I was going to post this on the [NewsGator Support Forum](http://www.newsgator.com/forum) but it’s so long I thought it better as a blog post.
I’ve made no secret on this blog that I prefer centralized news reading services. When I have time to catch up on reading blogs and feeds, I want to do it from whatever device is closest to me and not be tied to my desk. I want one set of feeds, I want to subscribe to something once and I don’t want to read articles twice if I can avoid it. I’ll give up the niceties of a desktop client to have the central reading capabilities.
The two leaders in this space are [Bloglines](http://www.bloglines.com) and [NewsGator](http://www.newsgator.com). As a matter of fact, [Ed Bott](http://www.edbott.com) recently [posted](http://www.edbott.com/weblog/archives/000779.html) that NewsGator was passing Bloglines in his stats.
As an end user subscribed to around 500-600 feeds (I don’t real all of them every day…I’m a world-class skimmer), I’ve spent a lot of time with both NewsGator Online Services (NGOS) and Bloglines. Now [FeedDemon](http://www.bradsoft.com/feeddemon) is a NewsGator product, with the ultimate goal of true desktop syncing with NGOS. No more flawed API that marks an article as read when it’s fetched instead of when it’s read. True syncing. A [beta](http://nick.typepad.com/blog/2005/07/ann_feeddemon_1.html) is out (available only to those that have a valid license for FeedDemon) that is on its way to full syncing with NGOS (not there yet). FeedDemon customers also get a free 2 year Business Standard NG subscription.
I have been using the beta for the past 2 days (after an unfortunate hiccup where the beta couldn’t establish a connection with NGOS…if you are using the beta and have had that problem, [here’s the fix](http://www.newsgator.com/forum/shwmessage.aspx?ForumID=7&MessageID=6059)).
FeedDemon has always been an excellent desktop client. Still is. Aside from the syncing issues, things wrong with the current beta are mostly nitpicking. I wish there was a Mac version of it, just as I wish there was a PC version of [NetNewsWire](http://ranchero.com/netnewswire/). It would take 3 blog entries to tell you why I think it’s so good. The problem I’m having, both technically and philosophically, is with FeedDemon’s connection to NGOS and where this is all going.
I want my feed reading to be seamless. When you’re reading a newspaper, you’re concentrating on the content and how it relates to your life and the world. Your not thinking about your hand on the corner of the paper getting ready to flip the page. If the paper is unweildy, smells funny, or it’s difficult to follow to the jump pages it’s going to take you out of the content and you’re going to find another newspaper to read. The newspaper isn’t the news, the newspaper is how the content is organized and presented to you. My feedreader is a newspaper (and FeedDemon gets this by collecting feeds from multiple sources in a single presentation called “Newspaper”). When I’m reading feeds or I find a feed I want to subscribe to, the experience of interacting with that feed can’t take me out of the content.
Shortly after NGOS debut, I subscribed to one of their paid consumer plans. After a few months, I cancelled. The reasons NGOS drove me crazy then still stand today: Organizing feeds and folders is a nightmare. Imagine reading your newspaper and turning your pages with your toes…that’s NGOS.
On the page you want to subscribe, click the bookmarklet.
You are taken to a Bloglines page where you can see exactly the URL you are subscribing to, you can preview that feed, select the folder it should go to (or create a new folder), set the privacy options, set whether changed feeds appear as unread or not. One one page, in one window.
Confirm and you’re taken to your subscription page so you can start reading and you’re done. You never have to go edit that feed again unless you want to move it to another folder or unsubscribe.
On the page you want to subscribe (let’s say it’s the [CNN Entertainment feed](http://rss.cnn.com/rss/cnn_showbiz.rss)), click the bookmarklet.
This is what you get:
Gee. Thanks. No idea of the feed URL, no option to sort it into my “entertainment news” folder.
So now I have to click the “Manage My Feeds” button in order to get that feed where I want it to be, right?
Wrong. That gives you a list of *all* your feeds. (That [Unknown Feed 26389] is particularly helpful, don’t you think?). So I scroll down to CNN – entertainment and click the pencil which I can only assume is the button to edit its location:
Wrong again. That “Organize Your New Feed” section only applies if you’re using NG’s Outlook client. Otherwise this screen is useless.
In order to move that new feed into a folder, I have to click at the top of the window on “newsgator online”. Then click the link that says “Organize Folders”. That takes me to this window:
Scroll all the way down to “CNN.com – Entertainment”, trying to decifer which is a feed and which is a folder (the duplicates are due to issues with the syncing of the FeedDemon beta). Check the button. Now scroll back up to the top to select “entertainment news” from the drop down and click “Move” You get no feedback that the move is successful other than the page reloading, so scroll down to make sure that the feed is no longer sitting outside of the folder.
Now you’re reading your feeds and you decide you no longer want that subscription to CNN Entertainment, or you want to move it to a different folder.
1. While on the feed (which is where you’d probably be when you decide that you don’t like it). Click “unsubscribe”. If you want to move it to a different folder, click “edit subscription” and in the pop up window select the new folder. Oh, and isn’t it handy that you have a direct link to the main page and the blog’s description right there at all times?
2. There is no step 2. You’re done.
You’re reading the feed, but maybe you’re not sure you’re reading the feed because you get no feedback about which feed you’re on:
No, that’s not entirely true…the feed is in red on the left hand side. But what if it was “Zoe’s Blog” and it was at the bottom of the list. Bloglines uses frames so you can scroll the left and right sides independently. NGOS does not. So you just scroll. A lot.
What was I doing? Oh yeah, unsubscribing. Not from here I don’t. No “manage just this feed.” No “delete just this feed.” You have to scroll to the top and click “newsgator manager” (losing your place if you were reading multiple feeds at once at the root of a folder). Then see the “manage feeds” screenshot above…scrolling down to click the “X” next to the feed name, sorted entirely by title of the feed. No searching or fast find.
This illustrates NGOS’s total lack of usability for three basic functions…adding a new feed, organizing feeds into folders and deleting feeds. Bloglines gets it. FeedDemon gets it. NetNewsWire gets it. These steps have be seamless and painfree. The reader can’t get in my way forcing me to scroll and click all over the place. There’s a reason why Firefox and Safari have integrated RSS the way they have. I haven’t even touched the application errors, slow loading and non-configurable interface of NGOS.
How about the fact that the “Business Standard Plan” gives me the Media Center edition but not the Mobile edition?!? I’m a business person…am I more likely to read feeds on my television or my PDA?!? Why should I pay extra for “SmartFeeds” when FeedDemon gives me that feature already? I’m supposed to pay NG another $50 so I can read feeds from my PocketPC? I don’t think so. Bloglines has a mobile page that stays in perfect sync…for free. What’s it’s missing is a usable API.
I know that NG has big plans for the Enterprise and FeedDemon is a part of that. But FeedDemon is the application that avid consumers and business folks use on PCs to keep up with their feeds and from where I’m sitting, either NGOS steps up to the plate for the “little guy” or there are going to be a lot of annoyed ex-FeedDemon customers. If I’m reading entirely in FeedDemon, fine. But if I can’t stand NGOS for all the reasons I’ve stated above and I can’t use the Mobile edition without paying more for it, what’s the point of keeping feeds in so-called sync? What is NewsGator offering me, what promise is there in the software that makes it worth my time? Right now, I can’t tell. All of NewsGator’s press, aside from the FeedDemon announcement, has been centered around enterprise.
Reading the [FeedDemon Beta forum](http://www.newsgator.com/forum/messages.aspx?ForumID=7) shows that FeedDemon users expect a certain level of quality out of Nick Bradbury’s software. He has set a high bar. It is my hope that FeedDemon brings NGOS up to snuff, rather than FeedDemon being brought down to NGOS’s level. We shall see where this goes.