I love reading, and I love keeping up on news. Because of this, I have been an avid fan of RSS technology, and specifically of Google Reader, for a long time. In fact, according to the Reader stats, I’ve gone through over 65,000 articles since I started using the product back in April of 2008. That’s a lot of great knowledge and information! Unfortunately, it has started to become a large source of information overload and a time sink. I felt this most acutely when I was working full-time at internships and keeping busy with my family in the evenings. It’s hard to scan several hundred article titles a day and read the ones that may be interesting, and it simply wasn’t working anymore.
Fever° is a web application written by the venerable Shaun Inman that acts sort of like an RSS reader, but takes it to the next level by sorting out which articles should actually be important to you, and bubbling only those to the top for consumption. The basic premise is that if a piece of news is important, several different websites will all link to the same original source, and the more sites that do so, the more important the news is. By only showing you what’s hot (and by critically leaving off unread counts) you can get down to what is truly interesting without having to wade through hundreds of articles yourself.
How has my experience been? In short, very good! Let me share a little anecdote that illustrates how pleasantly surprised I have been by Fever°.
After installing the PHP-based application on my server and setting it up with all my existing subscriptions via an OPML export, I categorized my “must reads” out from the “sparks” and it came back showing me seven or eight stories that it deemed important. Some of them indeed were, and I clicked through to read the articles they referenced. Every day for one week there were perhaps five or so interesting articles that Fever° separated out, and I often read them all. However, I was only spending about 15 minutes a day reading through these articles, whereas before cleaning out my Google Reader would occupy an hourish a day cumulatively. I began to feel that perhaps I was missing out on little gems that I would have otherwise caught, because maybe Fever° didn’t see a lot of other blogs linking to the same source. I got a little nervous, and decided I would revisit my week’s worth of unread Google Reader items and see what I was missing.
Unread count: 747 items. So I began trudging through. I’m pretty good at scanning headlines and skipping the fluff, but in the end, I had only selected out 8 articles to skim that I hadn’t seen come through Fever°, and only 2 of them were really something I might have been interested in! Only two articles in a whole week that I might have otherwise read, versus the several a day that Fever° picks out for me. All right! It was then that I realized just how well the product was working, and how much more efficient it had made my content discovery. Awesome!
I still have a few adjustments to make to get used to Fever°, though in general it is a very well executed and designed program (not that you would expect less from Shaun). A few issues bother me that come to mind:
- I occasionally get timeout issues when the cron script is running in the background to update feeds. The timeout limit has even been bumped up to an absurd 360 seconds, and the 500 errors still roll in sometimes. I assume this is because one or two feeds are just not responding and causing the blocking PHP script to hang (this would be a great use of a non-blocking component with something like Node.js or similar). A little niggle, but still kind of annoying to know that the refresh doesn’t complete from time to time. It would be great if Fever° would log slow queries for troubleshooting.
- The algorithm for pulling titles is not perfect, and sometimes leads to poor results. For example, several blogs linked to a report about the iPhone 4S consuming lots of data because of Siri, but the links to that story in each post were one or two word links like “new study” or “a study.” Fever° put the title of that particular story as “new study.” Not exactly helpful, and happens more than I would like.
- You can view posts using either an excerpt view or a full view. Excerpt view is nice because it keeps things compact, but sometimes the click areas to get the full view are a little confusing. Probably just need to get used to it.
Overall, I am very pleased with Fever°. It was a purchase I had been considering for a while, and with the time it has saved me already, it has paid for itself a couple times over (it costs $30). It only works as well as the feeds you supply it, but I’m happy to report that my information intake has been satisfied, and my time spent significantly reduced. If you haven’t already, check out its website and watch the demo video, you’ll learn a lot from it.
I am beginning a somewhat related information overload study this semester at school, which I will begin writing about tomorrow. Using Fever° has reinforced my belief that information overload can be dealt with, and the results will make your life better!