feedly, great potential not fully realized

Jul 24, 2009 | Mobile & Web


Now I know RSS is old news, what with links sharing over twitter taking over the buzz-a-sphere. But long-form blogging is as relevant today as ever, and RSS subscription is still the sure fire way to drink from the information firehose.

But there is still the problem that given all this information most RSS readers, including my favorite, Google Reader, are still not much help.

You can try to talk yourself into limiting the number of feeds to a handful, or prioritize their importance so that you read the most important first. Personally they never worked well for me, as my insatiable appetite for information and curiosity always trump my discipline to stick to the rules. Eventually I am falling way behind on many feeds, and the last thing I need is a companion “Unread” count from the RSS reader to accompany my Inbox Unread count.

feedly is a firefox plug-in that aims to help out with the impossible task of drinking from the RSS firehose, and in some limited ways, it show promise.

One, it has a very attractive design, which makes reading more of a pleasure than a chore. Simple, uncluttered minimalism just plain makes me feel better and attentive to what I’m reading. Its layout is similar to a Netvibe homepage, or what Feedly calls a magazine layout, so that you are not reading one feed at a time, but instead presents various posts from across all your feeds. This finer-grain approach is helpful because I often wants to just read what’s important from a variety of sources, and not trying to be perfect and get caught up on any individual feed.

Second, feedly picks out posts to display in order of “importance”, which can be based on either performance I expressed for certain blogs, or the popularity for any particular post, based on interest feedly gathered from social networks. Or it can judge importance from a combination of the two.

Third, and it addresses my fascination about people talking to each other, is that it displays conversations on friendfeed pertaining to the post you are reading. It’s an interesting take on services such as Disqus or IntenseDebate, which pivots around the web site. In my opinion, the twitter and friendfeed of the world is fast becoming what the IRC should have been, and I think user engagement would be higher than Disqus.

There is much to like about feedly, but I’m not quite ready to recommend it to my friends who aren’t early adopters. Despite it’s very smooth good looks, it’s quite raw in terms of user experience. First, there is no user documentation, not even an FAQ. How is the “Cover” view different than the “Digest” view? I couldn’t find the explanation anywhere. Their “tutorial” link goes to a post in their blog, which is not a tutorial, but more a list of tips that doesn’t address the basics.

Second, the features are still very much evolving. On their blog (which again is their only source of user documentation, short of diving into their forum) they talked about an Expose view. But I don’t find it on their UI. From what I can tell, users drive what features get implemented, and they triage that list based on votes, and allow the users to drive the direction of development. There is nothing wrong with listening to customers; in fact, it’s to be applauded. However, it does take on the risk of having no coherent development or UX trajectory as it responds to the “flavor of the month” nature of customer sentiments.

I really wanted to love feedly. It has great aesthetics, and the premise is solid good. But it feels very much like a cult that I need to work hard to join, what with its lack of documentation and help, the complex preference switches, and the ever-evolving features.

And one day, when it grows up, it may stabilize and be my only tools to read RSS. But until then, I don’t think I’ll abandon my Google Reader UI just yet.

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