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August 08, 2003

Hail the unscalable aggregator

Something Sam Ruby wrote today gives me an opportunity to attempt a related point I've been meaning to make. Sam wrote:

If you are an online user of a single page aggregator, then what generally best suits you is a a short lead in with a link to the rest of the story should you be intrigued enough to follow it.

For me it's just the opposite, actually. I like everything on one page: the less clicking I have to do, the better. The "everything on one page" style lets me quickly scan a post and decide whether to read it closely before deleting. Excepting mainstream media feeds, lead-ins usually don't give me enough information to decide, and I wind up having to click anyway.

The likely objection here is that one's aggregator page can get long. Hence we have the three-pane aggregators. These are supposed to help us manage large amounts of data by providing segregated views and a folder system. But in my hands, at least, this "scalability" encouraged bad habits. I wound up with thousands of undeleted messages in my various SharpReader folders. It was the worst aspects of email, all over again.

Try an aggregator that doesn't scale. Like this one or this one. It will force you to work through the posts, and help you do it quickly. Don't worry about stuff that you didn't have time to read. Just delete it. Remember, it's not email. The data will (probably) remain out there on the Web where you can get to it later if you really need to.

Posted by Andrew Grumet at August 8, 2003 12:10 PM | TrackBack | Cosmos


Personally, I like NetNewsWire's combined view, which is a hybyrid of the one-page and three-pane views. Screenshot here:


Note that you can click on the "Macintosh" folder in the hierarchy on the left to see posts from all blogs in that category. NetNewsWire is also smart enough to collapse already read items.

Posted by: Mihai Parparita at August 8, 2003 03:01 PM

Another option is a service such as Bloglines. It takes a bit of getting used to, especially if you're used to the 3-pane reader concept, but having the archives stored on the server where you can get back to them when needed is great.

Posted by: Chad Everett at August 8, 2003 03:26 PM

I couldn't agree more with your comments about aggregator apps recreating the worst aspects of email, but of course I agree, because I once helped build an email client (outlook) and just built a single-page-style web-based aggregator (www.mywireservice.com). I LOVE NetNewsWire, but I was wearing out the Cmd+K keys marking things read (and annoyed that my laptop and desktop wouldn't synch -- another issue). Seems to me these are headlines, so the "custom newspaper" is a much better metaphor than unread email items; and you read the full stories in a browser, so start there to begin with.

That's not to say you can't build some decent features in a web-based app (like simple sections). From the end-user perspective, whether the RSS format supports more or less description is really moot. The aggregator should just let the user decide whether it should be truncated -- thanks for the idea ;-) .

Curious to hear what you think though...

Posted by: Gay Gilmore at August 8, 2003 03:27 PM

Sounds like a solution for another problem. Personally, I like the three-pane design (especially the newer variant that Outlook 2003 comes with). But the problem seems to be *managing posts*, not something inherently wrong with the three-pane system.

One solution to this: if you don't mark a post as "Preserve" (something that should be as simple as clicking on the post in the reader), it should be automatically expired by the aggregator after a certain number of days or as memory/space requirements dictate. This would better match the "newsgroup" philosophy than "email," a better match IMHO.

BTW, I feel your pain... I also have reams of old posts in SharpReader for this very reason.

Posted by: Richard Tallent at August 8, 2003 03:39 PM

I couldn't agree more. When I was first designing Awasu, I copped some grief from people for providing a single page summary of the feed instead of the traditional one-item-at-a-time view because "that's how RSS readers are supposed to work." But one of our users said that he really liked Awasu because "it didn't assume that he wanted to read everything" and that's exactly right.

I usually only read a very small percentage of what arrives and as you do, scan each page very quickly looking for interesting stuff. You can generate a single page view of *everything*, or just unread/new stuff but given that I currently have 199 channels in my list, that page would be kinda big :-)

Posted by: Taka at August 8, 2003 07:57 PM

You want rawdog:

Posted by: moe at August 8, 2003 08:02 PM
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