio? You could create a feed of everything that mentions it, then send that feed to the RealTime toolbar, making the software a sort of an alternative to something like Google Alerts.
RealTime is free, and Real plans to make a buck through advertising (which appears in the browser-based part of the program, not in the client software). Real says it's working on a Mac client and, eventually, some form of RealTime for mobile devices.
RealTime does install an applet that gets launched with Windows by default and which lives in your System Tray (you can choose not to have it load automatically). I approach any new program that wants to live in my Windows environment 24/7 guardedly until I know that it doesn't bog down my machine, get in my face when I don't want it there, or otherwise irritate me. But on first blush, RealTime does look reasonably nifty, and appropriately low-key--and since I don't yet have an RSS reader of choice (unless you count My Yahoo), I'm going to live with it for awhile...