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New Bloglines Beta

Bloglines released a new “skin” on their Bloglines Beta this week.  Having been tied to the speed, look, and feel of the live bloglines.com, I decided to give it another shot.  Let me tell you, this one is head and shoulders better than the previous version.  Here are a few notes.

New Bloglines, Pretty Good!

First of all, the default skin is really nice.  Unlike the last one, this one is a little more “Plastik” and a little less glass.  I may be making this up – but since the entire experience is smoother, it feels lighter and more responsive.  The slow “clicking” of posts is gone.  Whereas before, if you scrolled down in Opera and other browsers it would slowly chunk down the page, it now scrolls smoothly and easily, without effort.

The fonts and basic layout are both familiar and attractive, and the javascript is very pleasant in its fading and other dynamic effects.

This is the first of the Bloglines betas that I could use everyday and the first I prefer to the live site.  Way to go, Bloglines team.

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From Bloglines to Google, and Back

I ditched Bloglines the other day for Google Reader. I’m not a huge fan of Bloglines’ new beta interface, most because I find it clunkier than the current interface. Sure, the current one feels a little dated, but it works. Plus, the iPhone interface is nice.

Google has a lot going for it. For one, it seems everyone who uses it raves about it. Also, the iPhone interface is integrated with all the other Google services I use, Picasa Web, Gmail, etc.

This all came about because I wanted to use a desktop RSS reader at home and sync it with my web interface for work and iPhone, but that doesn’t exist unless I use Newsgator. Bloglines and Google both appear to have a sync API, but neither Vienna nor NetNewsWire (nor any other client I could find) actually syncs back to them.

But it appears Vienna is working on one for Google’s reader, and with the Bloglines beta looming, it seemed like a good enough time to make the jump. So I did.

Google’s Reader is awfully attractive, but it’s really keyboard driven. Not only that, but there’s no way to have it mark all items as read as you click a feed. You must begin the tedious task of scrolling through every single item, or hitting “j”, “j”, “j”. And YouTube embeds don’t go away – at least in Opera 9.22 – they just wait at the top of the reading pane, obstructing text, until I click a new feed.

Did I mention that Google Reader is slow slow slow? I can click a link and watch it “Loading…” for several seconds. Opera is a second class citizen in Google-land, which is why all new Gmail features don’t work (v2, label colors, AIM) and Picasa support is flaky, but I think Reader fits in that boat too. It’s painful.

So, after 4 full days, I bailed. I’m back to Bloglines classic. I’d love to tweak the stylesheet a little, but it works and it’s so much faster. I’m pretty pleased with Bloglines, especially now that I’ve had a chance to experience something else.

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Go, Bloglines, Go!

The other day, I griped about the new Bloglines beta. To my surprise and enjoyment, one of the Bloglines developers left a comment, and we exchanged a few short emails. Today, Bloglines releases beta 1.0.2, and guess what? My issues were specifically addressed! Let’s examine:

Bloglines Beta

So what do we see? The font that made it impossible to distinguish bold from normal weight text? Gone. Now we have a beautiful font that makes it very clear which are read and which aren’t. How about the visual indicator of which item you are hovering over? It’s there!

My biggest gripe was that items were only marked read on hover and by a keystroke, just like Google Reader. But what do I see in the teaser for 1.0.3?

Bloglines Beta

Hey-o! Score one for the Bloglines team! Way to utilize reader feedback! Nice work.

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Bloglines Beta Ain’t Doin’ It For Me

Bloglines has been pushing their new beta site, beta.bloglines.com, and are already reporting many satisfied users. The new site is very attractive and much more modern looking, but do not count me among the satisfied.

The new beta, as far as I’m concerned, is just a second rate Google Reader. In fact, everything about how Bloglines works has been changed to emulate Google Reader.

Bloglines
My primary gripe is this: in the normal Bloglines, you click on a feed and the items are marked read. In the new version, you must scroll past each item and/or click on each item. If I click on a feed with one or two short items, then I click a new feed, those items are not marked “read” and stay in my lefthand sidebar. I do not care to address each item individually, which is what the new system requires.

Also, even if I do scroll over each item, more often than not, the last item is not “marked read” and remains for me to address later.

There are a host of other single key shortcuts, and I do find these useful, but make no mistake about it, these single key shortcuts are “borrowed” directly from Google Reader again.

BloglinesMost of my gripes with beta 1.0 were not addressed in today’s update. It was hard to click on a feed properly – the linked area was a bit flaky. Each element in the feed bar had a display of “block,” which I think lead the developers to think it would be easer to locate the right feed quickly with your mouse. However, the second part of my complaint was that without underlines in the feedbar on mouseover, there was no way to tell, except via the hand cursor, that you’re on the right link. The UI ought to indicate that you are on an active link via an underline. Since it does not, and still does not, you’re still floating above a huge link sea.

This is only compounded by the fact that the current version uses a simple Arial font, whereas the new uses what I suppose Bloglines thought was a more “Web 2.0” font, which I think I’m properly id’ing as Trebuchet.

BloglinesAs a result, it’s harder to figure out what means what in the feedbar. Notice that in the example, on the current site, the bolder headlines mean unread items exist. There is a clear number right beside the feed telling you how many items are pending. But in the new Bloglines beta, the bolding is much less noticeable due to the font change and the number of unread items is right justified, which means you can’t easily tell how many are pending when you have a large number of feeds with unread items.

Overall, it’s a very nice start – it’s attractive, it’s got nice drag-n-drog javascript everywhere, it loads in a decent amount of time, and the new customizeable start screen is very cool. But if this is what rolled out as final, I’d probably just move to Google Reader, which is practically the same thing anyway. This is just too much like it and pretty much ditches all the concepts that I *liked* about Bloglines that made it different.

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Back to Google Reader

I’ve chronicled my adventures with Bloglines before, several times, in fact.  I was not happy when their new “beta” was released, but after several revisions, it proved to be a worth successor.  Some time ago, I switched over full time to the beta version and never looked back.  It’s better looking, smoother, with a much more modern feel to it.  However, from time to time, it’s done weird things.  

Most recently, I realized that it simply stopped updating certain feeds.  One, in particular, was TUAW.  I later found that TUAW had moved their feed to Google, and were 301 redirecting requests to their RSS URL, http://tuaw.com/rss.xml.  Bloglines is supposed to follow 301s, but in this case, it just stopped updating the feed.  Other feeds has items that were clearly missing.  All of this came to a head yesterday when I was having regular troubles just getting into Bloglines at all. 

The lack of any sort of Sync API and the lack of tools being developed around Bloglines forced me to make a decision: am I going to stick to Bloglines, which has worked well for me for a long time now, or jump ship? 

Suffice it to say, I’m back on Google Reader.  The things that really annoyed me are mostly fixed: the site is much faster and smoother than before.  My only gripe is that when I click on a feed, the items must be scrolled past in order to be marked read.  I preferred the Bloglines “classic” way, which was clicking on a feed immediately marked all items as “read.”  

Anyway, we’ll see how things go with Google Reader.  You can be certain I’ll report back on the situation.

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Top 8 iPhone Sites

After several months with the iPhone, I feel I’m ready to share the “best sites optimized for the iPhone.”

1. Facebook
The Facebook iPhone site was not only online very early, but it’s extremely slick, performs pretty quickly, retains “back” button function, and feels native.

2. Picasa Web Albums
Google’s Picasa Web Albums has certainly been a bittersweet experience for me, but their iPhone interface is sweet. This slot really should go to Google’s entire “M” suite, which includes Search, Gmail, Reader, Calendar, Docs, and more.

3. Bloglines
Bloglines’ new iPhone interface is very cool, and although it only loads 5 stories at a time, it works extremely well. I’ve used it to catch up on literally hundreds of items without a problem, and I’ve been very happy with its performance.

4. Food Network
I bet you didn’t even know these guys had an iphone interface. The Food Network not only built this site with the iPhone navigation feel, but they successfully implanted their own style onto it. What makes it so cool? How about an entire video library in iPhone-compatible mp4 format?

5. Amazon.com
Ah, Amazon. Although you have certainly been a jerk at times, I still love you. See, you were the best and smartest website online in 1998, and then you kinda sucked through a few of your redesigns. But now, with S3 and your new site, you’re cool again. And now that you sniff my UA string and give my iPhone an optimized experience, you’ve really made me happy.

6. eBay
eBay. I rarely use you anymore, because all I ever seem to get are emails from people wanting me to accept an exorbitant amount of money over the Buy-It-Now price to end my auction early and ship my items to Nigeria or Turkey. But you do provide a valuable service, and now that I can use a slick iPhone friendly interface to browse you, I might actually buy something again sometime.

7. Digg.com
Digg for iPhone. Not much more to say other than the fact that Digg minus prototype and scriptaculous minus Flash video site integration equals a much faster, much easier to read Digg.

8. SmugMug
Another photo sharing site, but this time, a more community oriented one. SmugMug did a bang up job with their iPhone site, and it’s gorgeous, although a little slower than other photo sites.

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A Violation of the Spirit of Free Software

For a long time, I really liked this unattractive, but incredibly useful website called macfreeware.com. I am not linking to the front page because shortly ago, it was sold and the result is really bumming me out.

The new owners decided to make some changes to the site that I personally think are a slap in the face of Mac freeware developers. See, the first thing they did was remove the developers’ credit in the RSS feed. Then, they took the developers’ info out of the individual pages, and finally, in the final insult, they cloaked the download links so that all of the downloads direct through a form hosted locally, so even if you were crafty, you couldn’t find the actual software on the internet without your favorite search engine.

I wrote the guys over at MacFreeWare.com – via their generic contact form, since there is no other method of communication available – and told them about this egregious violation of developers, and they temporarily complied, re-adding the developer info to both the RSS feed and the software pages. And yet, today in my Bloglines feed, and once again, the RSS feeds do not include developer info at all – not even a link to the application’s webpage – and the majority of the featured apps don’t include links on their individual pages. Some examples:

http://www.freemacware.com/inquisitor
http://www.freemacware.com/disk-inventory-x
http://www.freemacware.com/vacuummail

Booooo!
Click the thumbnail for a larger version

I didn’t search these out – they were the first three links I clicked on the homepage.

So what we have is an ad-supported website aimed at cataloging Mac freeware that doesn’t even feature, or allow you to research, the very developers writing that freeware. They are making money of free apps, without any credit, any outlinking, or any way to research the software beyond their two sentence write-ups. Am I wrong or is this a complete violation of the spirit of free software?

Update: Okay, so at least some of the items in the RSS feed have a link to a developer website and most of the newer featured app pages have a link to the developer website listed. But most still don’t, which is pretty bad.

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Bye-Bye Slashdot, Hello IG

Today is a fairly big day, well, at least for my internet habits. When I launch a browser and open up my tabs, they look like this:

Gmail|Slashdot|OSNews|My Yahoo!|Work|Bloglines|Digg

I’ve added to the tabs in the last year or two: I added the work tab (email when at home, our helpdesk at work), then added Bloglines when I got into RSS aggreggation. Then Digg is new as of the middle of last year or so.

But I realized recently that I don’t really read Slashdot much anymore. For one, their news is way too slow, especially compared to Digg. The same COULD be said for OSNews, although we’re typically MUCH faster (faster even than Digg can promote to the front page for huge news), we feature many more originals, and the comments are readable, whereas the Slashdot arrogance and the volume of comments has gotten to be too much for me. What has been my #2 tab since about 2002 (I started reading Slashdot sometime in 2000) is now used the least of all. So, with the introduction of tab’s on Google’s customizable homepage, I pimped out my Google and made it tab #2. I’ve got my main tab, my Tech tab, my Sports tab, and my Entertainment tab rockin’. It’s pretty cool. So, from now on, I’ll get my Slashdot fill from google.com/ig.

I wonder if Slashdot is losing people, or if I’m just a single person moving on.

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