Since I took the time to dive into Unread and really consider the app, and the app category, I came up with a few things that I think are generally missing for some, if not all, RSS apps.
Jared Sinclair, in my Unread review, talked about how most RSS apps seem to be made for what he called ‘triage’ — meaning just getting through the slog of items, but I think all RSS apps should have a triage mode. I should be able to leave my RSS feeds for a week and come back to thousands of items, and get through them all in 30 minutes.
How? I’d propose that an ideal RSS client can perform some of the magic the same as Fever’s hot list does, by telling you what was popular while you were gone. So the app mode would work something like this:
- Enable popularity rankings. Let’s say that is on a simple five point scale, you then tell the app you want to see only articles 3 points or up — and to mark everything else as read.
- Now you have a significantly trimmed the list, but you still have to look through all the items. From there I would hope the app can craft a conversation view of posts centering around the same article. That way you can see the main, say, New York Times article, and a listing of the blogs/articles that commented on, and linked to, that main article. This way I can judge if it really was that important based on who is commenting on it.
- You should then quickly be able to toss articles to your read later service of choice.
The overarching goal being to use social networks, and the RSS networks in your reader, to tell you what was popular — and to then take that one step further by only showing you the popular post, and effectively burying the commentary posts about that popular post.
Two Reading Modes
For times when you are not triaging you should be able to shift the app between a casual reading mode — something like what Unread is — to a more in-depth reading app. In other words allow me to toggle between something that works like Unread, and something that works more like a (good) digital magazine.
The in-depth mode should show all the full content for the articles along with images and videos, ready to read as individual pages, so instead of looking at a list of articles you just get articles presented as pages that you flip through as you read them.
It’s like your own curated magazine. Meant to be read from cover to cover.
Auto Read Later
I’d like to be able to mark certain feeds as auto-read-later feeds. I personally know that I like to read everything that Shawn Blanc publishes to his site, so I’d like to flag that feed as one that I never need to see because everything from it just is sent directly to Safari’s reading list.
This would also weight that feed heavier in my above popularity rating scheme.
As I talked about in the triage section, I think RSS apps should give you indication if you are about to ignore a post that is generating any kind of a ‘buzz’. This could be aggregated from within your RSS feeds, to Twitter/Facebook and other sites.
Sometimes I gloss over posts that a lot of other people are talking about just because it has a shitty title — such a feature would aim to make me give that post a second thought. Kind of like a: “woah, woah, that’s an article from John Gruber, not a link.”
Allow me to post a linked-list style blog post from within the app. Quote, author, snarky comment, title, posted.
I also mentioned this in my Unread review, but I think RSS apps should show you the reading time of each article right in the list view. And further I think you should be able to hide items over/under X reading time so that you can see all items that can be quickly read, and then check out the longer posts at another time when you want.
To me that would be a killer feature for allowing me to check my RSS feeds in different ways, at different times and places, throughout the day.
Handling Linked List Posts
Last, but not least, RSS feeds should be smart about linked list style posts. If I send that to read later, I don’t always want to send the linked-to article to my read later service. Most of the time I want to send the RSS article — the commentary article — to my read later service.
In fact, the ideal would be a setting to simultaneously send both the source and commentary articles to my read later service of choice. That way I can read the article and see the opinion of someone I care about.
RSS readers are mostly differentiated by design at this point, which is good for casual users, but even the powerful Mr. Reader isn’t enough if you are a major RSS user (like me). This list is just the tip of the iceberg for creating an RSS reader that has a feature set which would take RSS from “email style inbox” to a tool for finding great things to read, and actually reading them.