I’ve been using NewsFire for quite a while, despite my reservations for existing RSS reader implementations. NewsFire, an RSS reader for Mac OS X, wins me over by being simple enough in it’s goals to be useful. It’s a perfect example of how a tool targeted at a specific activity can be much better than a tool that tries to do everything and usually does so poorly. Outlook comes to mind.
Beta Development and Open Source Advantages
NewsFire is also a great example of how active Beta releases can bring some of the advantages generally associated with open source software to closed source applications. We’ve seen a lot of software in active beta status for quite some time, the most prominent of which that comes to mind is Firefox. As Firefox incremented it’s way to it’s lovely 1.0 debut, enthusiastic users were happy to discuss it’s virtues and it’s deficits, and offer feedback to the developers involved. The advantage is clear in that the product itself gets real world testing and feedback while growing it’s way to a full release number. The disadvantage is also clear in that these growing pains are out in plain site and can often be embarrassing and lend to the product a sense of not being reliable. There are a number of examples, but the most obvious one to cite is the number of names the browser went through before becoming Firefox. The finished results however are tough to argue with.
Open Source Lessons in Closed Source Software
This process of open feedback and related improvements is generally attributed to open source software, but closed source programs like Newsfire show that the advantages are really tied to creating a way to let a program’s community talk to it’s developers and making the time to consider and implement their requests. This back and forth between developer and user only improves when the request you make appears in the next available build, creating a sense of near instant gratification as well as a personal sense of contribution for the user. Of course, open source has additional advantages including the ability for other developers to submit code improvements themselves, but Newsfire certainly stands as an example of how not all advantages popularized by open source are exclusive to open source.
My Very Simple NewsFire Request
I sent an email with a simple request to David Watanabe, the developer of NewsFire, this evening: Ignore the word “The” at the beginning of feed titles when sorting them much the way iTunes does when sorting artist names. This way “The Seattle Times” is filed under “S” instead of “T”. I sent my request via email. Ninety minutes later, he replied:
Yah, that makes total sense. I just implemented it for next release.
I get the change I wanted, David gets helpful feedback, and NewsFire users get a better product.