I’m a huge RSS fan and scan at least 500 articles a day. The Google Reader desktop site is my go-to as the usability is enormous. Clean design, snappy page loads, infinite scrolling lists, keyboard shortcuts and more make for a really painless experience.
On the mobile side, I’ve ended up using the Google Reader Mobile site. I tweeted awhile ago about wanting a version of Google Reader that supported Gears. Pretty much the only thing that trips me up on the mobile site is the loading times. If it was Gears-enabled, I could have it sync up automatically, effectively killing the loading times. Otherwise, the mobile site is fantastically efficient and meets all of my primary use cases. Google knows the use case for reading RSS feeds on the go will be different than sitting down at a desktop. The biggest difference is the need to digest news in smaller quantities.
On the desktop, the site lets you pull up every article from a feed and can even mark as read once you’ve scrolled past it. You can organize your feeds by tags or folders but I’m a fan of just reading each feed separately. I process the information better if it is not coming from multiple sources at once. The mobile site also lets you read per feed and by default, shows 15 articles at once. Fifteen is a reasonable default as it accounts for slow cellular data and supports the chunk approach to reading. If I have scanned a headline and do not want to read the article, I definitely want to mark it as read. I can scan fifteen headlines in a few seconds and go on to the next chunk. If something else grabs my attention, I can just mark the ones I’ve scanned as read. My mental model (“I have seen this article and don’t need to see it again”) and the software model match making the mobile site a breeze to use.
I had the pleasure of vacationing in Hawaii recently and thought I’d try an iPhone app that does offline syncing. Five hours on a plane and I’ll get sick of my current book or Nintendo DS and thought catching up on my RSS feeds would be a good use of time. From current reviews, it seemed like Byline would fit my needs best. It does offline syncing, supports syncing with Google Reader and was quoted as having a blazing fast interface. Unfortunately, I forgot to set it up until I was at the airport. No wifi = no article caching. I can’t fault Byline, I screwed up. A little dejected that I impulsively spent $5 on an iPhone app (don’t laugh, $5 is considered high-roller territory in the iPhone app world), I gave up on Byline until I returned from the trip.
I fired Byline up once I was back in the confines of a home replete with wifi. So, it’ll only grab the most recent 50 articles? It won’t let me view by feed? My first impressions were of confusion and confirmed I shouldn’t have spent $5. Once I decided just to take a look at the crappy “50 most recent, no sorting” view, the really whammy hit. On the Google Reader Mobile site, it’ll feed you a list of articles. You can see the full headline and if there’s space, a snippet of the article itself. Clicking on a headline expands that item, showing the full article and any associated pictures. As you scroll, the rest of your headlines are still there. You aren’t taken to another page. In Byline? Clicking on an article takes you to a new page. You either have to hit back to go to the full list or you’re given up and down arrows to move to the next or previous item. This is _terrible_ for reading feeds. I don’t want to use the up and down arrows because I’m not sure I want to read the full article. I just want to see the headlines. I don’t want to use the back button as there is a perceptible delay every time you change views. To make matters even worse (yeah, this is getting bad), Byline doesn’t even show the full headline. It crams as much as it can into a two line list item. If the headline doesn’t fit, it gets trimmed. Just trying to _read_ feeds is tiring:
I did a bit of digging and found that Byline will show you a “folder view”. This required making folders on the desktop site and then organizing every single one of my feeds. There was also a setting that would increase the 50 limit to 200. Not sufficient, but an improvement. With these changes, I could actually view my feeds in a slightly more organized fashion. Unfortunately, the flow for reading feeds was still so mentally taxing! Every single click required some amount of delay. The great thing about the mobile site is that, once the headlines are loaded, there is almost no delay. Clicking on a headline opens the article immediately and the images are loaded soon after. Google got it right; instead of adding a delay with every action, they bundled it all together. I might have to wait 5 seconds for a batch of headlines to load but once that has loaded, it’s instantaneous.
I might be giving Byline a bad rap; it’s probably a good application but Google Reader Mobile is already a great application… and it’s free. Can I still ask for a version with Gears support though?