Feed Reading with Mozilla

Is it me or does the integration between Firefox and Thunderbird suck for feed reading? Considering the two are partnering applications from the same organisation, I’d have expected a greater deal of interaction between the two.

Furthermore, Firefox’s handling of feed discoveries, although interesting, is ultimately irritating. If a website has an RSS or Atom feed available for subscription, you get a nice little orange icon inviting you to subscribe. It’s neat, simple, but fails to accommodate for user choice.

I don’t want to subscribe to feeds within Firefox – its way of displaying feeds (in the Bookmarks) is not useful to me. I want the feed to be added to Thunderbird, which does a much nicer job, but Firefox effectively locks me in to its own reader.

That’s not a pleasant experience – despite the fact the subscription icon is right there in front of me I have to do one of two things: either I go looking on the page for a feed/RSS/Atom icon or link, or if that’s not around I have to view the source.

My inconvenience quickly turns into annoyance. Today – I want to add my favourite blogs to the feed reader in Thunderbird. What should be an easy task (go to each site; click Subscribe) has the potential of becoming fairly time-consuming and tedious.

A one-off inconvenience is tolerable, but when it is multiplied or repeated daily, it quickly becomes an annoyance. That’s the kind of effect bugs and missing functionality has on programs that are used many times daily.

There are always movements in major projects like these, and I have no doubt that others have picked up on this, criticised it, and at some point it’ll be fixed – as has happened in so many ways in the past (and Firefox is of course much better for it).

In essence, this is about recognising how people use things daily, how they imagine features will work and how annoyed they can get if that feature works different to their expectations. I happen to think this is precisely one of the reasons why Google did so well – you want to do 1, 20, 50 searches a day? Google will do it consistently, straightforwardly and fast. It becomes a bread-and-butter application, as does the web browser, or the word processor, or the spreadsheet, or the photo editing program – depending on your day job. As long as they don’t get in the way by faulty interaction, and do their job they stay in place.
These things must work smoothly to earn your appreciation, and to avoid frustration. It’s a reminder of how vital human computer interaction is for products and services that are used regularly throughout the day.

All this over a little orange icon! I think I’m going to find another feed agent for autodiscovery.
BTW I’d be interested in knowing how IE7 and Safari deal with subscriptions – do they give a choice of reader packages? Could the Firefox orange icon just act as a URI with the feed: prefix – therefore invoking whichever application has been set up to deal with feed: URIs (Thunderbird does this, and Firefox could too).