September 13, 2010
I’m trying out a new feed reader called Fever. So far, I like it. Even if I didn’t like it, at the very least Fever’s creator Shaun Inman deserves major credit for diving into a moribund marketplace and trying to create something new and interesting.
Fever is a collection of PHP files that you install on your own server, sold for $30/pop. There is no central hosting, so if you don’t have access to a server, you’re out of luck. At first glance this seems like a crazy business decision. On the other hand:
- running a hosted service is a PITA
- in 2010, anyone who is actively looking for a new feed reader is almost guaranteed to be a nerd who has their own server
More interesting than Fever’s basic architecture or business model is how Fever treats feeds and entries. There are three basic categories:
- Kindling — feeds that you want to read on a regular basis. Family, friends, important stuff.
- Sparks — feeds that you don’t really care about reading regularly. These feeds only really exist as fodder for the Hot list.
- The Hot list — a list of links that Fever has determined to be relevant based on the contents of your Kindling and Sparks.
For example, one of the top entries in my Hot list right now is “Do you skim?” In NetNewsWire, I would have seen this post anyway, since tor.com is one of my daily reads. However, Fever boosts this post to the top because the link is also referenced by SFSignal (a Spark) and a couple of science fiction author blogs (also Sparks). Another link in the Hot list is a PDF article in National Affairs by Robert Solow, “Science and Ideology in Economics.” I don’t subscribe to National Affairs at all, but that link appeared in a couple of my Sparks, so poof! there it is.
What I love about this design is that it mirrors how I actually want to think about feeds. There are my actual friends and colleagues who I want to pay attention to, plus a small number of pro blogs that are consistently interesting. And then there are feeds that are sort of interesting, but just not worth the cost of adding to the feed reader. But in Fever, you can just throw lower-priority feeds into Sparks and never have to think about them again. If anything interesting happens, Fever will bubble it up. In traditional feed readers, this kind of thing is a chore — I know I can only keep up with so many feeds, so every new feed is a costly decision. Fever solves this problem elegantly. It’s actually kind of liberating to race around the web, adding feeds again.
The other brilliant thing about Fever is that unread counts are not shown by default.
What are my issues with Fever?
- The only big one is, reading authenticated feeds does not seem to work, at least not with protected LiveJournals. This only affects a couple of my feeds, but it’s something I really need to figure out before I’ll be able to wean myself from NetNewsWire entirely.
- This might be pilot error, but as far as I can tell, links in the Hot list don’t seem to have the concept of “Read / Unread”. Instead, they have a “Blacklist” button that nukes the link from view. There’s something a little off about having only this metaphor for clearing up the Hot list.
- Building up Sparks is pretty fun, but you have to be careful to keep things balanced: if you add a bunch of SF writer blogs, you need to add a roughly equal number of econ blogs, and so on. Otherwise one group will start to dominate. (SF nerds vs. econ nerds: FIGHT!)
- So far, Twitter appears to be useless. I’ve added a few of the people I follow on Twitter to Sparks, and either these test feeds don’t include enough overlapping links to make a difference, or Fever is getting confused by Twitter’s link shorteners. Screw link shorteners and screw Twitter.
So next up, figuring out the auth problem. After that, pulling in my Facebook activity and turning it into a dedicated private feed for Fever to consume. Thanks to Facebook’s EVIL PRIVACY-DESTROYING BABY-KILLING Graph API, I think that project might be easy enough even for me.
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