We recently mentioned UniveRSS, the 3D RSS feed-reader that uses the Windows Presentation Foundation. I finally got a chance to install and run it on my Vista RTM partition and although basic, it’s functional and shows promise. I had problems trying to capture my screen navigation in a video, so you’re stuck with a 2D representation of the 3D world for now. If there’s enough interest, I’ll try to get a short video demo up in the near future.
Your UniveRSS is exactly that: a graphical representation of RSS feeds in your local universe. Currently, you need to have your feeds in IE7, as that’s where the information is pulled from. I generally don’t use IE7 for my feed reading (I’m a NewsGator Online kinda guy), but I put a few feeds in there for UniveRSS. Each feed folder appears by name in the main view:
In the pic above, you can see the two feed folders I have: Microsoft Feeds (there by default) and a folder I created called MobileTech. Each of these labels rotate from top to bottom in 3D and clicking one with your left mouse button initiates a zoom in to that folder’s "space". I should mention that navigation is pretty straight-forward. Left mouse click is a select, right mouse click is a zoom back one level. If you hold the left mouse button and move the mouse you can zoom in and out along the X and Z axis, while holding the right mouse button and moving the mouse zooms in and out along the X and Y axis. The animation is very smooth and only takes a few minutes to get used to; if you prefer using a keyboard, you can do that as well.
For the above pic, I clicked on the MobileTech folder in my UniveRSS and the app zoomed in to show these rotating cubes. Mobility Site is the one with the logo to the left; Gotta Be Mobile and jkOnTheRun are the other two, but I’m unsure why there’s no logo on those. The 3D effect is very apparent when you zoom in, out and around the cubes as they’re rotating. If you hover your mouse on any rotating cube, the RSS feed name and the number of unread items appears in the bottom of the screen.
I left-clicked the jkOTR cube and the above pic is the result. The cube smoothly zooms closer to you and fills a good portion of the screen. A few things to note: each news item shows with title, date, time and brief excerpt. You’ll also notice the Internet Explorer icon; clicking that will open up the item directly in a new IE window. I didn’t want to read any feeds in IE, so I left clicked one of the stories. When I did, the cube rotated to show another face where the story can be read:
There are several viewing options, all of which switch on the fly; if you’ve altered the text on the Times Reader (which uses the same graphics presentation layer), you’re already familiar with this. You can read the feeds in a single page option, a dual-column option or a scrolling view. Additionally, the text can be immediately resized with the slider control at the bottom right. All links are clickable, but take you out of the UniveRSS and into IE.
Here, I increased the text to provide an idea of the scale:
Once I was done reading, it was just a few right clicks to other folders and beyond. Again, the graphics are smooth and the presentation is visually appealing. Is it useful? I’d say it could be and we should all remember that the likely goal is to show off the WPF, not create a full-featured RSS reader. I think in time, with the right feature set, it could be very usable. Some things I’d recommend from a usability standpoint:
- Add some optional on-screen navigation buttons. Mouse and keyboard owners don’t need them, but using this app with a Tablet or UMPC would be difficult.
- If we’re using a "universe" theme here (which I like!), let’s really use it. Why not change the cubes into 3D spheres, as in "planets" that can show the feed logo as they rotate. Each unread feed item could be a tiny "moon"; the more moons a planet has, the more unread items are there. That would be more information visually and wouldn’t need users to hover on a feed item to see what it is and how many unread items there are.
Again, I had issues capturing this on video, but I have a note in to the TechSmith folks (makers of Camtasia Studio), so if you’re interested in the how the navigation actually looks, drop a comment and I’ll see if I can fly through my UniveRSS again!