I was having some periodical brainstorming sessions on River of News Concept throughout the whole day today. By itself, the concept is very simple: you just need a newspaper-like list of articles to scroll through. The question is where do you get these articles or news items?

The first level is definitely a feed. Any feed has several items in it, or it isn’t a healthy feed. Having the feed displayed as the list of complete article bodies rather than only their titles, you get a newspaper-like look of it which makes it easier for you to quickly review what’s on. This is what BlogBridge and some other aggregators do perfectly. And now we are close to some more interesting stuff…

The next step is to combine several feeds in one more wide river with more news drifting by. The most natural way of doing this is to group feeds you like and create “the river” for this group or, speaking in terms of user interfaces, click over the group itself to see every article of every feed in that group. In my opinion, though I’m not a usability expert by any means, this approach is slightly limited. It doesn’t allow me to create several “rivers” with different filters and properties for the given set of feeds. Of course, it will work fine for some time and I’ll be pretty satisfied until I realize that it could be better. For example, I might wish to have a river for today’s news only, the small stream with articles about my favorite tool etc. Having tens of feeds merged together into the same unfiltered stream is the most short path to drowning.

What I’ve learned so far is:

  • I need a way to join several feeds together into one virtual feed which I could quickly run through and get the most interesting content for me.
  • I need a way to apply filters to control what’s in this feed.

Pretty simple, yet advanced requirements. At this point, I started to check what our BlogBridge project is missing in order to fulfill my criteria and it comes that not too much. There are several loose ends in Search Feeds (type of Smart Feeds) functionality not allowing me to fully enjoy this whole news drifting stuff:

First and foremost, is that I can’t group all feeds from one guide. Actually I can since today as I implemented it by adding Guide Title property to the Search Feed query builder.

The second is it’s still not convenient to read the news. Any Search Feed should be supplied with the limit value — the number of articles it can have on display. When I have say 100 unread articles all over my subscriptions list and I create a Search Feed with some special criteria (like this: limit=10, status=unread) it shows me top articles only (10 in my case) as required. But when I mark them as read they aren’t being replaced by these in the back list. From one side, it’s correct because if you mark something accidentally and it goes, you won’t be able to get it back easily. On the other hand, I can’t just sit and read — I always need to jump off and get back to the Search Feed again to get another portion of articles.

So, as you can see, we are pretty close to the ideal river of news capable aggregator. There’s just one small step to make. Do you have any ideas on how it could be better to deal with this last problem?

Comments from the past

James Corbett on 02/17/2006

Well I’d love to be able to arrange the Reading Lists I’m subsribed to into groups, ie OPML nodes. In other words I’d like to see BlogBridge become a hierarchical OPML browser and RSS reader in one.

Then, as well as letting people create and share reading lists, let us build and share complete OPML hierarchies. I think we could build very powerful multi-level OPML directories in this way :)

Keep up the great work - BlogBridge is the best aggregator out there IMHO.

Aleksey Gureiev on 02/17/2006

Oh yeah, I understand what you mean. We keep this guides view traditionally flat. Plus the multi-layerness is overused most of times. At least, I know that I tend to overuse it. But anyway, periodically we get back to the flat vs. hierarchical view discussion with Pito, still there’s not enough arguments to start rework immediately.

One other good news is that there’s BlogBridge Directory project somewhere near the surface of our collective mind and maybe it will give us enough good points to review the design. Who knows…

Don’t hesitate to give us your ideas! Our forum, support and/or private mailboxes are always open. :)

Kevin Yank on 03/11/2006

On the “river of news” problem, how about when we use the spacebar (or the toolbar button) to read the next unread item in a feed that is a) in “Unread Only” mode, b) has a limit on the number of visible items, and c) has all currently-displayed articles marked as read, we refresh the view (loading the next “n” unread articles) instead of moving to the next feed?

Aleksey Gureiev on 04/11/2006

In other words, there is a big list of items broken into groups of N. When you hit space, the current group is marked as read and the next of is loaded. When there are no items in the backpack to display, the “spacebar” moves you on to the next feed. Is that correct?