Archive for the ‘Product Design’ Category

RSS Winner: Looks Like It’s Feedly

Friday, June 28th, 2013

I’ve been largely in denial about the pending implosion of Google Reader (aka how I read news several times a day instead of doing actual work). Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you undoubtedly know that on July 1st, Google Reader sails off into the dark night and meets its less useful brethren (I’m looking at you Google Wave) in the Google Graveyard.

I don’t love Google Reader, I need Google Reader. Like a hapless junky addicted to heroin, I obsessively turn to Google Reader many times a day. To those of you that stopped using Google Reader to use Twitter as your sole news source, you’re welcome. I’m one of the people that distill the web for you on Twitter. That shit doesn’t tweet itself.

So continuing the junky metaphor, my dealer is “retiring” and I’ve been reeling around looking for someone to deliver my RSS fix. Here are the features I need in an RSS reader:

Fast
Google Reader is the fastest RSS reader out there whether you are using a big boy browser or on a mobile device (including native applications). Part of this is website superhumanly optimized javascript and part of this is design (I’ll talk about this later). It needs to be fast because RSS is filling the spaces in my day and I have no time for inefficiency while goofing off.

Syncing
My primary use case for syncing is between desktop and my iPhone. Google Reader doesn’t need to sync in this case because the website doesn’t need to sync with itself.

iPad is my secondary use case and this is one area where Google Reader is pretty terrible. You have to decide between a touch optimized version (READ:small device) that just looks stupid on the iPad or a non-touch optimized version that is basically broken on the iPad.

River of News
If the feed contains a full article, it should show the whole article, rather than just the headline. Google Reader breaks this on mobile, but my swiping thumb probably thanks them for this. When I’m consuming news on a desktop app, the space bar and j/k buttons are my best friends as they enable me to whip through tons of articles very, very quickly.

The iPad gets a pass here and this is one place I use a native application, Reeder (which is also dead on July 1st, but theoretically will be resurrected “soon” in July)

Third Party Integration
There are many third party tools integrated into Google Reader, but honestly, they don’t matter as much as “Read It Later” services like Instapaper. Sometimes I don’t have enough time to read your Zapruder-like dissection of How Steve Jobs Kicked Amazon in the Nuts, but I know I want to save it in a place where I can read it later.

Other Stuff
Here’s my my junk drawer of nice to have features for a reader:

  • Folder Support (or tags) where you can read the entire contents of the folder in a “river of news” view.
  • Easy importing from Google Reader or the XML file from Google Takeout
  • Search feed contents (especially stuff I’ve already read)

Which brings us to Feedly.

Feedly Wins
Feedly has most of the above features and they are implemented in a “I don’t have to thinkright. When it started, Feedly was basically a pretty version of Google Reader – I mean, it looked nice, but wasn’t substantially better than Google Reader in any other way than looks. Feedly though, has been hard at work cloning features of Google Reader (thank you, oh, thank you for the river of news) and has won my heart.

Feedly’s mobile app offers a river of news view (after a little digging in the preferences), it can more or less operate with the speed and efficiency that Google Reader on the web does, it syncs with the web site and integrates beautifully with Instapaper.

Other Readers To Watch
For the iPhone, I really like the Digg Reader. They’ve most successfully cloned Google, but the desktop site hasn’t opened to me yet, so I can’t really make a determination there. Theoretically, they’ll also have the best integration into Instapaper as it’s now part of the BetaWorks Empire.

AOL Reader looks great on the desktop and has a super speedy mobile site, but lacks sharing and “read it later” capabilities on mobile. And I hate to say it, but I probably have a prejudice against AOL that stems from AOL being the butt of every joke during the dot com era.

It’s also worth mentioning that I haven’t tried any of the paid services (Feedbin, FeedWrangler, Fever) and while I kinda feel bad (good software & services costs money, people), I’m also really cheap and don’t mind being someone’s product.

I’ll keep watching those other services, but for now, I’m sticking with Feedly.

Other stories about Google Reader replacements:

Tweetdeck delivers (what I want in a Twitter app)

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

In my last post, I laid out what I wanted in a Twitter application with Groups and Mobile being high on the list. I wanted to create groups once and to be able to access those groups on my iPhone and desktop. I thought that the easiest way to accomplish this was to create a web app that had a mobile interface.

Another Way

There was another way to create my desired product and that was to have a fully featured desktop app and a fully featured iPhone app and sync your Groups between the two. Syncing, however, is less than ideal.  I have long history of using Desktop and Mobile apps that sync together and generally, syncing was done poorly (data loss or corruption) or at best, slowly.

Enter: Tweetdeck for the iPhone

Tweetdeck for iPhone logo.jpg

Tweetdeck for the iPhone and its desktop equivalent have mostly answered my call for the perfect Twitter application.

It doesn’t change that I don’t particularly like Adobe AIR due to its lack of native OS interface conventions, but Tweetdeck answers most of the feature requests that I outlined previously and works well enough. It even includes some of my “nice to haves”

UI Tour

Tweetdeck for iPhone - All Friends Tweetdeck for iPhone - Groups and Notifications

Reading Tweets, both in “All Friends” and “Groups” as well as a view of the most recent update.  Much like Tweetie, you can then dig into your friend’s profiles and recent Tweets by clicking on their avatar.

Tweetdeck for iPhone - Add New ColumnGroups and Columns

Groups functionality was one of my primary wants in an iPhone app. In many ways, having groups on the go is even more important than at my desktop. Being able to quickly see the folks that matter to you is something that is sorely lacking in Twitter and I look to 3rd parties to make up for this deficiency.

To ease the burden of creating groups in a limited interface, Tweedeck can sync with your desktop client.  Syncing from the Tweetdeck server makes adding Groups from the desktop a snap, although you will have to create an account on Tweetdeck’s Web site.

A few issues

Tweetdeck for iPhone - TMI

The initial view into Tweetdeck shows us a list of “All Friends” in a slightly shrunken view.  I like this view as it immediately gave me a clue that swiping to the right would give me a different view.

What I don’t like about this view is that like the desktop app, Tweetdeck on the iPhone tells users things that they don’t really need to know about. In this case, the number of API calls are displayed,  which is interesting, but not necessarily that useful. There is any number of better ways to do this (limit API calls to avoid this issue altogether or make limiting API calls a preference).  Ask the average Twitter user (let’s say… @Oprah) what an API call is and I’d bet the best you’d get is a blank stare.

That and a few of the other “extra” buttons (left and right arrows, for example) add to the already busy interface.   The worst thing about this is that otherwise, Tweetdeck is almost as minimal an interface as Twitter can have and retain all the extra functionality that Tweetdeck offers.

Tweetdeck - Load More Friends.jpg

Adding Groups

Groups functionality is great to have on the iPhone app, but I had imagined that adding people to groups on the iPhone would be a little tedious. In many ways, Tweetdeck did an admirable job at adding this functionality, but they only pull in your 100 most recently added Friends(I’ve got over 500). Tweetdeck then displays your Friends list alphabetically.

The trouble comes in when you click “load more friends”, Tweetdeck grabs the next 100 people and “fills in the blanks” alphabetically. If I had realized that this is what was happening from the beginning, I’d have clicked “load more friends” 5 times to see the full list, rather than sifting through the list twice to find the folks I wanted to add.

Finally, the app has been a little “crashy,” let’s just say. I’m running the iPhone 3.0 software, so perhaps there is a little blame to spread around.

Tweetdeck for the iPhone – Great 1.0 Product

I’m hesitant to even qualify my opinion of Tweetdeck for the iPhone with a “1.0 product” label, but it’s mostly there.  To some degree, the UI issues that I’ve outlined feel a little niggly given how good this app is otherwise.  Huge thanks to the folks at Tweetdeck for making such a useful, free (for, I suspect, a limted time) application.

You can download the Tweetdeck iPhone app from the iPhone App store and the desktop app for Mac and Windows directly from Tweetdeck.com.

I’ve also posted a Tweetdeck UI gallery on Flickr.

What I want in a Twitter application

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

After yesterday’s PeopleBrowsr announcement, I started looking around for an “ideal” Twitter client. In terms of features, here’s what I came up with (beyond the baseline Twitter features). They are ordered by importance.

Groups

Ok, here’s my dirty little secret about Twitter, I don’t read everyone that I follow all the time. – gasp –. I know, it’s terrible. But here’s the thing, I like everyone I follow and I do read their Tweets some of the time. I don’t want to unfollow them because they are having a bad week and and I just can’t read their feed. Or they represent a company/product I like, but they are getting a little too chatty.

While I agree with Tweetie developer, Loren Brichter, that groups in Twitter would be best handled on the server side, but until Twitter adds this as a feature, any third party app that I use should have grouping.

So far, no iPhone client software has groups (as far as I know), but even if there were, I’m not sure I would use it. Currently, managing groups in a desktop app is an onerous task. Managing groups on the iPhone would be Herculean.

Desktop App?

I love desktop apps. I’m a Mac user and there are all sorts of common conventions that, if you are a good developer (read: Cocoa), I get to use across all applications. From big things (like Emacs key bindings, preferences in the same place, etc) to little things (pressing the up arrow to go to the beginning of a field), there are lots of little niggly conventions that are embedded in my hands, making me faster and more efficient.

Many Twitter clients are written for Adobe Air (are there other Air apps?) and from a development standpoint, Air is great. You can write an app that can access the web, is cross platform, visually appealing and sits outside the browser (browsers can crash when you have 27 windows open like I frequently do). Additionally, you might be able to add functionality that would be hard to add with just HTML, CSS and Javascript.

What sucks about Air is that you get none of the OS conventions that I mentioned above. This might not be a problem if you are new to computers or not terribly advanced, but for power users, it sucks. I imagine that this is something that Adobe can fix, but I’m not holding my breath. Adobe fell off the OS native app convention bus a long time ago.

Web app with mobile version

Now, you could go off and create a killer desktop app for the Mac, but you’ve got two problems there. First, there are more potential Windows customers, so you’re not addressing the whole potential market and second, you’re not solving my mobile problem.

Like Google Reader replacing NetNewsWire for me, having an app that works on the web (mobile and desktop) keeps my world in sync, without syncing anything. Before Google Reader, I thought that web apps were clunky compared to desktop apps (and most web based RSS readers were clunky compared to NetNewsWire), but using two full fledged computers (my Mac and my iPhone) syncing with the web just wasn’t cutting it.

If the app is web based, has a mobile version and has groups, congratulations, you’ve just solved my biggest problem with keeping up on Twitter. I get many of my desktop “conventions” and everything stays in sync, because it doesn’t need to sync.

Note: I’d probably relent on this point if Nambu and Tweetie Mac clients would have a baby (Tweetbu? Nambie?). I tend to read more Tweets at my desk and write more Tweets on the go.

Multiple accounts

I have a personal and business Twitter account. I conceivably could have more, but managing multiple accounts on the web isn’t fun. I’ve limited myself to two, mainly because I use two browsers and I don’t really want to use more.

In theory, if I were married to a Twitter client, I might be able to do without groups and sign up for yet another Twitter account that I exclusively read from, but like many email clients, app designers would need to account for this by making a primary “response” account to go along with my “read” accounts. But so far, this hasn’t happened

Nice to haves

Beyond that, I’m easy. Obviously, I need to be able to see DMs, @replies and non-“@” mentions of my usernames.

Here is my list of “nice to haves.” Get the above features nailed down before looking at this list.

  • URL shorteners/expanders
  • Inline photo/video integration
  • Location links into a web map
  • Saved searches/filters
  • Avatars are nice
  • Preferences in an obvious spot (or even better)
  • An interface so simple I don’t need to find the preferences
  • UI that does not make me want to stab eyes out

Unnecessary features

  • Stocktwits
  • 12seconds
  • Twitscoop
  • All these buttons:

PeopleBrowsr_buttons_2.jpgTweetDeck.jpgPeopleBrowsr-3.jpg

Until then

I use Nambu on my Mac, Tweetie on my iPhone, TweetDeck if I have to use Windows, PowerTwitter in Firefox, (but I usually use Safari). I want to like PeopleBrowsr, but I can’t get past my last “nice to have.”

What about you?

Is it just me? I’m curious to hear what features other people need in their Twitter app. Am I too simple? Do I ask too much?

Missing Kathy Sierra

Monday, February 18th, 2008

As someone who designs products for a living, Kathy Sierra has been really instrumental in my continuing education of product design. Kathy has written a number of training books for O’Reilly and used to run a product design blog called “Creating Passionate Users

Helping users “kick ass” has been my adopted mantra and I have Kathy to thank for that.

About a year ago, Kathy stopped blogging. I won’t talk about it here, but you can read about it on her site.

I really miss Kathy’s help in creating kick ass web sites so I was pretty happy to see this interview.

Here is a video interview from the recent Tools of Change conference. While the focus of the conference is publishing, this video serves as a great overview of Kathy’s studies and writings.