Read RSS Newsfeeds In Style With “Times”

60 Comments

From Google Reader to NetNewsWire to Vienna, RSS readers have become somewhat of a commodity, with all of them providing a similar feature set and the same approach to getting your fill of feeds. Then, along comes Dustin MacDonald who – not content with the status quo – cooks up a little application called, simply enough, “Times” that takes a whole new approach to syndication perusal.

The Basics

Times has three obvious goals: first, it wants to make RSS scanning feel more like reading a newspaper or magazine through distinctive and visually appealing layout and typography; second, it highly encourages you to choose your feeds carefully, thus eliminating what has become the inevitable backlog (as an example, since I broke my right ring finger last week, I have over 10,000 unread items in NetNewsWire, which is up from the normal 5,000 backlog); and, third, the way in which you highlight and save individual posts definitely has effect of the application being a solid research tool or blogging aid.

When you start Times you are greeted with a clean slate but have a very clear idea of what your options are:

Your feeds are on “pages”, with each “page” having three panels where you can insert your feeds into. Each panel can have more than one feed, and you can add and remove pages as your interests change. For example, you can have an “Apple” page where you can have all your Apple-related feeds displayed:

From that application image, the aforementioned first two goals should be quite clear. The detailed attention to layout and typography very surreptitiously make you take RSS reading more seriously since it’s not some list you’re scanning through like e-mail. You’ll pay more attention to each headline and will, almost by default, consciously not add too many feeds to any given page.

Reading items is also a visually appealing task since Times makes use of very modern and Apple-like visual styles:

(Purists can, however, choose to open articles in Safari)

RSS reading is fine in-and-of-itself, but quite often you probably like to highlight an item to come back to later. Where other applications let you “star” an item, Times gives you a shelf where you drag and drop posts-of-interest to for later perusal, giving it the feel of tearing out an article and leaving it on your desk:

Feed Management

Let me caveat this section with the full acknowledgement that I was working with beta software where there is an expectation of kinks and quirks that will no doubt be fixed in the full release version.

You need to get your RSS feeds into times Times, just like any other RSS reader and it comes with a pre-populated list (that I promptly deleted). Despite having gone through at least 3 betas during my testing, I cannot report on how well it imports OPML files or how well its “import from NetNewsWire” feature works since they just did not work at all for me. Thankfully, there are other ways to get your feeds into the program. By selecting “New Feed” from the File menu, you can enter either a feed URL directly or enter a site URL and Times will try to find a feed for you:

If it finds more than one type of feed, you can choose what you want to add:

Unfortunately, Times does not add the feed title information until it appears in the feed list panel, forcing you to either trust that it will do so correctly or do some needless typing.

The feed list itself (above) makes it very easy to drag and drop feeds to pages and selecting the “+” sign gives you direct access to Safari bookmarks where you are a click away from adding feeds from bookmarked sites or the Safari RSS database. Given the way the feed panel works, I’m not sure I would have wanted it to import my whole NetNewsWire list since it would have added an overwhelming number of buttons to the panel. Pages are the obvious equivalent to groups and I’ll be curious to see if Times automatically creates pages from OMPL feed groups when that feature works.

I was able to drag individual feeds out of NetNewWire into Times, which did save me from a great deal of copy/paste activity, and it will pick URLs from the clipboard as the default entry to “File->New Feed…”.

For each feed item, you can copy the post URL to the clipboard or send the link to Digg, del.icio.us or Facebook. Hopefully that list will either be extended by Dustin or be made extensible since I’d definitely like the ability to send to Twitter or – more importantly – MarsEdit.

Beta Blues

Feed importing was only one of a quite a few beta bits did not work for me. Multiple crashes made it difficult to really put the app through all of the paces I normally would have. Those same crashes were manifest in such simple areas as choosing between the page curl and slide effects in the preferences then trying to read a feed post.

One major bug was how Times lists pages. You can re-order the page list by dragging the page titles around, but whenever I deleted a page, the list was rearranged via some sort order that I could not determine. This could be a seriously annoying feature if it creeps into future releases, especially if one has a decent number of pages.

When you check for new articles, the only visual indicator is a small pie in the page bar that is easy to miss. A small status bar or activity window would be a great addition for those of us used to more determined feedback mechanisms. There is also no indication within a page when you’ve read a story. A small checkmark or some other visual style change would make it much easier to remember when you’ve read a feed item.

Those with a flair for scripting will be disappointed to learn that there is no obvious way to access Times via AppleScript, save for GUI scripting.

A Fine Addition To The Field

Despite some beta quirks feature misses, Times definitely has a place alongside your primary RSS newsreader. I can see myself using it to hit all of my must-read sites and then hitting NNW to crank through the rest of my list. I can also see Times bringing RSS newsreading to – for lack of a more tactful word – the masses. Statistics show that only a small portion of Internet users actual use RSS feeds, despite the inclusion of RSS tools into default browsers on all popular operating systems and a good number of fee client and web-bases RSS apps. Times makes RSS reading feel less like an über-geek activity through it’s well-crafted user interface and also removes the e-mail feel, which also turns off many average users.

When Times is released, you should grab a copy for yourself and encourage your non-RSS-wielding friends to do so as well. With this much detail and care put into a 1.0 release, one can only imagine the goodies that we’ll be seeing in the future from Dustin & Acrylic Software.

60 Comments

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slashj

Great idea but crashes repeatedly.
Brought my Macbook down with it 2x.

You are paying for beta software, so buy at your own risk.

David Day

I have been using Times for a few days now and would just like to say that I love the refreshing way it delivers your news, I really wish Times could replace NNW but for me it can’t, due to two main reasons…

(1.) I read RSS on my iPhone, MacBook & iMac, keeping everything in sync is a must and thanks to Newsgator this is done perfectly. Times offers no syncing feature.

(2.) The ‘unread’ blue dot indicators are a disaster, this just never works properly for me and I end up missing stories.

If the developer could fix these two issues I think Times would be the best RSS reader out there.

Antonio

It’s a nice concept and it looks beautiful but it’s a pretty weak app and at $30 there is nothing that would make me switch from NNW which is free and loaded with features that I need. For one, without any kind of syncing, Times is pretty useless to me. It seems like a nice app for someone who reads only a few feeds but I have hundreds of feeds.

wendell

i love the concept of having a newspaper style feed reader. my only issue is that the interface limits you to having only a few feeds per page. my netnewswire reader isn’t as glamorous but i can shove 30 feeds in a folder and see what’s going on a lot faster than with this program. having said that, it’s a fabulous concept and i actually wish i could use it. with over 500 feeds that i actively monitor, i can’t see how i could use this program in it’s current state.

Matt J

@Christ
That’s odd. Times can be a little sluggish sometimes, but it never takes all my CPU. I’ve found it to be more stable than a lot of Apps.

Matt J

It’s so frustrating because the idea behind this is really awesome, but the performance when trying to read feeds or import new ones is unbelievably bad. I mean, honestly, I’ve never seen an app grind my Mac down to a halt like this one.

I highly recommend trying it, but it’s not worth purchase until performance is significantly improved.

That’s interesting, because I’m running Times on a Mac mini Core solo, but it’s running great. What are your specs?

Chris Papadopoulos

It’s so frustrating because the idea behind this is really awesome, but the performance when trying to read feeds or import new ones is unbelievably bad. I mean, honestly, I’ve never seen an app grind my Mac down to a halt like this one.

I highly recommend trying it, but it’s not worth purchase until performance is significantly improved.

dryan

Tried it, set up all my feeds. Realized while the interface is lickable, it’s only clickable. Deleted the app. There’s no way to scan through feeds with the keyboard. While the shelf is cool, what I’d love (from any reader) is a Mark for Later option that puts the article into a folder so I can scan through all the headlines then go back and read the interesting stuff.

Corvida

Super sweet looking, but on the slow side. Hopefully whatever they’re updating will speed things up.

Baron

I’ll admit that the visual/design concept is interesting but I think most power users could care less about “choosing our feeds carefully”. I recently gave Vienna (open source and free) another chance and it’s the only RSS reader on the market that will let me scan through thousands of items in a continuous stream without bringing my mac to its knees.

Matt J

I think the point of this is not for all your feeds. This is for the feeds you care about, that you read nearly every article from. Looks great, but it all comes down to stability and price. If this thing crashes every 10 minutes, it’s useless

Farfield

That looks really nice, I’ve never heard of it before. I use NewsFire myself. Actually paid for it when you still had to. I also used Vienna for a while but I like the simplicity of NewsFire. I might give Times a look though, thanks for the tip!

Insomnic

It does look pretty, but I can’t help feeling like it’s a local app version of Netvibes – though prettier. The aesthetics are nice, but to me it takes up room that would be better spent with providing me more information in my scannable area. It defeats the purpose to which I put RSS – quickly going through information and picking out what I want to read further. This app seems to take the opposite approach – as you state in your review – and wants you to use fewer feeds and pay more attention to all the items in the feeds.
I can see a place for this app though since I use Netvibes in much the say way. I use Netvibes for some regular RSS feeds I tend to pay attention to all items in (or want regular access to when mobile) and for full RSS checks I use Vienna and scan all RSS that I subscribe.

Allister

Looks really cool and only has one fundamental flaw. It cannot compare to (e.g.) Google Reader because I cannot run it at work where I do a significant portion of my reading while I eat lunch. I fail to see why the basic concept can’t work as a web page anyway. Apart from fancy animations, the page layouts could (probably more easily) be done online.

Geexoo - The Geek Feeds Hub

It certainly appears to offer an aesthetically more optimal solution than the current readers, but I guess I got to test it fully to see if it indeed feels different…

The other issue of course is how difficult it will be for the mainstream RSS readers to add all these aesthetics. They have been in this game for a while too!

Ryan

It certainly *looks* great. I could see it being useful for reading a select subset of feeds. But, I agree, it seems like you would still need a different feed reader if you, like me, have a ridiculous amount of subscriptions.

Simon

I’m curious as to how it handles read/unread messages. I will definitely try it when it comes out, although I’m not sure yet if it can fully replace my “normal” reader (NewsFire). And I’m not planning on having two feed readers.

Any word on pricing?

Arvin

I was just wondering if this reader offered any sharing capabilities built in? Whether e-mailing an article, or sharing it similar to how Google Reader allows you to share?

Would you suggest this for an RSS power users, one who frequently comes across multiples of posts? And does it allow for tagging of individual articles, etc?

2Shae

Wow, that is just genious.
I can see myself using this over the RSS reader in Mail which is so far the best in my opinion.

Blake

feedjournal.com has been doing this for a while. You add your feeds to the site and it will generate a newspaper style PDF. It has more of a true newspaper style and as a website is crossplatform.

Edward J. Stembler

I had the exact same app idea after Microsoft showcased their NY Times Reader app for WPF; which they later released as an SDK.

It looks like Dustin did a great job. I look forward to checking it out…

Rik

Reminds me of ‘Herald’ from the MyDreamApp contest. If it’s at all related, it’s probably the first non-vapourware to come out of that thing.

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