Archive: Apr 2005
Newsburst is a fantastic free web-based RSS reader from C|Net.It kind of showed up on my radar randomly a few days ago. I had never heard of it until I saw a banner ad on another C|Net site. I’m glad I did, because this is a REALLY nice piece of highly usable web software. One of my favorite features is the built-in search engine of RSS feeds (which I’m guessing searches through all feeds subscribed to by others – what a cheap and easy way to build a database!). Not only does it save you the hassle of hunting down little orange RSS buttons, it also contains a lot of “bootleg” RSS feeds, such as this one for Jakob Nielsen’s UseIt.com, that you wouldn’t even know about no matter how hard you searched the source site. Newsburst makes excellent use of DHTML to avoid unnecessary page refreshes. Some drag & drop direct manipulation tools are all it would take to make this system nearly perfect.One interesting thing I noticed while using Newsburst is that it makes no effort to mark items as “read”. I’m finding that I actually like this. Maybe I’m just a crazy person, but I’ve found that in my email , and in RSS readers that act like email, I’m obsessive about “unbolding” items, meaning that I cannot rest until there are no items listed in bold, as unread. I guess it’s a fear of “missing something” that prevents me from ignoring these items. I’ve been conditioned by computer messaging systems to think everything that comes into the system must be acted upon as soon as it’s brought to my attention. This has only gotten worse in the past few years, with the advent of proliferating “notifiers” (Yes, Groove is a culprit here).In reality, email rarely needs to be acted upon immediately. Want to reduce workplace stress and increase productivity? Set your mail reader to only retrieve mail once every half hour. Can you even do this, or do you find yourself manually htting “Send/Receive” anyway?But, as much as incoming mail is rarely as urgent as we treat it to be, news is even less so. Unless your job specifically requires you to act upon relevant news immediately (stock traders, etc.), news is meant to be browsed, when you have time to do so, and at your leisure. When you peruse a magazine stand, do you obsessively make sure you read every article in every magazine? Unless you have some sort of obsessive compulsive disorder, probably not. So, why should RSS readers constantly remind you – “Hey, you didn’t read this!”, “Hey, you missed a whole 5 articles over here!”.By not emphasizing what I’ve not read, I don’t feel compelled to read everything. It’s actually amazing how much more enjoyable browsing things can be when the system doesn’t treat the act of doing so as a checklist to be completed.P.S. In case you’re wondering why such an unusually long post, I’m making a conscious effort to steer the purpose of this weblog more toward in-depth analysis of software design issues I’m interested in, most notably: usability, social software, and marketing-oriented design. I think about this stuff constantly, but it’s not doing the world much good if it never leaves my head. I’ve been known to have a very short attention span sometimes, so you’ll have to excuse occasional “stream-of-consciousness”, gramattically imperfect writing. Sometimes I just have to get the words out as quickly as possible before my brain moves onto something new.