State of Play: Fever RSS and Apps
RSS feeds have been a major part of my information workflows since around 2003. My river of news is a major part of my personal information workflow, and is important for professional and personal knowledge gathering, from a diverse group of sources.
I was a major Google Reader advocate since shortly after it’s inception in 2005. Since the the advent of apps on the iPhone, Google Reader morphed into an important and powerful backend and syncing tool for my feeds, with iOS and OSX apps being where I consumed my information.
In March 2012, I began to feel that I had too much of my data in the Google “basket”. I set out to seek an alternative to Google Reader, but found few that were sufficiently supported by iOS and OSX apps. One offering though provided the backend I needed, so I bought a license for Shaun Inman’sFever. At the time Fever was supported by a single app for iPad, Ashes. I setup a Fever site, using Ashes on the iPad, and a web client for Fever on iPhone and OSX. I started using the excellent Reeder app as soon as Reeder for iPhone version 3.0 was released with support for Fever.
Since Google’s announcement that it would discontinue Google Reader from 1/7/13, various RSS app developers have stated that they will support other platforms, and Reeder’s dev confirmed Fever support would be coming in the next versions. The developer of Ashes has also announced his intent for “Ashes to rise again”.
This article is about my experiences to date with Fever, particularly with the various apps I use. Since it’s been a while since I first setup Fever, there is a guest contribution from the author of the BrainCutlery blog, who has recently been through the process.
Fever is a self hosted RSS engine, that costs US$30 for a one-time license fee. The developer does not offer hosting, so you have to be able to setup the application on a server that has PHP and MySQL support. I am neither a developer nor a hardware/network engineer, but was able to do all the setup myself (save for a little chron job that updates feeds in the background).
Fever has many similarities to Google Reader, in that it has a database for your feeds, keeping track of feeds you subscribe to or unsubscribe from, posts you read, favourite and mark read/unread. Importantly, Fever has an API that allows apps you authorise to use your Fever server as a syncing engine.
Apart from being self-hosted and thus not something that can be turned off on you easily, Fever has one very nice feature in that it analyses your feeds, and clusters “Hot” topics together. Posts on Hot topics are moved to a special list where you can flow through a river of the hottest news before tackling your main basket (Kindling) and supplemental feeds (Sparks). You train Fever by categorising feeds as Kindling (feeds that fuel the flames) and Sparks.
There is a native browser view, which works on standard browsers, as well as a mobile view for iPhone. There is support built in for sharing to services like Pinboard, Delicious, Pocket and Instapaper, although a little bit of technical comfort is needed to get things hooked up here.
Setting Fever Up (guest contribution from BrainCutlery)
To non-experts like me, setting up Fever sounds like it’s going to be a complicated affair; after all it has words like ‘PHP’ and ‘SQL’ in it. I wasn’t sure initially that I could be bothered with the hassle. However, after some encouragement on ADN, I decided to take the plunge and was pleasantly surprised how straightforward the process was.
Set up a SQL database on your hosting service:
As I already have a domain hosting service, I was spared from having to set one up. Luckily my current provider, Siteground already has PHP and SQL support so all I needed to do was set up a database, which I achieved by clicking the MySQL databases button in the control panel, adding a database and making note of the database name and settings, all of which were suggested for me.
Test drive the Feed settings:
The next step is to visit the Fever website, create an account and download the “Fever Compatibility Suite.” This small fille will instruct you to upload a couple of files to your destination directory. There are a couple of permissions changes that you might need to do but this is clearly explained in the instructions (I had to do this and it was dead easy from the upload dialogue on Siteground).
Once the files are uploaded, you navigate to your chosen URL via your web browser to see a dialogue box prompting for the database details you noted down earlier. Keying those in and clicking ’submit’ will run the test and (hopefully) you’ll get a little message confirming you are good to go.
Show me the money
All that’s left to do is go back to the Fever website, log into your account and fork over your $30. Once you’ve done this you’ll get an activation code that you can key into your Fever installation.
Key the code into your Fever installation and you’ll then see the main Fever UI. The rest, as they say, is up to you!
Extra credit homework
Once you’ve installed Fever, if you visit the ’Extras’ tab you’ll see a reference to something called a ‘Cron job’ and a little code snippet. This is basically something you can set up on your server that will poll your Fever installation remotely and force it to refresh your feeds.
Luckily for me, there was a menu in my Siteground Control panel called ‘Cron Jobs’, so after speculatively clicking on that I was able to copy and paste the link provided by Fever (it already includes your URL) and save it. This seems to be working fine for me.
(Many thanks to BrainCutlery for providing the above overview. Since it’s been more than 12 months since I first set Fever up, I thought it’d be great to get the perspective of a recent convert!)
Apps that Support Fever
Ashes - iOS Universal (TBA)
A month or so back, the long dormant Twitter account for Ashes was revived and the Ashes website was updated with a coming soon screen. A limited beta program was soon launched for what started as an iPhone only app, but which quickly evolved to be a universal app for iOS devices. There is an App.net account for Ashes
I’ve been on the beta program for a week or so, primarily using Ashes on my iPad - I’ve played with the iPhone version but my major need is for iPad. I have to say the dev has been making giant strides towards ensuring this is a feature rich, stable offering. As of today (14 April 2013), the developer has stated that it Ashes is feature locked, and is being prepared for release
The UI is simply beautiful, and Ashes works nicely for me, in this iteration. There are some quirks, but the dev is working hard to iron these out prior to release. Ashes supports iOS native sharing with Facebook and Twitter, and also with apps like Tweetbot, Pocket and Instapaper. Integration with services like Pinboard, Delicious and Evernote seem to be missing at this time.
I will review Ashes in more detail when it is released.
Chill Pill gives you the power of the full Fever website in its own app wrapper. This provides the advantages of the website, but also some brings some additional features to the table.
Chill Pill can be set as the default client for RSS in OSX. So if you click on a RSS feed link in your browser of choice, Chill Pill will launch and allow you to subscribe to the feed.
Being a standalone app means that if Chill Pill goes “wonky” (perhaps as a result of a feed with strange data), it will crash just that app, and not your other browser windows. Some browsers give you that natively, others don’t, but Chill Pill makes it easy.
Other cool stuff includes supports for custom styles, multi-touch gestures, and a built in article viewer.
I miss having an app like Reeder for OSX, but until such an app supports Fever, Chill Pill is doing a good job for me, filling an important need.
Reeder - iPhone (A$2.99)
Reeder was quickly my favourite Google Reader app for iPhone when it was released, and took a similar mantle for its iPad and OSX versions when they were released. Since Fever support was introduced in version 3 of Reeder for iPhone, it been my go-to app for reading RSS on iPhone. Reeder’s user interface is simple, but the usability (UX) of the app is outstanding.
Reeder for iPhone has native support for Hot items, but everything else (i.e. Kindling and Sparks) seems to be clustered together under Unread. That works well for me, as I don’t tend to separate Kindling from Sparks in my reading.
Reeder is fast to use, and of all the current app supports the widest variery of inbuilt sharing, read-later and social options, including email, Evernote, Pinboard, Delicious, App.net, Twitter, Pocket, Instapaper, Readability, Buffer, etc.
Reeder is certainly the most feature rich of the offerings in this list (as of this writing).
Sunstroke has a great UI and an excellent UX. It is clean, visually pleasing and highly functional. It has full support for all Fever elements, including Hot, Kindling and Sparks, and has great integration with read later services such as Instapaper, Pocket and Readability, sharing services like Delicious and Pinboard and social media apps like Twitter, Facebook and Netbot.
I enjoy using Sunstroke the most for my personal browsing of feeds, and of the three iPhone apps, I want to recommend it. I am reluctant to do so for two reasons, however.
- It crashes occasionally . Not often, but it always seems to be when I am reading an important post, and of course, that will be marked read and disappear when I go back in.
- At A$5.49 it is an expensive app. I believe in a fair price for a good app, but when a stable product like Reeder is available for $2.99, that has to be a consideration
With that said, Sunstroke is the app to pay attention to. There are regular update releases, and the app has gotten way more stable over time .
Web Access for Fever - All Platforms (included)
The Fever application includes a built in web browser allowing the user to access their feeds directly. There are two versions - one for standard browsers, and one for smartphone browsers like iPhone (see image at right).
The iPhone version is quite good, but has only basic functionality. There are no options for sharing, read-later or social services. I keep a link to it on my iPhone screen and occasionally use it to reset feeds or similar. If price was an issue for apps, you could certainly “get away with” the basic app.
The web browser for desktop devices works well on iPad. I can quickly scroll through feeds with an upwards swipe gesture. I can get access to sharding and read-later services as I would on a desktop, but the links to access them are small, and I mis-click 25% or more of the time.
I’d say the browser version is fine on the desktop, and good for fast scrolling on iPad.
I hope that I will soon be able to add to the above list. I have apps for my three major devices (iPhone, iPad and Mac), but look forward to greater competition in each category, hopefully spurring each other onto greater innovation.
As of this writing, my recommendations are: