Liferea Usability Review

Comments based on Liferea 0.5.2c running atop GNOME 2.6 on Gentoo Linux.

  1. It might be a good idea to include a handful or two of feeds by default. The Liferea-related ones are a good idea. How about adding some general and tech news feeds? A user seeing that they can access the content from some of their favorite sites without having to repeatedly visit them might help draw them into the application.
  2. Choose a term and use it pervasively: Feed or Subscription. My vote goes for feed – subscription has more syllables and has connotations of paid content. Consistent terminology is important, particularly when introducing what is likely to be a new concept.
  3. The application needs a way to select multiple feeds – this is of particular use after importing an OPML file containing feeds you might not need. Being able to select and set custom updating schedules for multiple feeds by using the Properties dialog also has its uses.
  4. For your toolbar, use the user’s Desktop Preferences => Menus & Toolbars settings; if they have it set to display titles, they should be displayed.
  5. I strongly recommend displaying both the date & time in the Headline display pane by default. I don’t have any concrete reasons as to why – it just feels better.
  6. Relative dating (Today, Yesterday, etc.) in the date column would help users orient themselves to the feed’s content.
  7. Also by default, Liferea should probably use the user’s menu bar clock setting (12 or 24 hour).
  8. Is displaying the seconds really necessary? They add to the visual clutter without adding an equal or greater amount of useful information.
  9. Import/Export keyboard shortcuts would be useful, though not really important since these actions are not likely to be performed over and over.
  10. The notification area widget doesn’t behave in a very logical manner (yet), resetting itself to “no new items” after reading a single headline in an updated feed. I think the notification widget should display the count for both new and unread items.
  11. “Mark All as Read” in the feed pane contextual menu rather than “Mark as Read”. Inserting All makes it a tiny bit clearer.
  12. Provide drag-and-drop of feeds and headlines to filesystem locations. For headlines, the content could be formatted as HTML or plain text snippets.
  13. From the GNOME HIG 2.0:

    “Label the menu item with a trailing ellipsis (“…”) only if the command requires further input from the user before it can be performed. Do not add an ellipsis to items that only present a confirmation dialog (such as Delete), or that do not require further input (such as Properties, Preferences or About).”

    1. Feeds => New Subscription…
    2. Feeds => New Folder…
    3. Feeds => Import Feed List…
    4. Feeds => Export Feed List…

    Ellipses should also be used for the New Subscription and New Folder contextual menu commands.

  14. A “Validate Subscription” item in the contextual menu could pass the feed’s syndication URL to http://www.feedvalidator.org. After checking a troublesome feed for proper structuring, users could then use e-mail links in the feed’s meta-data to inform the proper parties of the problem. This could cut down on the number of “this feed doesn’t work, so your application is broken” complaints. I imagine you’ve gotten a few of those.
  15. Speaking of valid feeds not displaying properly… Here is one that feedvalidator.org claims is valid and which displays correctly in NetNewsWire for Mac OS X, but doesn’t display the latest headlines or any post titles in Liferea:

    http://gusmueller.com/blog/rss.xml

  16. For feeds that provide an e-mail address for either the webmaster or managing editor, make them clickable! Doing so should open a new message in the user’s default mail client. This would be handy for reporting feed parsing problems to the parties responsible for such things. Mailto: links within web pages should also be handed off to the default e-mail client rather than simply doing nothing.
  17. A cursor change over clickable links to web pages would be nice. Both Firefox and Epiphany implement this, displaying the pointing finger cursor (I believe I’m using Red Hat’s cursor set, but that might be an X11 thing…) over links.
  18. Do not display the application’s version number in the window title, particularly now that you have a Help menu in which to place the About command. You aren’t alone in this deviation from the HIG; the Ximianized OpenOffice 1.1.1 also needlessly displays its version number. From the GNOME HIG (2.0): “A good window title contains information that is relevant to the user, and distinguishes a particular window from other open windows. Omit information that does not assist in this selection, for example the application’s version number or vendor name.”
  19. Preferences
    • Headline Display: “Open web page links in Liferea’s window”. As I mentioned earlier in this review, other links (mailto, ftp, etc.) should be handled by the GNOME defaults. Handling links to binary files is another problem that will need addressing.

      Also, for the custom time display format, you should include a bit of text explaining how to use the feature as well as an example.

    • GUI: Use “Interface” for the title instead. Geeky technical abbreviations such as GUI should not be used.

Published by

Daniel J. Wilson

I am a designer, drummer, and amateur photographer in Brooklyn, NY.

3 thoughts on “Liferea Usability Review”

  1. 1.) Indeed thats a good idea for 1.0 so when the program starts and now feed list exists yet it can add a bunch of example feeds.

    2.) I understand this. But one cannot totally get rid of the term “feed”. When you talk about invalid XML you have to refer to the feed and not the subscription. With the current release (0.5.2c) the menues/dialogs should always use the term “subscription” and only error messages concerning the handling of the real data source – the feed – should talk about “feeds”. Maybe several of these message could substitute “feed” with “subscription”. I’ll add checking this to the todo list for 1.0.

    3.) I understand why this could be good but I think this won’t be implemented. It’s just to complicated. But we plan to add multiple selections for the item list.

    4.) If this doesn’t already work for you then there is a bug. We have implemented it to follow the GNOME2 menu settings. It works for me.

    5.) Hmmm… There are so many personal preferences 🙂

    6.) Good idea for 1.1

    7.) This means depending on a GNOME application. Also how many users use the simple clock applet…

    8.) I think this could be changed. I’ll add it to the todo list.

    9.) I don’t think it’s necessary to bind hotkeys for seldom used commands as long as GTK2 allows you the user to bind personal keys.

    10.) The tray icon is very simply implemented. It is intended to be a flag which shows you if new headlines arrived and that is worth to uniconify the program again. As soon as it notices that you do something with the application (reading, feed selection…) it resets the icon. I don’t think this is unlogical.

    11.) Good idea. -> todolist

    12.) Complex to implement. Is it worth to do it? How many users will use it? I don’t think many.

    13.) -> todolist

    14.) I don’t think we need another menu entry. But with 0.5.3 I already added a feedvalidator.org link to the error message displayed in the feed description when the parsing fails. Of course this could even be improved some more by passing the URL to feedvalidator.

    15.) I’ll check this…

    16.) Already in the todolist

    17.) -> todolist

    18.) This is for debugging purposes because a lot of bug reports miss the version number. If the version wouldn’t be displayed so offensive I fear a lot more reports would miss the information. I promise this will be removed with 1.0.

    19.) a) It’s right all non-http[s] Links should be forwarded to the configured external browser. (-> todolist)

    As for the display format I already added a tooltip that says that you can use the strftime() format codes.

    19.) b) Hmm… I think interface isn’t good. What is an interface? Even a parking slot is an interface of some type. And personally I expect people who use Liferea to know what a GUI is.

    Thanks for this intensive reviewing of the program! I try to realize all things added to the todolist in the next time. Some of your suggestions are to complex to implement so I don’t think they’ll be implemented. But it’s open source, so anybody is free to do it! I’ll be happy to merge any good patches.

  2. I tried the http://gusmueller.com/blog/rss.xml feed. Subscription works and a get a lot of article without a title. And I believe you that NNW shows you titles. Probably they use the start of the article as title. But lets look at a headline example:

    <item>

    <title></title>

    <link>http://www.gusmueller.com/blog/archives/2004/8/11.html#1122</link&gt;

    <description&gtToday is Kirsin’s 26th birthday, Happy Birthday Kirstin!

    For me the headline does *explicitly* specify an empty title. The question is what is the meaning of the RSS 2.0 specification when it allows to omit a title when the item is completly contained in the description. Means omitting the title omitting the tag or just a value?

    Maybe Liferea should extract some of the description in case of empty title. But this of course is not easy because the text can be arbitrary HTML.

  3. Lars –

    Thanks for the very speedy replies! Some responses:

    4.) If this doesn’t already work for you then there is a bug. We have implemented it to follow the GNOME2 menu settings. It works for me.

    After changing the Desktop Preferences => Menus & Toolbars setting and restarting Liferea, it has taken effect. My mistake! However, the toolbar display style changes don’t apply in real-time as they do to Epiphany. Is this also a quirk of my installation or just a difference in how the two applications are programmed?

    7.) This means depending on a GNOME application. Also how many users use the simple clock applet…

    While I understand the desire not to depend on GNOME, I think it is safe to assume that most users will be using Liferea while running GNOME, which displays the menu bar clock by default.

    19.) a) It’s right all non-HTTP[s] Links should be forwarded to the configured external browser. (-> todolist)

    As for the display format I already added a tooltip that says that you can use the strftime() format codes.

    The tooltip is helpful, but I think a bit of text is better since it does not require first the selection of that option, and then mouse focus on the input box.

    19.) b) Hmm… I think interface isn’t good. What is an interface? Even a parking slot is an interface of some type. And personally I expect people who use Liferea to know what a GUI is.

    I agree that Interface isn’t ideal – how about View Settings? More descriptive, but it would take up a bit more space.

    “And I believe you that NNW shows you titles. Probably they use the start of the article as title.”

    On closer inspection, I see that you are correct; NNW does just use the first few words of the post as a title.

    “Maybe Liferea should extract some of the description in case of empty title. But this of course is not easy because the text can be arbitrary HTML.”

    I wish all feed authors would provide (non-empty!) post titles, but given the number that don’t bother to, it is worthwhile for Liferea to provide a workaround.

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