I get really annoying when I find a new toy. I tell every person I know about it, I construct my day around it, and every answer to every question passes through the new toy neuron in my head. This means if you ask me, “Hey Rands, what’s 7 + 3?” I first think, “How can the new toy help me answer this?” before I say, “10″.
The toy (which is not a toy) is NetNewsWire. This product has allowed me to not only change the way I gather information on the Net, but it’s also given me the ability to digest much, much more information. To understand the complete holy shit here, we first need some background.
Long ago, I read a lot of Usenet news, but over the years, the signal to noise ration grew intolerable. I know there was good content to be had, but I didn’t want to sift through crap to find the rare gems. Yes, you could use kill files to filter out the crap, but suddenly you’re spending more on your kill files than reading actually content.
Enter Weblogs. The problem of high quality content is solved by a trustworthy individual finding and sifting through the web to find content they care enough about to post. Content is centralized and filtered by a person.
It works like this for me. I search for information on Google, say, “Safari change log” which invariably, points me at a weblog. Finding the data on the weblog useful, I bookmark the site thinking, “Well, if she/he had that data surely they’ll write/find something else relevant”. So, I bookmark the site, but what I’m really bookmarking is the person because what I care about is not the content on their site, I care about how the person sifts through fact, fiction, and opinion and weblogs it. The person has credibility, not the website.
The next step is monitoring these weblogs. Occasionally, I crawl through my bookmarks looking for changes. Two problems with this process: first, I’m a data freshness nut case. I want to know as soon as humanly possible when something goes down and bookmark surfing is pull technology which means I only hear about when I happen to stumble on the weblog. I want push because I want to know and I’m on the Net ALL THE TIME.
The second problem is the time it takes to go to a site and figure out if there is new content. I can keep track of ten or twenty sites in my head, but more than that and I start wondering, “Did I already check this site?” Suddenly, I’m limiting the amount I can digest because my memory blows. This is an additional violation my data freshness ethic.
NetNewsWire gives me a terribly sexy data consumption rate by giving me great tools to manage my credibility networks. Wondering what a credibility network is? You can probably guess, but I’ll explain in my next column.
NetNewsWire does two things amazing well, first, it reads RSS feeds. I’m not going to explain RSS here, but I will point you at this. The good news is that most weblogs I care about sport an RSS feed. When I asked Emma why her site didn’t, she claimed, “I think weblogs are about the content and the presentation” and she’s right… they are. They’re also published with the intent that it’s reasonably easy to discover and read them.
While I appreciate the huge amount of work that goes into sites, I’d argue that without an RSS feed, the individual weblog has less of a chance of being discovered, let alone read because more people can read RSS-based sites than crawl their bookmark files (keep reading re: scalability). Besides, it’s just a matter of time before NetNewsWire embeds a browser to gracefully display weblog content in it’s fully HTML rendered glory thus making this concern irrelevant to both Emma as well big media types who avoid RSS because of a few of lowering click-thru rates.
The other rock star feature of NetNewsWire is its scalability. I discovered this in two distinct phases. Phase #1 we’ll call, “What’s the RSS-thing all about anyway?” This was when I downloaded the application and subscribed to ten of my favorite weblogs. Now, whenever I schedule it, NetNewsWire pings all the weblogs, finds new articles, and flags them, Depending on the RSS feed, additional sortable data shows up in the table at the top as well as an excerpt or the article in the detail view.
The side effect of a successful Phase #1 is Phase #2, “Scale, Scale, Scale”. As soon I got in the zone with 20+ feeds, I find more weblogs I want to read and I start adding them to my list because my credibility network is growing. The list grows longer and suddenly fills the entire list. Wait, I don’t want to start scrolling, so what do I do? Groups. Using the collapsible tree control, NetNewsWire allows you to group sites and then does a spectacular job of rolling all the new content contained in ALL the sites to the top level. This means that for every group, I only see the content that is hot and juicy. Are you drooling, yet? You should be.
NetNewsWire has painlessly scaled to handle hundreds of weblogs for me. This means I’m scanning the fact/fiction/opinion of hundreds of people every minute of every day. I challenged anyone who is currently bookmarked or tabbed based to efficiently read hundreds of weblogs in the time it takes to drink your coffee. If your answer is, “I don’t care about hundreds of weblogs”, I would suggest you are a state of technical denial where your tool (i.e.: a browser) has limited your vision. Think about it like this, if you were lucky enough to find ten weblogs that you like isn’t it possible there are, at least, another ten and wouldn’t it great if there were a whole lot more?
Other random NetNewsWire comments:
1. The application is stunning because it’s on a Mac, but, well, it’s on a Mac which inherently limits its popularity to 5% of the PC market. Fortunately, for NetNewsWire, many of the popular webloggers appears to Apple fanatics. This bodes well for NetNewsWire. [Sidebar: Would it be ironic if the technology which toppled the Microsoft monopoly was information packaged in weblogs?]
2. I have many machines and they’re not all Macs which means I’m currently out of luck when I’m sitting at a machine which a) isn’t a Mac or b) isn’t my primary machine with my NetNewsWire preferences. This likely to lead to web-based RSS-readers since it’d be really handy to be able to surf my news independent of what computer I happen to be on. [Sidebar: I'm distinctly unwilling to part with the Cocoa smoothness of NetNewsWire]
3. NetNewsWire comes in two flavors a Lite and (presumably for pay) Pro version. The Lite version is simply the RSS browser while the Pro version includes a weblog publishing tool as well as a notepad-like outliner. Considering Ranchero is currently a one man effort, this seems like a lot to bite off especially since I’d be more than willing to part with twenty ducks for the Lite version.