inessential by Brent Simmons

False dichotomy

Dave Winer writes today about how there are mail-reader-type aggregators and weblog-type aggregators, and that weblog-type aggregators are better.

It’s a false dichotomy.

Dave writes: “Imho we already have enough mail readers, wire up RSS to email and you’re done.”

The thing is, the mail reader aggregators are not very much like mail readers. They are smart about what they’re displaying. On the surface they look like email apps, but it’s not a simple substitution, news items for email.

I’ll use NetNewsWire as an example, not because it’s unique in this regard but because I know it well.

Many aggregators have a concept of groups. (They don’t all work exactly the same, of course.) In NetNewsWire, if you select a group, you see the unread news of everything contained in the group. Here’s a screen shot showing my Macintosh group this morning.

So—is this weblog-style or mail-reader-style?

NetNewsWire, like some other aggregators, also lets you just see all the unread headlines regardless of group. Here’s a screen shot. Here’s another screen shot which shows a more email-like view, but still has items from multiple places in the same view.

NetNewsWire is by no means alone with features like this.

A good question might be—well, why not just use a browser-based interface like Radio UserLand?

I like Radio, by the way. I even did technical editing for an upcoming book on Radio. I like AmphetaDesk too, which also uses a browser-based interface.

But a GUI app gives you a richer, targeted interface. A browser is generic: it knows it’s displaying HTML, but it doesn’t know it’s displaying syndicated news items. A GUI newsreader knows it’s displaying syndicated news items, and so the menu commands and toolbar buttons and shortcuts and everything are all about what it’s displaying. This allows you to keep up with more news with less effort.

It comes down to personal preference, though. Browser-based interfaces have their advantages too.

The thing to remember is that the distinction between aggregator types isn’t between mail-reader style and weblog-style, it’s between GUI apps and browser-based apps.

Dave writes: “People who are just using mail-reader style aggregators are really missing something.”

Actually, no, they’re not.