Internet Explorer 7 Beta 2 As RSS Reader : Some Thoughts

I downloaded IE7 Beta 2 a couple of days ago and it looks to be a pretty solid release (frankly, the memory leaks in Firefox are testing my loyalty). What I’d like to focus on in this post are the RSS capabilities in IE7.
As a feed reader, IE7 is pretty bare-bones. Even though it does go a step further than Firefox in terms of RSS support, it’s still falls way short of the full-featured capabilities of other RSS clients (like FeedDemon). With all that said, you cannot discount Internet Explorer as a feed reader for a few reasons:

  • The feed subscription experience is badly broken today. Rather than deliver a pile of jumbled XML, IE7 provides a far friendlier representation of the feed with some explanation on what exactly to do with it. Mind you, there’s still going to be confusion, but this is a huge step in the right direction. Let’s face it, the bridge to RSS is the Web and the perceived leap from web pages to feeds needs to be more elegant. This is a good start.
  • Under the hood, IE7 isn’t just casually gathering feeds. If I’m not mistaken, it ships with Microsoft’s planned, underlying feed API. This is a lower level set of feed managment services that not only IE but any feed reader can take advantage of. Of course, you can avoid them altogether (just as every feed reader does today on Windows), but this may prove to be a critical front that Microsoft is establishing.
  • Which leads to my next point: synchronization of feeds – lists, read/unread states, new entries, etc. – is going to be a critical. Wherever I am, I want the “state of my feeds” to be the same. As far as I know, only Newsgator does that today (and does it pretty well). A feed API is nice, but a feed API that syncs to an external repository is much nicer. Newsgator should get the lipstick out and pretty itself up. It’s a nice fit.
  • The reader itself, which displays feeds in some sort of generic XSL-styled newspaper, is pretty weak. It doesn’t show items read/unread. It also doesn’t give a lot of flexibility in terms of layout, priority, etc. We’re still stuck in the list-on-the-left, entries-on-the-right paradigm a la email clients (which in my opinion, falls sort for RSS). Let’s also keep in mind that this is a beta release (whatever that means these days).

Overall, the RSS “leap” for many (and there are many that don’t know of RSS) gets a lot more fluid with IE7. In my opinion, that’s the biggest advancement of all. All those “XML”‘s and feed icons are cryptic enough. It’s good to see an approach that addresses this shortcoming.

3 Comments Internet Explorer 7 Beta 2 As RSS Reader : Some Thoughts

  1. Avi Flax

    Rich, to speak to your third point about Synchronization:
    I wouldn’t view Newsgator as the only Feedreader to offer synchronization – I would view it as the only desktop app to offer it. Web-based Feedreaders like Bloglines and FeedLounge give users persistant state experience independent of location – no synchronization needed!
    FeedLounge offers such a great interface that (for me) it supplants desktop apps completely. And if I want to be able to read feeds offline and have my feed- and post-state update, a desktop app or widget could easily interface with a web API (BlogLines’ and NewsGator’s are live; FL’s is coming) to accomplish that.
    In other words: a centralized network repository with clients (web, desktop, mobile, etc) hitting it – like IMAP – is the way to go. In fact, that’s how Newsgator works – they have a web repository, which can be accessed through NewsGator, NetNewsWire, FeedDemon, or NewsGator Online.
    Where am I going with this? A desktop app – like IE – can’t (shouldn’t) be used to offer a persistant feedreading experience across locations, at least not by itself. It needs a server to work with. In order for IE to offer this, Microsoft would have two options:

    • Create their own feed aggregator/reader/server experience service. I’m not a big fan of this idea, for many reasons…
    • Create a (hopefully open) protocol which would let any feed client (like IE) sync with any feed server Similar to how IMAP works – any mail client that speaks IMAP can speak to any mail server that speaks IMAP. Making an open, simple protocol could go a long way to making RSS more useful. Then again, maybe it would stifle creativity, which may be what has happened with mail clients. Maybe IMAP itself could even be used for this; it is, after all extensible. Then again, I have heard that it is overly complex and top-heavy, so maybe it should be put to rest

    OK, enough rambling from me.
    Later,
    Avi
    PS Your blog doesn’t seem to allow definition lists in comment HTML.

    Reply
  2. Rich Ziade

    Here’s my fear with applications are on the web: when they go down; or when I’m not connected; I shouldn’t be denied my data. You can deny me my services – but not the data that should be in-hand.
    When delicious went down a few times, I coudln’t get to my bookmarks. If I can’t tag things for a day or 2, I can live with that. But don’t make all my data disappear. Reality is – it should be synced, not hosted constantly. Truth is, Feedlounge isn’t gonna change all that much. it doesn’t need to be inside my web browser.

    Reply
  3. Avi Flax

    Rich,
    I appreciate your position. But the millions of webmail users show us that simplicity and ubiquity are (right now) somewhat higher priorities than 100% reliability/availability.
    However, I agree with you – you should not be denied your data. It should be always available to you. The thing is, any responsible service provider that I would trust my data with provides either tools for backing up that data, or an API for third-parties to build on, or both.
    You want your del.icio.us bookmarks available when the service is down? Just import your bookmarks into FireFox with Foxylicious or Safari with Safarilicious. Or try the Bunnyhug Updater del.icio.us. The best del.icio.us client is Cocoalicious, but that’s only for the OSX-enlightened.
    For more see The complete list of del.icio.us tools.
    You want your data offline? You got it.
    The flexiblity of web-based services such as these means that they will become the dominant way to store one’s data – it’s just a matter of time.
    Oh, and regardles of FeedLounge’s ultimate impact, it is great software and we can learn much from it. And you’re right, it doesn’t need to be in the browser. And as soon as they launch their API — it won’t have to be.
    PS Your “remember me?” cookie isn’t working for me.

    Reply

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