I got my email notifying me that I had been accepted to the FeedLounge alpha testing group the other day. I had been awaiting this new service for so long, that I immediately logged in and started playing around.

I definitely have to give the developers behind FeedLounge a ton of congrats. They’ve done a great job designing this interface. It’s definitely got a rich-client feel about it, which is what they were going for. Below I’m going to try and outline the majority of the features, as well as make a few comments and observations as I go. Overall, I think these guys are going to have a huge following when they launch FeedLounge!

Main Interface

When you log in from feedlounge.com, you’re presented with the screen below (click for larger version).

FeedLounge Main Interface

Key Features

Easy Navigation
Under the FeedLounge logo in the top left corner, you’ll find your three primary navigation options: Home, Tags, and History. I’m not big on Tagging (yet), so Home is really the only view I’ve used so far. Even though I haven’t used the History view yet, I can see it being a very helpful addition. It is exactly what you would expect from a History list, particularly if you’ve ever used the one found in your respective web browser of choice.

I have one minor complaint against the navigation. If you’re on the Home page, I think it should refresh the display when you click Home again. As of now, you have to click over to another page and then back before the display is refreshed (or click refresh in your browser, just like any other webpage). A very simple change to make, but I think it could make the user navigation experience much easier.

Multiple Layout Views
FeedLounge lets you pick one of two different layout views. Personally, I find the default (pictured above) the most usable. However, there’s also an “Outlook 2003”-like view, featuring the reading pane on the right, rather than below the message list. Since my browser is set to about 800 pixels wide, this makes the viewing area very small for me, so I don’t like it as much.as I do in Outlook 2003 (where I keep the window short and wide instead of tall and slim like Firefox).

Account Management
In the top right corner you’ll find the name of your currently logged in user as well as three other links: Settings, Help, and Log Out. Help and Log Out should be pretty obvious. The Settings link will load a totally AJAX-controlled “pop-over” consisting of three tabs, shown below (click for larger versions):

Settings--Preferences Settings--My-Account Settings--Statistics

I think everything in these panels are pretty self-explanatory. I like the Statistics page, which shows you detailed information about the feeds and items in your account. Now I can stop counting blogs and just look and see exactly how addicted I am! Great!

Feeds List
The feeds list is pretty much like the feed list in every other RSS feed reader I’ve ever used. The only thing I hadn’t seen before was the “tree” structure based on the tags you have assigned to a feed (Either upon addition or manually later. We’ll get to that in a minute). I ran through my feeds while I was importing them and sorted them into a few key tag groups similar to the folders I’d had them setup in with Onfolio. I wanted to keep the collection of feeds that FeedLounge included by default handy so that I could keep updated on changes and announcements, so I added a tag called “default” to all of them, as you see in the screenshot above.

You can navigate the tree just as you normally would: expand / collapse as many tags as you like, and scroll if the list gets too long. You can select individual feeds or an entire tag group to display the items contained therein (nice for quickly catching up on all the WordPress news at once).

Don’t worry about the buttons at the top of the list yet, we’ll get to those individually in a few minutes… Just trust Uncle Meller…

Items List
The list of items contained in your current selection (either an individual feed or an entire tag group, as noted above) displays either above the reading pane or to the left of it in a column, depending on the layout view you have selected.You can quickly see the title of the entry and the date and time it was published, as well as the categories it was published under on the author’s blog, something I had never seen before. Clicking on an entry in the item list displays it in the reading pane as you would expect, just like an email message. There is also a button at the top of the list to mark all items in the list as read.

I only have one real complaint about the Items view, but I’m not sure how exactly it could easily be solved (that’s why I don’t get paid the big money, right?). When you have an entire tag group selected, there’s no way to tell which of the blogs in that group posted the entry unless you click on it to read it. Like I said, I’m not sure of any efficient manner for displaying this in the list. Perhaps an overlib / tooltip when you hover over the entry in the list? The overlib idea would definitely go along with the current love of JavaScript. To keep it less annoying, maybe an “i” information icon in a column to the far left or right of the list, which could be hovered / clicked on to display a little more info quickly. Who knows, there are lots of options.

View / Reading Pane
The reading pane is exactly what you would expect it to be. There are options for: Read Status, Flag Status, Save Status, and Deletion. I was so busy looking for a “Mark as UnRead” option at first, that I didn’t realize the first three options in the list are all toggle buttons. Toggle on to mark the message as read, toggle off again to mark it as unread. Very nice. Since I use my feed reader as a huge archive of news relevant to me, I turned on the option to have items saved until deleted by me (in Settings, mentioned above). The Save status is also a toggle button, so you could manually “tag” / “flag” a message to be saved if you found it of interest if that’s the way you prefer to read your feeds.

If the feed is invalid, you’ll get a small bar (similar to the “Information Bar” in Internet Explorer 6 SP2) below the heading and list of tags, informing you of the error, with a link to the feedvalidator.org analysis. You can close this bar, in which case it is replaced by a warning icon instead. The state is remembered per feed, so you won’t have to close it every time you read a message.

At the very end of the item, you get the name of the feed it came from, as well as the date / time it was published, and the categories (same information that is displayed in the item list).

 

Feed Management

Adding a Feed
To add a new feed or import an OPML or even to search a few various “repositories”, you simply click the Add button at the top of your feeds list. Just as with the Settings link, this opens a new “popover” window, complete with three separate tabs / panels: Add Feed, Import OPML, and Tag / Search Feeds (what I refer to as ‘repositories’ here). All three are shown below (click for larger versions):

Add-Feed Add-Feed--Import-OPML Add-Feed--Tag-Search-Feeds

These three screens are pretty straight forward as well (Hasn’t everything been thus far? Yeah, it doesn’t get any harder from here…). You can add a feed by specifying the URL to the RSS feed and automatically add some tags if you like. You can also specify that it is a “Private” feed, or that it requires authentication to access (in which case you also get fields for your Username and Password).

When importing an OPML feed, you can upload the file from your computer, or load a pre-generated one off the ‘net somewhere. You’ve got options to save everything until manually deleted (my personal favorite), and to mark all messages imported as read (for example, if you’ve kept up-to-date on your feeds in your old reader and are migrating to FeedLounge).

When you’re snagging feeds from a “repository”, you select the source from the drop-down box. After you’ve made your selection, you get essentially the same two fields, although they may have different names for each: Tag / Term(s) [to search for] and Tags (that you’re applying to them, just like with adding a single feed). You also get the same check box option for saving items until manually deleted.

I don’t have any complaints about this process (although I haven’t tested the “repository” part), just a request. It’d sure be nice to be able to add a feed by simply specifying the host site’s URL, rather than the RSS feed’s. It should be a fairly simple matter to parse out the meta tags of the indicated page to find an RSS feed. Onfolio has a toolbar button that does the exact same thing. When it finds a feed embedded on the page you’re viewing, their button lights up. I certainly don’t remember the path to my own RSS feed, but I do remember my own URL. Why not do the rest of the work for me?

Editing a Feed
If you select a feed and click the Info button at the top of the feeds list, you’ll get several pieces of information, as seen below (click for larger version):

Feed-Info

You can specify your own custom title to be displayed for a feed, should the author’s assigned title be descriptive enough. You’re also shown the feed’s location and the host site’s URL. The info panel is also where you can specify tags to classify each blog under and whether items are automatically deleted, as well as view the private and authentication status of each blog.

Deleting a Feed
Should you finally decide Scoble is more boring than you can stand, it’s very easy to remove a feed from your list. Simply select it and click the Remove button at the top of the feeds list. After a short confirmation message, you’re free to keep reading more interesting news!

 

Conclusion

The FeedLounge team has put some incredible effort into designing a web-based RSS feed reader that provides the best of the internet world with the functionality and ease of the rich-media application. They’ve set their goals high, and haven’t disappointed this tester. Even though they haven’t even made it to a beta stage, their product is pretty stable, reliable, and responsive. If they can maintain this level of service as they scale, I think everyone will come out ahead.

Requests / Noticed Issues
While there certainly weren’t many features or issues of note, there are a few (some of which have already been acknowledged, as noted). These are generic problems / suggestions that I have yet to mention under a specific topic already. NOTE: These are in no particular order of priority / desire.

1 – Scrolling in the CSS-generated “boxes” of the FeedLounge interface is not possible using Firefox 1.0.x, as acknowledged in the FeedLounge FAQ here. As reported in the FeedLounge Forums (here), the SmoothWheel Extension for Firefox fixes this issue, as well as making the overall user scrolling experience much more enjoyable.

2 – All links open in the current window. Also acknowledged in the FAQ (here), there have already been requests to change certain links to open in new browser windows (which could be changed in Firefox itself to open new tabs instead). This will definitely make my experience more enjoyable.

3 – Personally, I’d like the ability to sort by columns in the items list. We’ve got Explorer-like columns for Title / Categories / Date, I think we should be able to click to sort them. AJAX would make this nice and pretty too!

4 – Currently, when you toggle on the flag button to flag an item, they all get lumped into one Flagged Items “group” as the top of your feeds list. What if there were also an option for flagged items under each tag group as well? A system similar to the “Unread Items” global option, which displays all the unread items everywhere, versus viewing unread items per feed / tag.

5 – Most of the time, the labels for all my tag groups seem to “flicker” up and down a pixel every second or so. Did someone just make a typo in some positioning code somewhere or what? Not a big deal, but it gets distracting if I’m reading an interesting post and keep seeing these little things bouncing around on the left of my screen.

6 – Most Importantly – A search function! I know first hand what a pain in the ass it can be to write a search utility, and that may very well be why there’s not one (yet). Unfortunately, it’s a necessity. I already can’t find a post I read earlier today… Maybe that says more about me than it does anything else though…

I’m sure there are other things I have either forgotten or not thought of yet, but that pretty much covers it thus far. With any luck, Alex is still reading my blog from this morning and will see my wish-list!

 

Author Note

If anyone has any questions about FeedLounge, or if you’d like detailed screenshots or explanations about something I skimmed over here, don’t hesitate to drop me a comment or an email! I’m happy to do whatever else I can to help spread the word about the FeedLounge service! Who knows, I may even give away a subscription to some lucky reader once they release their service…

Originally published and updated .
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