Another blogpost I wanted to read has disappeared into the ether, and it’s time for another usability rant – this time about Liferea. This is Ubuntu’s recommended feed reader – at least, it’s the only result of a search in the Ubuntu Software Centre for “feed reader” which is in the repository it provides support for. Although when I asked mpt, who works for Canonical in usability, what the official feed reader was, he said:
https://help.ubuntu.com/9.10/internet/C/internet-otherapps.html recommends Liferea. I think that’s as official as you’d get on that subject.
Which is hardly a ringing endorsement. Anyway, I moved to it for half my RSS feeds (the personal ones) to see if anything was better than Thunderbird’s frankly patchy feed reading support.
OK, it doesn’t have Thunderbird’s “thought you’d read this item? Let me give you another, unread copy of it in the feed” bug, but boy – did the developers actually sit down and try and read feeds with it? The usability is a nightmare.
The main way of reading feeds is an Unread virtual folder, which contains all of the unread items. As you read things and move to the next one, they disappear from here, although you can still find them in the folder for the individual feed.
There’s a “Next Unread Item” button, but no “Previous Unread Item” and no history. So if you accidentally move off the item you are reading, it immediately disappears from the Unread view (because you read it, duh) and there’s no way of finding it again! If you can’t remember which blog it’s in, you have to trawl through 50 feeds, looking at the topmost few entries, and see if you recognise it. And, as you start this process, you realise that the next unread item, which the cursor went to when it went off the one you wanted to read and are now chasing, is also now lost, because it got marked as read when it got highlighted and now you’ve moved the focus off that one too. And you can’t remember anything about that one at all.
Basically, they’ve implemented a browsing application without a Back button. Genius.
That’s OK, you think: I can create a Search folder for “all items newer than a week” and sort it by date, and find my lost items that way. Except that “date” is not one of the options in the search builder. You can search by whether it’s a podcast or not, but not when the wretched thing was written. Great. You have to create a folder of everything, which wedges your machine for 20 seconds every time you open it as it loads 5000 items into a data structure using some sort of naive n2 algorithm.
There’s a Mark Items Read on the toolbar. Accidentally click it, and you’ve lost your “to read” queue entirely, with no way of getting it back. And it’s right next to the “Update All” button which is used regularly. “Mark Items Read” might as well be labelled “Cause Me To Scream in Frustration”.
- You can’t select multiple items. If you try, the first one gets deselected and, because it was now marked as read, disappears from the view!
- You can never find a feed you want, because the list is in the order they were added, and there’s no sort, only drag-and-drop. Hey, I can practise my manual quicksort!
- If you decide you want to keep an item in your “to read” queue, and so, having scanned it, press Ctrl-U to mark it back as unread, then Ctrl-N refuses to work. Presumably because it thinks “you’re on the next unread message already, dummy”.