Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Kudos to Bloglines

As you can see in my now-updated post of a few days ago, in which I described some issues I’m having with the superlative Web-based news aggregator Bloglines after having used it for about a week, the Bloglines folks actually read my somewhat windy missive and even thoughtfully responded to it in my Comments.

That’s way above and beyond the call for a software company these days, and as if the product itself wasn’t proof enough, this shows that Bloglines gets their customers (and I use the word “customers” for lack of another, since the service is free!).

Good stuff, and highly recommended for experts and those who are just dipping their toes into the syndicated waters.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Water falls from gray billowy things in the Portland skies

At about noon today, something that I believe is called “rain” fell out of something called “clouds” onto this little corner of Oregon.

It only lasted for five or ten minutes, but it was bona fide rain alright, though according to Weather Underground it entirely missed the airport, the official arbiter of weather events in these parts. So there will be no record of it happening, but I swear up and down that it did.

I wouldn’t lie to you. At least very often.

And if you’re asking yourself: “But isn’t it supposed to rain all the time there?”—I’m here to tell you that the answer is most definitely ‘no.’

You’re thinking of London.

It’s so sunny and dry (and often hot) in Portland in the summer that you almost literally forget what a cloud, and especially rain, looks like. It’s relentlessly sunny. In 2004-2005, the summer sun extended deep into fall and winter, and the real rains didn’t come until late winter and early spring….

Bloglines Gripes

After a week using the fantastic Bloglines, which has finally allowed me to feel on top of my RSS feeds rather than vice-versa, I do have some criticisms, problems, and wishes. This list will likely change over time, but for now, in no particular order:

  1. Despite having the “Keep folders open” item checked, they don’t stay open consistently. With some views they all close, other times only some of them do, and once in a while they really will all stay open – for a time. The end result is that I’m fiddling with folders more often than I like.

  2. Allow us to edit the feed URL.

  3. When clicking “Keep New” for a given message, why does the feed list have to refresh every time?  That’s not really the time to refresh it, and it’s annoying.

  4. Give us a “Keep All New” check box for those times we might want to keep all messages in a given feed and don’t want to go down the list clicking every one. [8/31/05 Update: In Comments, the Bloglines PM responded: “There's a ‘mark all new’ link at the top. Maybe there's a better way for us to reveal that feature.”]

  5. When subscribing to a large, established feed that has a lot of history behind it, when you first visit it, Bloglines tends not to display the latest set of messages. Instead, it seems to pick an older block of messages – say, a set of messages from long ago – and shows those instead. Of course, you can choose “Display items within the last Month” and get the latest and greatest, but why should you have to do that?

  6. Speaking of the “Display items within the last…” control, how about also putting it somewhere near the top, rather than making us scroll all the way to the bottom of a window?

  7. Perhaps there should be a default option to set how many posts you want displayed by default when first visiting a feed after subscribing to it. More than once I’ve subscribed to a feed and then clicked on it only to have to wait a long time for an enormous number of photo-laden messages to come down (and this is on broadband). Eventually, I’m able to make it down to “Display items within the last…” (see previous item) to set a more appropriate window of messages.

  8. There seems to be a display width problem with some feeds, where despite how the blog looks when looking at it directly with a browser, the version of it you see in Bloglines is very wide, so much that you have to scroll back and forth horizontally. This is relatively rare, but it does happen. I’ve noticed it happening quite often with Feedster search feeds.

  9. If using the “Large” font setting (located in Bloglines “Basics” configuration area), when you’re editing a given feed, the Edit Subscription window doesn’t size itself properly. The end result is that to click on the “Update” or “Unsubscribe” buttons at the bottom of the Edit Subscription window, you have to either scroll down or resize the window. This is not a problem when you’re using the “Medium” or “Small” font, since those sizes allow all elements to fit within the window.

  10. Bloglines surprisingly doesn’t seem to offer a search tool for finding a feed in its “Add” feed area. It does offer a bevy of other things, including Quick Pick Subscriptions, an area to paste in the URL of a feed you already know, the ability to set up search queries – even package tracking – but if you want to know what, say, Robert Scoble’s feed is, good luck. As far as I can tell, you can’t do it through Bloglines. [8/31/05 Update: In Comments, the Bloglines PM responded: “The search box is pervasive in the header so you can search for a feed no matter where you are on the site, including after you've clicked on ‘Add’. Even so, good feedback to improve that interaction.”]

  11. When adding a feed, allow us to modify the name of the feed right then, as some are either ridiculous or unduly long.

  12. When renaming a feed name after it’s been added (using the master Edit mode, not the individual “edit subscription” function available when reading a feed), and you have unread messages in that feed, once you submit the change the feed is marked as read and you essentially lose those messages.

  13. The number of new messages in parentheses next to every feed is often lower (but sometimes higher!) than the actual number of new messages awaiting you once you click on the feed itself. So it seems that even when you’re freshly visiting Bloglines, the number of new messages for a given feed does not always reflect reality at that moment, but instead reflects, perhaps, the last time the feed was checked. And when you click on a given feed, the number is updated as the feed is checked again. This is just a guess, but in any case, it should strive to be more accurate.

  14. How about a way to suspend a given feed short of actually unsubscribing from it?

  15. This one isn’t really Bloglines’ fault, but it’s driving me crazy anyway so I want to include it here: Opera 8.02 doesn’t let you change the Folder destination when you’re either adding a feed or editing an individual feed. This is highly annoying, given that it does work with older Opera versions and other browsers. A workaround is that after adding the feed, you can reorganize feeds by using the Edit function at the tree level, checking what you want to move and then submitting that. I’m guessing that this problem will likely be fixed in Opera 8.03, though it’s always possible that something could be done on the server side in the meantime. Another possibility is a temporary fix for 8.02 with user Javascript, but that’s beyond me.

Note: And finally, I should add that Bloglines has been having some capacity problems, and some feeds have been lagging well behind, but this problem, which from other reports was particularly pronounced in early August, seems to be all but solved for me. [9/1/05 Update: I’m afraid I have to rescind the optimism reflected in this addendum. As mentioned in an August 9, 2005 status update on Bloglines, they’re apparently in transition to new facilities in order to alleviate these problems, but I don’t think they’ve made it yet since over the last few days I’ve seen another upswing in delayed feeds and even feeds that are skipping posts. I’m not the only one still experiencing problems, as can be seen here and here. However, I do continue to hope and expect this will be resolved sooner rather than later.]

Sunday, August 28, 2005

This is only a test

This is a test. Had this been an actual post, there might be some worthwhile content, but for now I’m testing Blogger for Word to see if it’s worth using or not.

I’ll be using this space mainly for random notes, thoughts, and pointers to items that I might find interesting or noteworthy.  Since it will be lost in a sea of millions of other mostly useless blogs, I don’t expect that a single person beyond me will ever see it, and that’s just fine for what will be essentially a personal notebook on the Web available for my easy access.