inessential by Brent Simmons

NetNewsWire 2.1: Sorting by Attention

When I first started working on NetNewsWire back in 2002, my conception of it was pretty simple: it was a way to stop having to click around to all those bookmarks of weblogs to see if there was something new.

Remember doing that? I bet you do—I bet you did it for years, like I did.

So my whole idea, way back when, was that NetNewsWire boosted your productivity, because you didn’t have to keep manually opening these sites in your browser. And, furthermore, you’d probably be able to get more news this way. (Maybe, you know, like from double the number of sites or something!)

Okay—there’s the problem, right there. It didn’t turn out to be double, or three times, or four times—people subscribe to many hundreds of feeds. There are NetNewsWire users with more than a thousand feeds.

Sort by Attention screenshotObviously, you want your aggregator to present you with the more important stuff first. As an aggregator developer I’ve been thinking about this problem for a long time—and so have NetNewsWire users, and I have a list of ideas and feature requests that is quite long and full of good stuff.

But what would be a first good step, one simple thing that would help right away, that we could do in 2.1?

Sorting subscriptions by attention.

We already had the ability to sort subscriptions by name, unread count, last update. And NetNewsWire already knew some things about your behavior—for instance, it knows when you open an item’s web page. It wasn’t keeping track of things like posting to weblog or posting to, but it is now.

The sort will get better over time, since it’s only just started to track certain things—but even right off the bat I found the feature useful. I was a little surprised to see which feeds I really use the most and which I don’t.

If you use this feature, there are a couple special cases to be aware of, so you know what’s happening:

1. The attention score for a smart list is based on the current contents only—smart lists don’t remember things you did months ago (but other feeds do).

2. The attention score for a group is the average of the score of the feeds inside the group.

P.S. If you use FeedDemon, you may have seen a similar idea: attention reports. Cool stuff.

P.P.S. How many feeds do I subscribe to? 132. I learned a long time ago that I have to be ruthless with ’em. I rely on a few search engine subscriptions and tag subscriptions to fill in the blanks that the regular feeds don’t cover. (My favorite feeds are weblogs of people that I know.)

P.P.P.S. Is this the end of feed management and relevance and all that? No, it’s just the beginning.