Scripting News: Q&A with Brent Simmons re River of News.

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On April 11, Brent Simmons sent an email, included below. My words are indented beneath his in italic.

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I like the river of news style of feed reading, despite having once written an RSS reader that doesn’t use that style.

But I’m not actually 100% sure what the technical definition is. I’m not trying to be obtuse about this — I want to be sure I understand.

I think it’s something like this, but I’m not sure which parts are optional, and I might be missing things.

1. It presents a list of articles from multiple feeds in a scrollable list.

  • Yes.

2. There might be multiple scrollable lists — tabs of some kind.

  • Not required, but you can do it that way (I have it with my mediahackers site). But each one is a river, not the whole thing.

3. Items in the list are sorted in reverse-chronological order by arrival date (date the feed scanner saw the item) rather than by pubDate. (True?)

  • True. By arrival date. pubDate is not important for ordering.

4. Items are presented with title, link, and an excerpt. The excerpt should be just long enough to be meaningful (around 280 characters).

  • You could leave out the excerpt and it would still be a river. The important thing is that the excerpt be of determinate length, and short enough so you can see a lot of items on screen at the same time.

5. It handles edited items by ____? (I don’t know. Does it show them again?)

  • Does not show edited items again.

6. There is no notion of read/unread whatsoever, and thus no unread counts.

  • Correct. No notion of read/unread.

7. There is no notion of starred (or flagged, or saved) items whatsoever. (Users can blog, send to a read-it-later service, etc. as they normally would for any web page.)

  • Not true — you can do whatever you want there. I include a RT link on my items. Just as long as it’s small and doesn’t interfere with skimming.

8. A river of news feed scanner outputs river.js data. (Is this optional? Could it be RSS?)

  • Not required. It would however be useful to have a standard here. I want to write all my displayers in JS running in the browser.

9. Do river-of-news readers have to be web pages? Could an iOS or Mac app qualify, if it met all the criteria?

  • Of course it could be an IOS app.
  • The main idea aren’t the details, but the way its used. I can scroll back to the point where I hit something I seen. Quickly. My memory is perfectly capable of telling me I’ve seen something before. You can rely on it, people can do this.
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About Dave Winer

Dave Winer, 54, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.
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