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Slow Feeds Brings A Simple, Unique Innovation To RSS Apps

In the oft-abused Death of RSS debate, a common and universal truth is typically forgone: RSS is a standard, not a single entity, and as such its survival or presumed “death” should be related to the services that use it, not the standard itself.

The problem many people have with RSS is roughly the same others have with email: it’s not as real-time as Twitter, and if you don’t keep on tabs on it you can easily get overwhelmed by the onslaught of unread items demanding your constant attention. While in the past few years some amazing apps and technologies have leveraged RSS as a foundation to provide new experiences, little has been done to address the simple problem behind the possible frustration caused by RSS: that RSS can be useful for sites with fewer but focused items, but it can get annoying (like email) with hundreds of unread items. Is it possible to retain the usefulness of RSS, while ensuring its catch-all nature is relegated to a level that avoids frustration?

Slow Feeds by Stefan Pauwels is an iPhone app that does one thing well: it separates “slow” from high-volume feeds, and it lets you check out both within a single interface. It fixes a simple problem with a unique, yet totally obvious approach: it understands the convenience of RSS for either “low” and “high” volume websites, and doesn’t treat them equally.

Once logged in with your Google Reader account, Slow Feeds (whose icon is very appropriate) will take a couple of minutes on first launch to “understand” which feeds are usually slow, which ones have many posts per day, then it will break them up into two categories: Slow Feeds and High Volume. A third tab in the bottom bar is also dedicated to Starred items.

The first tab, Slow Feeds, lets you switch between All or Unread items for sites with few content every day: for instance, this is where I can find things like the iFixit Blog, Minimal Mac, or Beautiful Pixels. These are sites that I am interested in, but that because of their low-volume nature could sometimes easily get lost in the plethora of unread items (ever wondered why these sites usually don’t publish on Apple keynote day?). The app has been very accurate at picking “slow feeds” for me, going back a few months to older items it knew I might have missed – indeed, thanks to Slow Feeds I rediscovered many articles that I had unintentionally ignored.

The High Volume tab, on the other hand, displays a list of all items from all sites that publish a lot of items every day. In here, I can find MacStories, MacRumors, Daring Fireball, The Loop, and all those other publications that are very active in terms of post frequency. The results have been accurate in here as well, but I think there are some things the app could do better. For one, when compared to “regular” RSS apps like Reeder or Mr. Reader, the High Volume tab is obviously lacking: there are no sorting options, no folders, and the list of items isn’t organized by date. Slow Feeds isn’t meant for this kind of consumption – the app’s purpose is to keep “slowly updated feeds from getting lost in the fast river of news” – but I think some more options wouldn’t hurt.

Similarly, it’d be nice to be able to manually specify feeds that are “low volume”. By default, Slow Feeds automatically calculates the frequency for each feed based on the number of items per feed and time interval, but a manual option could be useful for, say, those sites that don’t typically publish a lot items, but may have exceptions (such as several Apple blogs on a keynote day). Being one of the first releases of the app, I wasn’t expecting to find the same amount of configurable options and settings as in Mr. Reader, but nevertheless, I am looking forward to having more sharing features in the article reading view (which right now only supports Twitter, email, and Instapaper).

Slow Feeds won’t replace your daily RSS app (it doesn’t want to), yet at the same time, I believe it really has a chance of becoming an app many will use alongside their RSS client on a daily basis. Slow Feeds’ core concept is so clever, and so naturally implemented, I am now wondering why, in retrospective, others didn’t come up with it first.

Slow Feeds is $2.99 on the App Store.

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