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Catch the Fever

Fever launched today to much fanfare, and it’s hot. Red hot.

The problem with traditional feed readers is that they treat RSS like an inbox, assuming that you want to go through and read every post, one by one.

This leads to one of two scenarios:

  • People subscribe to an infinite number of blogs so they “don’t miss a thing” and become overwhelmed by the RSS backlog, eventually declaring feed reader bankruptcy.
  • People — most often the ones that have already fallen victim to scenario one — decide to carefully examine every site they add to their feed reader, only adding the ones they know they’ll read religiously.

RSS today is not what it was four years ago. There are tumblogs and linked lists and reblogs and retweets and everyone and their pet dog is linking to everyone else’s content. RSS has become more of a notification system than a distribution system.

Many have tried to grasp onto this new form of “word-of-mouth” linking, with the most notable example being Tumblr. And while Tumblr has done an excellent job at making it easy for people to republish content to their own audience, I can’t help but feel that they’ve neglected the creation of original content.

I love original content and I love reblogged content and I wish some genius would find a way to stick them into one neat little package with a cherry on top.

Someone did, and that someone is Shaun Inman.

Feed a Fever

Fever treats both original and regurgitated content as first-class citizens, cleverly labeling them as Kindling and Sparks respectively.

Shaun Inman explains:

Fever asks you to make a simple distinction between essential and supplemental feeds. Essential, must-read feeds are Kindling. Supplemental, low signal-to-noise feeds are Sparks. Sparks ignite Kindling raising the temperature of items and links that should not be missed.

Fever then acts as a self-contained recommendation engine of sorts for the content that you’re already subscribed to. It finds which links are popular among your Fever “ecosystem” and pushes them to the top of your “Hot” list. You can check in, skim the latest buzz, and check out — all without sacrificing the Kindling that you actively subscribe to and read religiously.

It really is a marvelous concept that allows you to go wild with feed subscriptions. You can toss all your new feeds into the Sparks group risk-free and reap the benefit of an improved Fever algorithm. As Shawn Blanc points out, contrary to the traditional wisdom of feed readers, the more feeds you throw at it, the better Fever actually functions.

Web App Hotness

As my partner in crime will tell you, I am not a fan of web apps that try to replicate, much less replace native desktop applications. While Fever isn’t perfect, it’s as close to a desktop app as you’re going to get in a browser. Fever has better keyboard shortcuts than most native applications — it’s entire user interface can be navigated from the ‘board.

Even better, if you have one of the newer MacBook Pros with a multitouch trackpad and do a little MultiClutch and Fluid tweaking, you trigger Fever’s “arrowing out” to an article by simply swiping three fingers across your trackpad. Pretty nifty, huh?

The real reason I decided to switch from a native feed reader to a web-based client is its ubiquity. All your RSS feeds can be accessed from any modern web browser and from your iPhone or iPod Touch without dealing with the cumbersome, frustrating, and unreliable process of syncing.

Not to mention that the iPhone web app is downright gorgeous, albeit a bit laggy:

fever-iphone.png

The Blob of Awesomeness

After a day of use, it’s clear that Sparks are the key to Fever’s magic algorithm. Although it turns out that finding link feeds to cram into Fever’s blob of awesomeness is much harder than I previously thought.

When I saw Fever’s “saved posts” feature (which involves tapping the ‘s’ key on any item you wish to save for later), I couldn’t help but ponder a better way to not only find content, but to share it.

What if Fever had the ability to not only “save” but “star” a post or link that one thought was particularly interesting. Fever could easily make this custom “starred” list into a public RSS feed that other Fever users could throw into their blobs of awesomeness to create an even bigger blob of awesomeness.

It would be a drop-dead simple recommendation engine that anyone could customize, tweak, or opt into or out of at any moment, while at the same time ensuring that users are not bombarded by information overload — skimming here and there to find the occasional meat among the bones.

Cause after all, the biggest forest fires are the ones that spread.

Subsidized

While you can buy an iPhone for $199, iPhones have never actually been that cheap.

When you sign a two or three contract with a cell phone carrier, you agree to put up with frustrating service, ambiguous legalese, and a metric ton of hidden fees in exchange for a $200 subsidy on your phone.

Is the $200 worth two years of dealing with a company that just wants to get more money out of you? Probably not — but it sure helps sell iPhones like hotcakes.

So the iPhone 3GS is announced at WWDC and you’re happily heading over to Apple.com to dish out a couple hundred bucks for a new phone. Then the fine print stabs you through the heart:

For non-qualified customers, including existing AT&T customers who want to upgrade from another phone or replace an iPhone 3G, the price with a new two-year agreement is $499 (8GB), $599 (16GB), or $699 (32GB). Visit www.wireless.att.com for eligibility information.

No matter which way you try and spin it, $700 is a lot for a new phone. Logically, it makes sense. You’re paying $299 for the iPhone 3GS, $200 for the subsidy that AT&T would have paid, and $200 that was subsidized from your previous iPhone 3G.

The inherent problem with this is that you’re still under a new two year contract even after paying the full price for the new iPhone — essentially signing a contract with no new subsidy (akin to the original iPhone).

How to Work Around AT&T’s Cash Grab

For those that know how to navigate the cell carrier’s convoluted system, there is a workaround that, while still pricey, is significantly cheaper than going down the default upgrade path.

Last year, AT&T came out with an Early Termination Fee option that enables you to cancel your contract at any time for a flat fee of $175. Additionally, if you are more than 12 months into your contract, that $175 fee decreases by $5 every month.

In effect, it’s cheaper to cancel your current AT&T contract for $175 and purchase a brand new iPhone 3G subsidized for either $199 or $299 respectively. For the 32GB model, that’s a total of $474 instead of the $699 of going down the upgrade route.

UPDATE: Most 3G iPhone’s are available for special pricing until they become “upgrade eligible”. These upgrade prices vary depending on the length remaining on your contract. Most users are seeing $399 and $499, while some are seeing $499 and $599. This is an epic mess.

Even better, you get to keep a contract-free iPhone 3G which can be sold for a pretty penny online (read: $500+), making the total cost of upgrading to the new iPhone next to free.


And for all you complaining about AT&T, Rogers (the exclusive iPhone carrier in Canada) charges $500 to cancel your contract early. Then again, we get tethering first. So count your blessings.

Promoting your product or service with banner ads — is it worth it?

This post just made my day and probably my week.

Milo’s First Day

Have you ever seen this much cuteness in a single video?

To Boldly Go Up

I went to see Up tonight with my younger cousin and returned home to find this post by John Rust:

After watching most previous Pixar films, I’ve left the theater knowing that I’ve been treated to a great story — but still a story that’s separated from reality in some way. One can get a great deal out of these films, but certainly not as much were the main character a car or a rat [sic], rather than a real, believable human being. This is, in my opinion, what makes Up the best Pixar film yet.

I tend to agree with John. I remember when I first came across the “I Turn My Pillow Over to Get to the Cold Side” group on Facebook. It was totally random and not the least bit important but I couldn’t help but be amazed that I wasn’t the only one ‘flippin’ it over’ in the middle of the night. Other people do it too. Wow.

The genius of Pixar’s characters are their genuineness. You sit back in the theatre and laugh out loud and realize that you’re not the only one that’s said, felt, thought, or done those things. It’s almost as if the character knows you (or us) too well.

I’ve often wondered what would happen if Pixar put as much effort into portraying humans as magically and eloquently as they portray bugs and toys and robots. Well, they’ve finally done it, and let me tell you: it’s better than I ever imagined.

I wish people of my generation were as passionate about government as they are about insignificant changes to the layout of Facebook.

- @holloway

The Ultimate Coda Colour Scheme

I picked up a license of Coda today to take advantage of Panic’s 50%-off sale. As a complete non-web developer who doesn’t do this thing every day, Coda has completely changed the way I work on my website. In a good way. A very, very good way.

Unfortunately, the default colour scheme was quickly giving my face an LED sunburn and I needed to find something a little easier on the eyes. Behold Joe Bergantine’s excellent colour scheme for Coda.

I had no idea code could ever be this beautiful.

‘A Personally Branded Recommendation Channel’

By hand-picking ads only for products and services that you’ve actually used and liked, it stops being an ad feed and starts being a personally branded recommendations channel. It’s closer to an affiliate relationship with the advertiser – like the millions of people that mention a book in a blog post and then link to amazon with their affiliate ID.

Ultimately, the only value in advertising (from the consumer’s perspective, so we’ll ignore brand reinforcement) is product discovery. But ad targeting sucks (push model) compared to recommendations from humans with whom you have a proven track record of common taste and interest (pull model – I choose to read waxy.org). When a friend recommends a new product to me, it doesn’t feel like an ad, it feels like news.

If every online “publisher” (ezines, blogs, etc) were to adopt the same “only products I’ve used and liked” model, advertising would start to become a valuable part of the publication – enough so that it would be to our benefit to NOT run AdBlock. Afterall, you don’t run PostBlock, because you believe you’ll be interested in what that author has to say.

Here’s my point in a nutshell. I friggin hate advertising, but capitalists defend it with “how else can companies inform consumers about new products?” This is the practical alternative, and I’m all for it.

This is the most brilliant thing I’ve read about advertising. Ever.

Shawn Blanc:

Nerds are suckers for information. And the really gargantuan nerds love to find out information about other nerd’s nerdery.

All the gargantuan nerds in the house need to check out Chris Bowler’s behind-the-scenes look at Fusion. Without Chris, our workflow would be strewn across multiple applications with no clearly defined purpose. Not so anymore — in fact, we even have an internal document that defines specifically how we do what we do (or at least it’s on my todo list).

It’s pretty obvious who won the desktop vs. web app debate though…

thelongbrake is back

One of my most favouritest blogs is back online. This is without a doubt the most genuine man on the Internet, folks.

The good folks at the Iconfactory shipped Twitterrific 2.0 for iPhone today.

It’s gorgeous. I especially like the “Raven” theme as well as the little lights that appear along the sides of the screen when you select a tweet. It should also be commended for adding some innovative features that haven’t been done before — like Marks (private favourites) and Profile notes.

The most debatable concept (at least in my mind) is the “action” menu. In an attempt to keep the UI simple, Twitterrific 2 shoves everything you can do with a tweet into a single menu, allowing you to select any tweet in your timeline and preform actions based on it.

This is compared to Tweetie for iPhone which has many of the same features, but whose implementation feels more organic. With Twitterrific, I feel as if I have to know what every button does, compared to Tweetie, where I find buttons for what I want to do right where they should be.

I can visualize Tweetie’s hierarchy in my mind. It all make sense. It’s like Spaces on the desktop — I’m not just switching virtual desktops, I’m moving up, down, left, and right.

Twitterrific definitely has the looks, but Tweetie still feels better. And that’s all Tweetie ever had going for it.