I’m trying out a new feed reader called Fever. So far, I like it. Even if I didn’t like it, at the very least Fever’s creator Shaun Inman deserves major credit for diving into a moribund marketplace and trying to create something new and interesting.

Fever is a collection of PHP files that you install on your own server, sold for $30/pop. There is no central hosting, so if you don’t have access to a server, you’re out of luck. At first glance this seems like a crazy business decision. On the other hand:

  • running a hosted service is a PITA
  • in 2010, anyone who is actively looking for a new feed reader is almost guaranteed to be a nerd who has their own server

More interesting than Fever’s basic architecture or business model is how Fever treats feeds and entries. There are three basic categories:

  • Kindling — feeds that you want to read on a regular basis. Family, friends, important stuff.
  • Sparks — feeds that you don’t really care about reading regularly. These feeds only really exist as fodder for the Hot list.
  • The Hot list — a list of links that Fever has determined to be relevant based on the contents of your Kindling and Sparks.

For example, one of the top entries in my Hot list right now is “Do you skim?” In NetNewsWire, I would have seen this post anyway, since tor.com is one of my daily reads. However, Fever boosts this post to the top because the link is also referenced by SFSignal (a Spark) and a couple of science fiction author blogs (also Sparks). Another link in the Hot list is a PDF article in National Affairs by Robert Solow, “Science and Ideology in Economics.” I don’t subscribe to National Affairs at all, but that link appeared in a couple of my Sparks, so poof! there it is.

What I love about this design is that it mirrors how I actually want to think about feeds. There are my actual friends and colleagues who I want to pay attention to, plus a small number of pro blogs that are consistently interesting. And then there are feeds that are sort of interesting, but just not worth the cost of adding to the feed reader. But in Fever, you can just throw lower-priority feeds into Sparks and never have to think about them again. If anything interesting happens, Fever will bubble it up. In traditional feed readers, this kind of thing is a chore — I know I can only keep up with so many feeds, so every new feed is a costly decision. Fever solves this problem elegantly. It’s actually kind of liberating to race around the web, adding feeds again.

The other brilliant thing about Fever is that unread counts are not shown by default.

What are my issues with Fever?

  • The only big one is, reading authenticated feeds does not seem to work, at least not with protected LiveJournals. This only affects a couple of my feeds, but it’s something I really need to figure out before I’ll be able to wean myself from NetNewsWire entirely.
  • This might be pilot error, but as far as I can tell, links in the Hot list don’t seem to have the concept of “Read / Unread”. Instead, they have a “Blacklist” button that nukes the link from view. There’s something a little off about having only this metaphor for clearing up the Hot list.
  • Building up Sparks is pretty fun, but you have to be careful to keep things balanced: if you add a bunch of SF writer blogs, you need to add a roughly equal number of econ blogs, and so on. Otherwise one group will start to dominate. (SF nerds vs. econ nerds: FIGHT!)
  • So far, Twitter appears to be useless. I’ve added a few of the people I follow on Twitter to Sparks, and either these test feeds don’t include enough overlapping links to make a difference, or Fever is getting confused by Twitter’s link shorteners. Screw link shorteners and screw Twitter.

So next up, figuring out the auth problem. After that, pulling in my Facebook activity and turning it into a dedicated private feed for Fever to consume. Thanks to Facebook’s EVIL PRIVACY-DESTROYING BABY-KILLING Graph API, I think that project might be easy enough even for me.

3 thoughts on “Fever

  1. I’ve been using Fever since Shaun released it and I like it. I stopped using it for a while after getting my iPad just because the interface didn’t really work, and that was my toy of the moment. The latest version fixes most of my gripes (except images sometimes flow outside the right column) and there’s an iPad app that I can’t recommend (Ashes) that will hopefully be updated to not be incredibly slow.

    You’re right about read/unread not being a part of the Hot List – but that’s become my “check first thing, check last thing” area. See what’s getting a lot of press before diving into the feeds, and look for things I missed after I clean out my unread items. Read/Unread is actually something of an issue in general in that Fever doesnt’ make it easy to mark things as unread, so I either end up Instapapering things or leaving them to whither in a background tab.

    All of which is to say that I wish that either Shaun or some Fever users would put together a nice source for Sparks. It seems that most of the major “real” new sources have cropped feeds with no links (a la Slashdot), making them useless as Sparks. What this means is that by getting most of my news from Fever, I get a heavy dose of pop culture and nerd activities, but hear about real news days late.

  2. It would be great to have a source of Sparks, to get started. You’re totally right that major news sources have remarkably stingy feeds. I think the majors might still be marginally useful to have as Sparks, just in case one of your “good” Sparks links to one of those articles.

    So do you every blacklist items in your Hot list once you’ve read them, or do you always just leave them alone until they fall off by themselves?

  3. The only thing I blacklist are the links to comment policies and the like that turn up from time to time (especially in Gawker feeds IIRC). I much prefer to leave them there to watch them grow, wither, and disappear over the course of the time window.

    In fact, what I’d really like is a way to feed all that into a visualizer and be able to see a line graph or a network diagram of big stories. I can’t help it: any time I get a good chunk of data I want to turn it into Google analytics or a screen saver. :-)

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