m.newsgator.com vs netnewswire for iPhone

I have been a happy NetNewsWire user for years now. As I posted in the past, I understand a lot of users have moved to Google Reader, but I still like my NetNewsWire client for the Mac and especially the ability to read articles offline.

NetNewsWire was acquired and integrated with Newsgator a few years ago and now it’s all free (this is free publicity for the newsgator guys!). This means that I can read my news on both web and client interfaces and get everything synchronized. I’ve started using the mobile version more or less a year ago and while I still don’t understand why they don’t use their .mobi extension, I think they have made a good effort. They started with an iPhone version only and quickly had to make it at least XHTML Basic so that other mobile users could access it (the full web version, for example, is too AJAXy even for clients like Opera Mini).

I have recently upgraded my iPhone to version 2.0 and immediately installed the free NetNewsWire for iPhone client (this is more free publicity for you guys). The interface is very similar to the Mac version, adapted to the small screen, of course. Every time you load the main page it tries to update the feeds. Only feeds with unread items are displayed. This is very reasonable as on the mobile device you’d rather want to quickly go to new items (while on the Mac client you can also see feeds with old items and read them again). Nothing particularly fancy happens, you select the feed, get a full list of news items, read them. You can make the entire feed as read.
This is, all in all, everything you would expect from a mobile feed-reader.

I have to say that I’m surprised that some of the good features of the mobile web version haven’t been translated into the iPhone-client. The mobile web client has a minimalistic approach, in fact news items in a feed are split into pages of 10 or so items. The iPhone client lists all the items in one big page. Scrolling to the oldest news is of course much quicker than on the mobile web version, but at the same time, if you have a very active feed and haven’t kept up for a few days you’ll find yourself with 100+ items in one long page. In the mobile web version you may mark all the items in one page as read, but on the iPhone client you may only mark all the feed as read. Imagine I have a feed with 100 items; I start from the oldest (that’s what I normally do) I go up; as I read articles they are marked as read, but of course I will not read them all. If I have to close the application, when I come back I will only see the unread items of that same news feed, but since I could not mark “as read” items that I did not want to specifically read, I will still find them there. This means that I have to go back to the bottom and go through the same articles again. I will be quicker, of course, but if I could mark groups of items as I can do in the mobile web version, that would be much easier.

Another feature that is present in the mobile web version and not in the iPhone-client is the ability to mark a single item as “read” without opening it. Again, in the iPhone client you either really open it, or you’ll have to mark the entire feed as read.

For some reason in the iPhone client is possible to mark items as “clippings”, but you are not able to see the “Clippings” folder. Clippings are the same as “starring” an item on Google Reader, news items that you want to store for some reason, they will appear in a special folder and not go away even if they have disappeared from the feed.

While it’s obvious that the mobile web version is synchronized in real time as you are in fact connected directly with the newsgator site, it’s unclear how synchronization happens on the iPhone client. You may at any time force the feed update, but you have no way to force synchronization and there is no preference pane. Using the Mac client almost at the same time gave me the feeling like the two were a bit out of sync. On the iPhone I am often offline (I only use Wifi) thus the ability to force-sync would be much appreciated and I think it’s something that is particularly useful for a mobile client in general. You never know if and how the user is really online and actually the advantage (maybe the ONLY one) of the NewNewsWire client is that you can read news offline.

The browser and some, but not all applications in the iPhone let you use it either in landscape or portrait mode. I got used to it and I like it. Why can’t I read my news in landscape mode? This is definitely a needed feature for the NetNewsWire client.

Overall I think that feed-readers show how thin is the list of advantages of using an online/web-based feed reader as opposed to a specific client. Offline reading is probably the only consistent advantage, so I think NetNewsWire should spend time on this.

Newsgator mobile (with the iPhone browser) and NetNewsWire for the iPhone, have almost the same interface and responsiveness. Hopefully they will improve the client a bit because I LOVE reading the news offline. Overall rating is positive, but of course you need to be a newsgator user. I look forward to see improvements to the client, because it’s definitely worth!

Final note: I have no way to really measure this, but it seems like running the client eats up a lot of battery. I have no grounds to base this except for a “feeling”.

RSS feed about user-agent strings

A few days ago, thanks to a suggesting from Tim Cleminson @ M:Metrics, I slightly update the query page at http://t.wurfl.com/query/ .

First of all I think there was some confusion about the “last 10 user-agent string”. My intention was to show the last unique strings that were stored. This of course creates some problems to users that might want to check their headers, but actually have a device that was already registered on the system. I split the functionality in two, now and you can choose if you want either the last unique user-agent strings or the last that were recorded. I also raised the limit from 10 to 50.
Please note that user-agent strings and the rest of the headers are registered only if there was something new. If you visited the site and the full headers were already recorded you won’t appear as a new header anyway. It’s a rare combination that will happen almost only if you used the same device, the same gateway and so on, but it could still happen. Storing every single header is out of the scope of the site so I have no plans to add that.

A new feature that I added is the possibility to see these latest recorded headers in a nice RSS feed. I also added the convenient buttons to add to Google reader, My Yahoo or Newsgator.
The feeds are cached for 1 hour to lower the load.

Blogger pains

Mike Rowehl has commented negatively about Blogger (and my blog being here) more than once. Anyway he’s not the only one, of course.

I have noticed myself more than once, lately, that the site is very often slow and sometimes returns an internal error. Reloading solves the thing most of the times. It seems like some server clusters might have some problems.

The commenting system is not so very well designed. I found myself more than once not being able to publish a comment because there was an error in my message, but the alert was so tiny that I hadn’t even noticed it.

I had to hack some widgets and take inspiration from other programmers that built their own widgets such as the tag-blob and the comments widget.

I have considered moving to WordPress, but when the tags were added to the Blogger, I did not feel the need so much. I think the skins are too limited in their variety (they are mostly color variations), but I can leave with that.

Playing around with RSS has sometimes generated some problems to RSS readers and yesterday has been the latest demonstration of these problems. I added some tags here and there on old posts. Their date has remained 2005 or 2006, but they appear in the RSS as very recent posts (while they are not).

I’m sorry about this, and if you have any formal complaints, please, direct them to the blogger dev-team. :)

bluepulse 2.0 – review

A few days ago Bluepulse v2 was launched. I had given it a first try with V1, but honestly, with the RAZR V3 I had more problems than other, so I gave up almost immediately.
I don’t think it was a problem to the bluepulse itself, but rather to the poor capabilities of the V3 (not really a good phone for anything other than being slick, thin and cool).

Now that I have a cool and shiny Sony Ericsson W810i I can give a try to all these nice applications.

First things first; installation was fast and smooth. I got on their site with my mobile phone (http://get.bluepulse.com) and downloaded the MIDlet. Tech note: the download consisted of only a jar file, no jad.
In 2 minutes I was up and running. I already had an account from my first try with the RAZR V3, so I simply configured the login and password and I was in.

My Place
bluepulse is first of all a community. “My place” is basically a guided menu that lets users describe themselves, their interests and so on. This is obvsiously central to the community. When searching for friends you can see their profile, read about them, see pictures and videos. None of the fields is required, but if you use bluepulse for chatting and meeting people you will certainly want to fill these fields. Available fields range from Age/Sex/Location to free text fields, pictures, video. You can pick an icon from a list of available images or get one assigned automatically. Details go down to your e-mail address and phone number.
I have browsed a few people in the community. Most users wrote a good amount of text and provided their A/S/L. Very few provided images or videos. If the MIDlet allowed users to use the camera to take a picture or record a video it would have been easier in some cases; on the other side you have to specify a URL and the application will download and store it. Considering that this application also relies a lot on Web 2.0 concepts, it’s should be noted that it also provides the ability to use Flickr.
I am not a usability authority, but I am certainly a user, so I have a remark here: Age/Sex/Location is all menu-driven, so much menu driven, that I think it would be easier to dial in my birth date rather than pick it from multiple menus (first select a year range, then year, then select month, then day all using the joystick).

To start you need to find people. Search is easy, pick age/sex/location, SEARCH. Would be nice to have an automatic suggestion of the same age and location as my profile (if set) and then pick the sex. If wanted, change the other settings. We all know why people use this to kind of tools. 😉
Search my nickname or e-mail is also available.
After searching you may see the user’s profile, add as a friend, browse his/her friends. While most users have written a lot about themselves and their interests, I often could not find pictures or videos. The menu items were always present and often resulted in a “user did not upload an image”. A bit disappointing. It would have been nicer to only list items that contain something. It would also save time (and money).
Exchanging messages is quite easy. You should first add someone as a friend (you send the request and the user is allowed to accept of reject). Once the remote user has accepted your request to become a friend you can send him/her a message. When logging in the application you get an alert if new messages are available. All common mailboxes such as “inbox” and “sent” are available. Messages can be stored or deleted. Sending a message is much like an SMS, so anyone can do it quite easily.
I tried the online chatroom, but they were empty, so I can’t say much. Looked like an IRC channel.

Bluepulse can be seen as a container of plug-ins or widgets. Its power layes in the ability to add a lot of custom widgets according to your needs and pleasure. Pre-installed you can find a feed reader and the full messaging and chat system that is part of the “community feature-set”.

Add a widget
Managing Widgets is certainly a major functionality of bluepulse and installing a new one is quite easy. Search among the available plug-ins selecting by category, popularity or more recent. Click, read a short description and install.
Installing a new widget really takes a minute. Once installed you find a new icon in the starting page. A breeze.

RSS feeds
I tried to add my own feeds to see how they would look on BP. I thought it would be better to check feeds I know. Unfortunately I had to type the exact URL of the feed, quite uncomfortable while on the move. During the tests, anyway, I was near my computer and could get them. Once gotten the exact URL (not always very short to type on a mobile) it worked as expcted. I encountered some problems, anyway. I tried the atom feed from Mobile web planet, at first it seemed to work and showed me all the headlines, but then I could not see any contents.
I tried the pre-defined Flickr feed and this time it worked, but I could not see any of the images of the 3 different posts I tried (3 random posts from the first page).
Another pre-difined feed was Yahoo! sports. News were OK and contents were present. I was not able to see any images, again. I guess this is a rescaling problem. The W810i should be able to display most image formats. I think the server-side application (of bluepulse) should convert the files into a supported format, anyway.
Overall results were a bit disappointing. It’s OK if some remote feed does not work, but you would expect the pre-defined feeds to be widely tested.

I installed MSN as a test. Installation was smooth as with other widgets. I looged in at my first try and all the online buddies were downloaded and shown in a list. I hadn’t thought it would have been so easy. 😉
I could exchange messages with a friend easily. The page looked like a standard chat or IRC, all text, not buddy icons. It worked well. The page is refreshed every 30 seconds or so, a good time considering that it’s a mobile application. Sometimes the refresh seemed a bit annoying, maybe because it’s a page refresh and was very visible. Quite acceptable, anyway.

Overall results
The client in general works smoothly. I received an SMS and later a call while playing around; in one case the application kept going without a glitch, after the call I saw an error message (something on the lines of “connection error, try later”), reloaded and everything worked fine. This is certainly a demonstration of solidity.

While Opera Mini was born as a browser, it has a few features such as the RSS feed reader that are in direct competition with bluepulse. I have to say that Opera is much more advanced in this field and that I was a bit disappointed by the results that I obtained in the tests I made with bluepulse.
Opera also takes advantage of the left and right joystick moves to scroll quickly. I think bluepulse should take the suggestion and do the same to make the scrolling of long lists of widgets and contacts faster.
Last one thing is the use of the camera. Opera was really smart to integrate it. If you want a real 2.0 experience, the camera must be part of that.

Pageloading was in generally a big issue that I noticed, as a user. Every time I wanted to do something “Loading 0%” appeared, then jumped to “Loading 100%” and eventually displayed the page. It’s useless to see a “0-100” excursion and it’s annoying to keep re-loading every page. Opera Mini seemed to be faster, I don’t know why. Maybe Opera Mini uses sockets and bluepulse uses HTTP?

The application is very solid, the basic features such as messaging and chatting are good and work smoothly. Installing a widget is very easy and fast and the developers’ community provided a ton of plug-ins aside from the ones developed by bluepulse. The overall result is certainly positive, but not an A. It certainly still has some rough edges and should make the general navigation smoother. It’s a bit frustrating to use it and I think it will make some users walk away due to this.

Related topics:
Opera Mini 3.0 – review, by me
bluepulse website
Bluepulse 2.0 is Bigger, Slicker, Broader and Deeper (and may be the ultimate mobile media platform) on MobileCrunch

RSS feeds a-go-go

RSS feeds have been available for quite a while now.
As an old timer Opera user, I have always believed that setting a number (5-7) of homepages would bring me to the sites I visit most often. Then I would browse from there.

Lately RSS feeds are more and more common so I eventually decided to give it a try. I downloaded NetNewsWire (for Mac, of course!) and this was the beginning of the end. The software (unfortunately) includes a HIGH number of feeds. Of course I subscribed to a bunch of them PLUS all the pages I regularly visit. Now I have about 100 news to read every day and if I don’t read them regularly they GROW UP!
Now I’m addicted.

I have to say it’s pretty cool. Some sites offer the full news through the RSS, some other will give you a short description and then you may read the full news on their site. Both solution are cool to me.

It looks like many people likes this new way of staying informed… And probably I’m one of the last geeks to discover this “new technology”.
Anyway, going back to the wireless business, a couple of people already started to port this “new technology” to the people on the move.
Here are the links:

In my previous post I talked about Marcus. He’s the author of pics.jp.
Jérôme Chevillat is the author of Ifeedyou and uses wurfl for the multimarkup rendering.

Both services let you read the news title and the short descriptions, the problem arises when you need to read the full article. Maybe while you’re on the move you don’t need to read the entire article. Too lengthy texts might not be so comfortable to read on a normal device like my V3.