Scripting News for 7/14/2006

PS: Don’t forget to check out today’s Rocketboom. πŸ™‚ 

Scoble: “Sometimes I just want to read what Mike Arrington says and hell with the rest of you.” Nice kiss-up! 

Andrew Grumet is a River of News afficionado, but he comes at it from a different angle, calling it a “deletionless reading adventure.” I forget that other reader models force the user to delete articles to get them out of the way. To me this is dissonant, why would I want to delete someone else’s article. In fact I want to keep them all so I can search them. (Not that my aggregator allows that, maybe someday.) 

Kevin Marks says Technorati Favorites lets you search the feeds you’ve subscribed to.  

John Robb doesn’t like River of News. He’ll get no argument from me, in fact he gets a pointer. πŸ™‚ 

2/3/06: “Aggregator developers could sure use some competition!” 

Shuman Ghosemajumder, speaking on behalf of Google, says Eric Schmidt was quoted out of context re click fraud. I find this noteworthy because Google is (finally) using its blog to communicate about serious stuff.  

BBC: “Apple has ended its legal fight to make bloggers reveal who leaked secret information about its new products.” 

I had dinner last night with an aide to a likely Presidential candidate. He said he’d prefer if I didn’t use his name. That’s okay with me. We talked about blogging and the presidency, of course. I said it’s boring to have your candidate pretend to blog. I honestly don’t care if he or she blogs. In fact, I said, if you want to make headlines, say that your candidate will not blog. We both had a good laugh. I think it’s a pretty good idea. We had dinner at a Chinese restaurant on Solano Avenue. Here’s a couple of pictures I took of the street before dinner. 

Earthlink’s feed reader is an important product 

The job of a newspaper is to show you what’s new.

Imagine a newspaper that got more and more clogged with old stuff every day, as every category of news accumulated all the old stories you didn’t read, and showed them to you every time you looked, as if this time you might actually want to read a story that you didn’t want to read the last 80 times you looked.

Your daily newspaper doesn’t tell you that you haven’t read 83,284 articles, why should your computer-based news tool?

Well, that’s how most feed readers work, and it’s just plain wrong. Your software should, instead, find the new stuff since the last time you looked and show you that first.

The first aggregator, the one I wrote in 1999, did. And so did the one that’s in Radio UserLand, and so does the NewsRiver aggregator that’s built into the OPML Editor. Until yesterday these were the only aggregators that worked this way. (To be fair there are developers who say theirs do, but I’ve never seen one that actually does.)

The irony is that this kind of reader is easier to develop than the ones that emulate mail programs. They are also far easier to use. This must seem counter-intuitive to the programmer’s mind. They worry about the details of the user interface and miss the big picture, that the model for the software, is so utterly inefficient

It apparently seems counter-intuitive even to very smart users like Mike Arrington, who said “Neither are cutting edge,” of the two new Earthlink tools. As much as I adore Mike, the Earthlink reader has the essential feature all others (except mine) are missing. They show you the new stuff first. You can’t see how important that is with just one use. Go ahead and import your OPML and go back tomorrow, and the day after, and you’ll see what a huge difference it makes to have the computer figure out what’s new for you.

To the Earthlink people, I will sing your praises to anyone who will listen, but I ask one thing, that you not say that this is the first and only feed reader to work this way. In fact, as I explained above, the very first feed readers did.

Note: The user interface is not optimal. Make the page much longer and the text smaller. You’re not taking advantage of a key capability of the human brain, it scans very quickly as you scroll. I want all the new stories in an hour to fit on one page. Depend on the vertical scrollbar, and tighten up the display of each news item. And I don’t need the list of feeds I subscribe to on the same page as the news. Reclaim the space, just link to the list of feeds. Cut the cord with the mail reader approach, it’s wrong, have the courage to go all the way, you won’t be sorry. πŸ™‚

27 responses to this post.

  1. Dave, you’ve previously written similar things to this: “the Earthlink reader has the essential feature all others (except mine) are missing.” I’m not sure if I’m missing something, but NetNewsWire has had a “New Items” mode showing all your feeds in reverse chron update order. That’s my default view. Seems just like the Radio river of news. But correct me if I’m missing a key ingredient.


  2. No having the aide blog — that would be interesting.


  3. No = now (finger problems — sorry)


  4. NetNewsWire also shows you the latest stuff from your subscriptions, in addition to each feed. It has as long as I’ve used it.


  5. We’ve been over this so many times, but “showing new items” is not River of News.


  6. Dave, I’m with these guys. I’m sure there must be some difference in presentation that you’re referring to, but I don’t get it.

    I also am a heavy NetNewsWire user, and I can get my latest news two different ways:

    1. Per feed with the latest news at the top by setting the view to reverse chronological order as Michael pointed out (and I think others do this as well). I use this the most.
    2. I simulate the “River of News” effect by dropping my favourite feeds (and it could be ALL of my feeds if I wanted) in the river into one folder, and then viewing that folder the same way–it will mix the feed items up and sort based on reverse chronological order. By expanding .the folder, I can also still read feed-specific news items only

    And then, I like to go back and read old stuff some times, especially after travel when I haven’t been able to pay attention. So I like the old stuff staying there until I say good bye (I actually have it set for 30 days, but you get the idea).

    So you did it first, but what’s so diferent about the method that Earthlink and you utilise? Is it just the default view and that’s the way it is (without different view optiosn)? Or are we missing something?


  7. From your description, my recollection of Radio Userland, and the comments here about NetNewsWire, I think FeedDemon works similarly to NetNewsWire, providing the best of both styles. I can read individual posts in feeds I care a lot about (e.g., a friend’s blog), and I can read a RiverOfNews-style page for all the newspaper-type sites, aggregated together. Ironically, this ability to track individual posts better is one of the reasons I switched from Radio Userland to FeedDemon. πŸ™‚

    Out of curiosity, isn’t your saying one is “wrong” an example of developers proscribing what is best for users? As a user, I prefer the other way for important feeds. I might only read TechCrunch every couple of weeks when I have time, but I still want to read every post, and I want to read them all together when I’m in a TechCrunchy mood. To continue your newspaper analogy, I can choose to save a stack of “business sections” while throwing out the rest of the paper every day, if I choose.


  8. I’ve been through this a dozen times, and I don’t want to do it again. πŸ™‚


  9. isn’t your saying one is “wrong” an example of developers proscribing what is best for users?

    No, that’s an example of a user having an opinion.


  10. Sure, understandable that you don’t want to rehash the argument. Instead, I wonder if the features in FeedDemon and NetNewsWire were added since you last saw the software? Perhaps someone could show you their configuration and see if what we’re calling RiverOfNews is actually possible in these programs (I think there is an aging function too that will get rid of older posts). Then Earthlink’s implementation would be, at best, the fifth implementation, not the third, and certainly not the first of course.

    Funny, one of the things about “loyal users” of software like FeedDemon is that we hate reading someone say our software is “wrong”… So even though I know it’s just your opinion on this site, you still have everyone posting to stand up for their favorite reader. Really, isn’t this the perfect result of the BloggerCon IV discussion about “users not just criticizing bad software, but speaking up for good software too”?

    And of course, this is the down side of people caring so much what you think, Dave. πŸ™‚ Most other people just get ignored, so it’s a compliment that we’re trying to convince you otherwise about these readers.


  11. Here’s what you said a reader should do:

    “Your software should, instead, find the new stuff since the last time you looked and show you that first.”

    As I and others have said, NNW does this. Now, there maybe differences between that and “River of News,” but in my mind NNW fits the above criteria. That’s all I’m saying.


  12. Changing the subject, it’s been a while since I used NNW. In order to check this out I downloaded the Lite version and installed it. I was surprised to find Tim Bray’s feed in the default choices. Surprised because Tim is such a partisan (and that’s being generous, imho) in the hype around syndication formats. I thought Brent was trying to stay out of it. I guess it’s good to keep an eye on these things, and I’m really disappointed to see this.


  13. In fact the first post in Bray’s feed is kind of a doozy.


  14. Continuing in the partisanship thread…

    This is something users could totally help with.

    I find it impossible to participate in discussions about syndication technology, because as soon as I do, no matter how hard I try to not make it personal, someone always says I’m making it personal.

    It would be great if once in a while you guys would step in and say “Hey don’t make it personal, I’m a user, and I have an interest in this stuff working. Let the man say what he thinks.”

    I wonder if you guys would be willing to do that.


  15. Posted by Robert Marsanyi on July 14, 2006 at 11:08 am

    Just out of interest: I’m using a reader called (unfortunately rather cutely) Alterbear ( New items pop up in a stack on the right side of my screen for long enough for me to scan them, then go away if I don’t click anything. If I want to, double-clicking the taskbar icon re-displays the stack and I can browse it at my leisure. I’m finding that the combination works well for me – I get an attention-focussing action that lets me quickly scan new stuff every rss “tick”, and a simple way to review new stuff when I want to. Doesn’t look anything like a mail tool.


  16. > Reclaim the space, just link to the list of feeds.

    And put in absolute, not relative, timestamps next to each source, to aid scanning efficiency.


  17. I’m just a user. I can’t use Earthlink to even try it. First, I had to lie in the registration attempt. My zip code is 8000. I live in the Philippines. But Earthlink rejects an 8000 entry. OK, so after making up something for that, and going through the mother’s maiden name routine – it still rejects my sign up with ERROR. That’s it. I’ve done this four times. I suspect they are detecting I’m in Philippines and they really just can’t handle that.

    They are still clueless in Atlanta …


  18. […] I like what Scoble had to say, despite what Dave calls “kissing up” to Arrington. Sometimes I like having feeds segregated by source, because I want to go see what a particular party thinks about the daily blogstorm, rather than viewing the latest rants. Or when things aren’t so hectic (when was that?), it’s nice to sit down with one person’s thoughts for the day. On the other hand, sometimes it would be nice just to get the latest stories handed to me. […]


  19. OK Dave, please at least point to the post where you went through this already, because you’ve made this point numerous times, but i must have missed the one where you elaborated.

    Oh, and today’s Rocketboom ROCKS! That was the funniest RB I have seen since I started watching it regularly late last year (I have yet to get through all the archives though).


  20. I was referring to the River of News v. NNW/FeedDemon method discussion in the first paragraph above if that was not clear…


  21. Posted by brennen on July 14, 2006 at 5:11 pm

    Regarding the need for more RSS reader competition, Ryan from 37signals has just posted an interesting screencast and IU assessment of the brand new Newshutch reader.

    Though Ryan doesn’t mention it directly, I think Newshutch offers an elegant combination of both the River of News and Email approaches. I’m not big on web-based feed readers in general, but there’s something very promising about this one.


  22. Earthlink denying signups from the Philippines is rather ironic given that they moved half their call center operations there a few years back (the half that didn’t go to India).


  23. Posted by brennen on July 14, 2006 at 5:40 pm

    For the record, I would wait until the wee hours of the morning to check out Newshutch. Their one server is slammed and they’re already looking for a colo. The blog has the story.


  24. Posted by Diego Barros on July 14, 2006 at 7:35 pm

    I don’t think Scoble was kissing-up to Arrington. He was just making the point, that in the RSS reader he uses, keeping stuff in folders means that there are times when he want to read one person’s blog and not bother with the rest. The way his RSS reader works gives him that where as river of news does not.


  25. I don’t think Scoble was kissing-up to Arrington

    For crying out loud — I was making a joke! πŸ™‚

    Come on, nothing is that serious.


  26. Posted by Diego Barros on July 14, 2006 at 9:18 pm

    Dave: Okay, okay! πŸ™‚ I didn’t get the joke, sorry. Got lost in human to byte translation. I guess such misunderstandings happen without a liveral sparying of smiley faces. You’re right, sometimes you’re taken too resiourly when you’re not intending to be. Cheers! πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚


  27. πŸ™‚


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