Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The SearchFox RSS Workflow

When we first looked at how people read posts in RSS aggregators, we came across two distinctive models:

1 – Non-aggregated model: You see all the posts for a single feed in one page. The system will assume you read all the posts as soon as you select a different feed.

This workflow is forcing users to check every single feed. It may work well for 10 or 15 feeds, but it breaks very quickly. In addition, all the posts are removed from the feed view once you leave that feed, even if you haven’t even seen the posts.

2 – Aggregated model: You see all the posts from a group of feeds, usually paginated. Read posts don’t go away, instead they are marked as read. Seen posts remain the same.

Aggregating posts from different feeds makes sense. Users care about a relatively low number of topics but have a much higher number of feeds that cover those topics. However, ranking the aggregated feeds chronologically produces an even bigger problem. It becomes harder to read the feeds you like the most and feeds that publish several times an hour take over your reader.

We looked at the shortcoming of the current readers and designed a workflow with the following goals in mind:

- Show what’s most important to the user first
- Don’t assume seen or displayed posts have been read
- Reduce the number of clicks to a minimum

Here is how the workflow works for one of my folders with 30 feeds:

- Click on a folder (1 click)
- Expand the posts I want to read (10 clicks)
- Go to next page (1 click)
- Expand the posts I want to read (1 click)
- Archive All (1 click)

Notice that I did not go pass page two because the “personalization engine” brought the most important stuff to the top.

Alternatively, you can use the “archive page” feature if you are not done with a folder and have to do something else. So you won’t miss what you haven’t seen yet. In addition, all the archived posts are accessible using search or clicking on “show all”.

Total of 14 clicks and spent no time skimming through the clutter. Time: 18 minutes. Not bad. Now, I would like to know how you do. Feel free to share you experience and time savings…