Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

My Broken Mailbox

I, as with most people, have an odd and somewhat irrational dislike of certain software features and anomalies. I really hate when applications use anything other than Cmd + , for the shortcut key to their preferences. I don’t know what it is about that, but it drives me so far up the wall that I will spend valuable time searching for ways to remap it. It’s just a stupid little thing, but it presses my berserk button.

Mail application user interfaces are another example of things that kill a small part of me. I don’t know why, but nearly every email application has the same crappy user interface. I don’t know what would be ideal, but I know that the current Mail-Outlook-Thunderbird paradigm doesn’t fit with the way I work with email.

For some reason, usenet (and more recently, RSS) clients were lumped in with email, and have therefore adopted the same user interface concepts. It’s a broken paradigm, and it makes it almost comically difficult to find an RSS reader that I can love.

Owing to this irrational hatred towards email-like interfaces, my RSS client for the past couple of years on both my iPad and Mac has been Acrylic Apps’ Pulp. It’s a beautiful app. I love the Magic Reader feature, the shelf, and the smart home page. But I have been torn from it lately for two reasons:

  1. While it handles a dozen or two RSS feeds with aplomb, it’s extremely cumbersome with any more feeds than that. It also doesn’t handle oft-updated feeds—like TechMeme or The Verge—very well.
  2. The developers have been acquired by Facebook, so their software has been abandoned.

It became clear that it was time to find a new reader. Happily, my recent purchase included the back to school promotional $100 Apple ID gift card.

I have heard nothing but rave reviews for Reeder, so I figured I should at least try it. It’s a very clean, well-detailed application. It also has a bunch of great keyboard shortcuts, so it’s really easy to fly through a bunch of articles.

There are a few faults, though. I am one of the few people who dislikes Google Reader syncing, because it’s an unpublished, unofficial API, and therefore subject to change. Acrylic Apps solved this the smart way with Pulp by building their own syncing service (followed by using iCloud to handle it). I don’t like the lingering prospect that one of my applications might break on Google’s whim.

It’s also marred by a few usability issues. There’s no way to rename a feed after adding it, and there’s no drag-and-drop support for recategorizing feeds into the correct folder. One must remove the feed, then add it back in the correct folder. Setting Reeder up is a painful, tedious experience.

But the most substantial reason I dislike Reeder is that it uses my most-hated of application user interfaces. It even inherets email’s irritating unread badge. It’s a weird tick which I cannot ignore. It renders a beautifully-detailed, elegant application unfeasible for me.

Much in the same way that Tobais van Schneider wants to redesign the email application, I would love to see a better RSS reader, losing the legacy mailbox metaphor. I don’t think Pulp or Flipboard hit it quite right, either. I know that Twitter has replaced RSS for many people, but there’s still a special place for feeds, where they won’t get mixed in with dick jokes.