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A first look at Shaun Inman’s “Fever”

Twitter and the blogs have been abuzz today over Shaun Inman‘s newest creation, called Fever. Some of you may be familiar with Shaun’s previous creation, Mint, a really nifty blog stats package that you host yourself. Inman is on familiar ground this time with Fever, creating a spiffy feed reader, full of AJAX-y goodness, suitable for hosting on your own website.

I’ve been a regular Google Reader user for years now, occasionally trying out other readers… there was that fling with Feedlounge, before it went under, and occasional dalliances with NewsGator’s line of readers… but I’ve always gone back to Google Reader. I took a look at Inman’s demo of Fever, though, over on feedafever.com, and knew it was time to give it a try.

Does the world really need another feed reader, anyway?

Creating a new RSS feed reader is no simple task. Taking accepted existing designs and improving on them requires creativity and good ideas about usability. Inman is on the right track here. But aside from the UI design, Inman has created a dual-purpose tool. On one hand, Fever is a traditional feed reader. You subscribe, it updates the feeds, you read. On the other hand, though, Fever is something like your own personal Digg. You can subscribe to all those noisy feeds, those linkdump feeds that occasionally have something interesting in them, and identify them as “Sparks”. Then Fever will aggregate them, pick out the hot topics, and present them to you in a “Hot” category, grouping them around a specific topic or link. This, to me, looks like the really slick part of Fever.

After the jump: my experience with installing Fever, importing my feed list, and some thoughts on usability and performance.

Purchase and Installation

Like Mint before it, Inman’s pricing model is similar to that of off-the-shelf software: pay once, install on your own machine. In this case, your own webhost. $30 buys you a license which is tied to a specific domain name.

Installation is ridiculously easy. You download a little “tester” zip file, unzip it and upload it to your domain, and visit the one page that it creates. The tester does some cursory checks to ensure that adequate versions/settings of PHP and SQL are present, and then does a database check to ensure your database is set up with adequate permissions. A word of warning here: pay attention: the database settings you use to test here will be used to install Fever should you choose to purchase it. This wasn’t clear to me when I did the install. Fortunately it didn’t become an issue.

Once your server has passed all the tests, you are given a link that will take you back to feedafever.com, where you can drop your $30 via Paypal for the license. Once you pay up, you are given a license key which you can then copy and paste back into Fever. Normally, at this point, you’d be expecting to have to download a full install, upload it, do some manual configuration, and so on, right? Not with Fever, though. Once you give it the license key, Fever silently installs the full setup (about 900 KB of files) and you’re up and running. Brilliant.

Importing Feeds

Next I went over to Google Reader and dumped my OPML file. I’m a heavy user, probably not quite in the ‘power user’ category yet, but the OPML had 454 feeds, about 100KB worth of XML. It took about two clicks to suck it into fever, and the import went very smoothly. Compared to the import times when I’ve tried using FeedDemon, FeedLounge, or (shudder) Bloglines, Fever screamed through the import.

You have the option of keeping all your categories from the OPML or choosing not to when you import. I did keep my categories, but found a small issue with that choice later on – there is a bug (design choice?) that keeps the category list from scrolling. So, I can only see about half of my lists. Not a fatal issue, but something that needs fixed.

2009-06-17_205725

Once the feeds were imported, Fever started kicking off updates of all the feeds. This just takes a little while. If you want to set up a cron job on your server, you can have Fever pull in updates every 15 minutes ’round the clock. If not, Fever will update every 15 minutes when you have it open in a browser. I have yet to set up the cron job – we’ll see how it goes.

General Usage

Fever is set up with the power user in mind. Keyboard shortcuts are built-in and intuitive; they allow you to do navigation, switch between two-pane and three-pane views (shown below), and the space bar lets you jump one article at a time, or, if it’s a long article, one page at a time. Slick.

Two-Column View
Two-Column View
Three-Column View
Three-Column View

Fever looks great, too. The overall layout feels a lot like Google Reader, even more like its Greasemonkey-enhanced alter ego Helvetireader. Group and feed lists are on the side, and you have the choice of showing or hiding unread counts.

When you go to the Hot category, Fever assigns “temperatures” to the topics and presents the links in grouped form. For example, in the shot below, “Sojurn Community Church” is a hot topic among my feeds, and the half-dozen links discussing it are listed below. Clicking on any of them opens the actual blog article in a new tab. The “temperatures” are the one thing I’m actually a little unsure about. While they are a nice way of showing “hot” topics, having the temperature listed there in a BIG font seems a little big cheesy. We’ll have to see how it stands the test of time.

"Hot" View
Hot View

Performance

I have yet to hear from my webhost and friend Geof complaining that the server’s taking a beating, so I’m hoping Fever has a smart backend that won’t tie up the server. Right now the SQL database is taking about 13 MB of space. I’m a bit curious to see at what point Fever starts pruning old feed items and how large my database might grow to be.

Bugs and Quirks

I do have a few gripes with Fever that I hope will get ironed out in short order. (Note: Fever automatically checks the server for updates to itself! Awesome!) The first is the feed editing dialog. (Click on the image to see it full-sized.) Maybe it’s just because I have a lot of groups defined, but when I bring up the feed editing dialog, the bottom of the box is off-screen, with no way to scroll to it. (This is running 1280×800 resolution with Firefox fully maximized.) Fortunately, if I F11 to full screen view, the whole thing just barely fits on the screen. Otherwise, I’d be stuck.

Edit Feed window
Edit Feed window

The other general gripe is the mechanism for sorting feeds into groups. As I said earlier, I had a lot (50?) of categories defined in my OPML file, so I decided I’d consolidate things a bit. Creating a new group is easy; picking the feeds for it is less so. Once you decide to edit a group, you are given a scroll box with your entire list of feeds. It’s a multi-select box, which means you better make sure you hold down the Control key while you scroll through and select the ones you want – otherwise you’ll be starting over. Ugh. Suggestion for Mr. Inman: use check boxes. Or even better, figure out a way to drag-and-drop. Update in the comments below: there is drag-and-drop support to move feeds into groups. Sweet!

Edit Group window
Edit Group window

As a general note, there is an iPhone/iPod Touch interface built in for Fever. To this point, though, it’s not liking my Fever login… not sure why. Gotta keep trying.

Summary

All in all, Fever is a welcome addition to the world of feed readers. For a tool I’m gonna use every day, I’m willing to spend a few bucks, and I think in this case Fever is $30 well spent. I’m looking forward to having a few days to get things organized, and for a few bugs to get sorted out, and I may well have a new favorite feed reader. Time will tell.

14 thoughts on “A first look at Shaun Inman’s “Fever”

  1. Fever looks amazing. I’ve never stuck with a feed reading application as long as I have Google Reader; it’s been my go-to app for reading after intermittent stays with NetNewsWire, Vienna, NewsFire, etc. Just watching the demo video and reading your review of it makes my paypal-finger itch.

    Great review of something that’s been on my mind all day; definitely trying it out soon.

  2. Inman owes you a kickback, because your glowing review plus the “Holy ####!” from your email yesterday have me on the cusp of buying it. [By which I mean I will later today.]

    1. Believe, me, Geof, I looked to see if he had some sort of referral system set up… but it doesn’t look like it. Oh well. Anyway, I owe you one. At least one.

  3. Re: “even better, figure out a way to drag-and-drop.”

    I may be misunderstanding your request, but Fever° does in fact have drag-and-drop. No need to go into the Edit screen to move things around. He barely touches on it in the orientation video, but it’s in there.

    First, make sure you’re in the 3-column view. Next, from whatever group you’re in (including Kindling), drag any feed from the center (feed-list) column, and drop it in any other group. To remove from the current group, you’ll notice that the Search bar is replaced by a “Remove From Group” drop-area. Each feed can be assigned to as many groups as you want, or none at all.

    My only pain-point was customizing the list of Kindling. Figured it would be the same as Sparks, and I’d need to add stuff to it, rather than subtract. But I can totally see why he built it that way. Shaun’s a smart dude, I’m sure most of his decisions in Fever° are specifically going to scratch some itches that people didn’t even know they had. Problem is, these days, most people ditch just as soon as they feel even slightly lost.

    1. Holy cow, I completely missed that in the demo video. That’s pretty great. Thanks for the update, Jim.

      Shaun’s a smart dude, I’m sure most of his decisions in Fever° are specifically going to scratch some itches that people didn’t even know they had. Problem is, these days, most people ditch just as soon as they feel even slightly lost.

      Yeah, I can understand that inclination… but the $30 I spent makes me stick with it a while. And hey, what am I saying?!? I have no reason to want to bail.

      1. Better-late-than-never response:

        You’re welcome! And I was just thinking, that $30 barrier to entry is the perfect way for Shaun to vet his target audience. Of course, there are practical reasons for not granting demos, but I have to imagine it’s also nice to keep the signal-to-noise nice and high in the customer base.

        But, having used Fever for almost a month, I gotta say…I’m really, really disliking the iPhone web app for one main reason: Most of my disposable time is congruent with subway rides. Not only that, but even on the 3GS, the CSS animations are just too slow. I haven’t looked too deep into the code yet, but I don’t think he’s using the hardware-accelerated animations that WebKit supports.

        Anyhow, I still LOVE the standard version (in conjunction with Fluid.app). But, without integration with a kickass iPhone experience, I feel like I’ve abandoned my “safe” NNW setup, and invested heavily enough in Fever that I’m kinda feeling “in limbo.” Hell, if I knew there were an API or something, I’d feel a little better.

  4. I reported the 1280×800 scrolling problem (and a few other nits & bugs I found) to Shaun Inman a few days ago and he replied that the issue will be fixed in the next release.

  5. I’m in the ‘not sure why I bought this now’ camp after playing with it for a while, but I’m also in the ‘I paid for it and I’m going to darn well make it work for me!’ camp.

    My problem is that despite having watched the screencast etc, I didn’t fully comprehend the uselessness of the software unless you happen to subscribe to a LOT of ‘low signal to noise’ feeds. The only really useful feature is the Hot list. Otherwise it’s like any other newsreader in which you really need to read everything. What Fever does is look at everything in your Sparks list, then look at everything in your Kindling list, then create the hot list based on how many things are replicated across the two lists.

    The other problem is that the vast majority of my newsfeeds (and I only have a few dozen) do not really replicate each other. I only have one or two gaming news feeds, a handful of photography news feeds, a load of photoblog feeds (each with unique content), some webcomic feeds (again, unique content), Daring Fireball (replicates other links from sites I don’t subscribe to anyway, and unique comment), etc etc etc.

    My only real Sparks are the Coudal feed and… um… I guess some of my Mac news feeds could go in there as they all replicate each other, but that means unless I dig into my Sparks list I’ll definitely miss unique news or features that aren’t being reported elsewhere.

    I’m not heavily dissing it, just wondering what would be the difference between Fever, and a NetNewsWire that looks at all my feeds, works out which ones are talking about the same thing and bumps those topics into a ‘Hot’ category itself.

    I want to make the most of it though so I would encourage anyone that has a better grip on it to give me some good Sparks and Kindling feeds to plug into it, in the tech, gaming, Apple and gadgety news realm, so I can see what it’s supposed to be doing for me!

    Cheers!

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