Smart work regarding user experience
I’ve been intermittently testing some new feed reading resources, hence I’ve been spending a little more time on Google Reader and a lot more time on Bloglines Beta (being as Bloglines has been my default reader for years). NewsGator, which I’ve tinkered with intermittently over the last few years, has renewed my interest too. Each has its quirks, but for now I think NewsGator has me wrapped up. The reason…seamless, ubiquitous access.
[singlepic id=399 w=240 h=183 float=left]I’ve always been a fan of speed, and desktop readers win in that category. Having tested NetNewsWire long ago, and Vienna since, I’ve found desktop suits me for real-time use. I can keep the application launched and hidden, and check the toolbar every now and again for new posts. However, should a person find themselves away from the desk – say sitting in a conference room at someone else’s office with an offering of a desktop in the corner with which to say check email, that favorite desktop feed reader becomes useless since it’s no longer available. You become a slave to whatever web-based reader you happen to keep maintained as a backup. Not so with the NewsGator offering – you subscriptions are your subscriptions, wherever you are. I’m using NewsGator Online to funnel through the large inbox first thing in the morning, and then I use the application to check news during the day – everything marked read is sync-ed between the two. On my latest test runs with NetNewsWire, I also discovered a great feature – Growl notifications. Every time the application polls for new postings, I get a little pop-up window telling me so – it’s not intrusive – and I don’t have “to act” to know there’s news.
[singlepic id=449 w=100 h=75 float=left]Let’s go a step further – a run to the post office and meet an hour long line. I’m one that can’t even talk on the phone without pacing back and forth – I’ve got to have multiple things to do, always. So I get an itch to catch up on some midday reading. I could steer the Curve to the mobile versions of Bloglines or G-Reader, but they are fairly slow and not particularly user friendly from an interface standpoint. And I’ve found (at least with Bloglines) that messages I’ve read remain in the “inbox” when I return to the desk. None of this is a problem with Newsgator Go!. On my Blackberry, said mobile version is an application – it’s simple to install (they even identify your device and operating system for you ahead of time), and almost as easy to use as the desktop unit. When I read, it’s read – on the desktop app and online.
I believe this seamless integration between desktop app, web interface, and mobile access is what dummies are missing. Everyone in my age bracket I try to explain RSS (and readers) to first looks at me funny, and then exclaims that they either can’t install applications at work, or if they have to open a browser anyway so why shouldn’t they just go to the site of interest. At least I know where to point them now.
My favorite features
- Sync-ing – Did I say you could sync your feeds between the web-based, desktop, and mobile editions? Yea, I did, and that’s clearly my favorite feature of these products.
- Blackberry access – After wondering where the RSS for dummies explanation was hidden, and laying particular emphasis on the lack of tools for the Blackberry, I got it. I’ll admit I played with NewsGator Go! when it was still in the beta-ish stages (and even found a bug with the mobile clipping function), but I thought when the final release came the company would be charging for it. That didn’t happen, and the mobile app is now good enough that I frankly wouldn’t even mind seeing an ad now and then.
- Respecting the privacy – NewsGator went free with their apps some months ago, foregoing direct sales revenue for accumulation of attention data. But you can “privatize” that attention data nonetheless. I know…I should be sharing (and therefore I should also being using Google Reader). Sorry, but I don’t see the point when everyone else is already sharing what they read and doing it a heck of a lot faster than I anyway. Let’s face it – sharing what’s coming through your reader is probably great for journalists and/or professional bloggers, but I’m neither (and 99.9% of the internet using population isn’t either).
I don’t think the NewsGator “suite” should rest on its laurels. I’d like to see:
- The online reader allow “mark as read” upon scrolling through the items (like Google Reader and Bloglines Beta) instead of just marked when accessed (like Bloglines classic);
- The mobile reader allow viewing headlines by folder, versus just feed source by feed source. Everyone using these types of apps likely has an unlimited mobile data plan (so let ‘er rip);
- NewNewsWire should allow me to set my own refresh time, instead of going with the minimum 30 minutes.
Hardly outrageous demands – in fact they’re fairly picky. Some of feature ideas may seem a bit complex to the RSS newbie, and I’ll admit even I spent a fair share of time tweaking the NewsGator suite as best I could. But to the new feed user I’ll say “don’t worry.” The stuff is plug and play – just create a free account, add a few feeds (the company will suggest some for you if you don’t already have some in mind), download the apps (if you like speed), and just read. I actually found some pretty good news selections on the web-based version too – I’ll have to do a bit more exploring as time permits. For those just catching a clue, simply look for little icons like this ( ) wherever you may surf, copy the URL of the page you are on from your browser’s address bar, and paste into you reader after clicking the caption that says “add new feed.” Good feed readers (like the ones I am talking about here) should take care of the rest.
Still don’t have a clue what RSS is and how it can keep you better informed while actually saving you boatloads of time? An RSS dummy, so to speak? Then click here and you’ll find the best thing since sliced bread for the uninformed, a simple Q&A.
Side note: NetNewsWire is a Mac OS X application. If you are a Windows user, the desktop apps you’d be going after are FeedDemon and/or NewsGator Inbox (for Outlook). I haven’t tested those, but I’d suspect they work much the same. And I am curious to know too.