Feedback for RSS Feed Reader Rojo

Back in November I was asked to give feedback on the RSS reader Rojo. Well, they recently redesigned, and I thought it would be interesting to go back and see what I had sent.

Back in November I published an article on Digital Web Magazine called Home Alone: How Content Aggregators Change Navigation and Control of Content. I wouldn’t say the article was a resounding success, but I would say that it got some interest: because of my mention of RSS readers several folks building them offered me a trial of their software.

One of those folks was Mark Graham at Rojo, a web-based RSS feed reader similar to Bloglines. I talked with Mark on the phone, and he asked me to try out rojo and give my feedback on it. Impressed with Mark and his willingness to solicit outside opinion, I said that I would do so.

The best way to get anybody to talk is to ask their opinion as if they are an expert. As a result, I went through Rojo over the next couple weeks and played around with it, keeping a close eye on things that I felt were both too difficult to use as well as those things that were a joy to use.

After spending several hours writing up my feedback, I sent my email into the ether, and waited to hear the reply. Part of what I expected to hear was that I was way off base on several of my assumptions (indeed, I did make several gross assumptions), or that they were working on the aggregious problems (problems anybody would have found). Unfortunately, I never heard back from Mark, so I can only assume that he either didn’t receive my email or ignored it.

So I forgot about it, at least until yesterday, when I heard that rojo had redesigned their interface. So for giggles I went back into my email archive and retrieved the email I sent Mark. I reread it and compared it to the new interface and I thought that those of you out there who had used rojo before the redesign might get a kick out of it, too.

Hi Mark,

A few weeks ago you contacted me after I wrote an article on Digital Web about content aggregators. You asked me if I wanted to try out Rojo, and I said sure.

And you mentioned feedback…well here it is.

First, the negative.

It is relatively hard to use. The initial screen is a great opportunity to provide users with information about how to get started, but it is blank if there are no channels. For all new users, there are, of course, no channels and little to help them get started. They are the ones who need help the most.

1) The “content features” panel wasn’t very useful to me. Is that my content? Or other people’s content? Recent stories of what? I’m here to organize MY information, not read another aggregator.

2) All of the “My” things: My Shared Stories, My Tags, My Read Stories, don’t mean anything to the first time user. Since it is crucial to keep people here (since there are so many others out there right now), there needs to be absolutely no confusion. Getting started must be effortless.

3) In general, recommendations don’t mean anything to people if they don’t know who is making the recommendation. On Amazon, for instance, we know that the reviews come from people like us, NOT amazon. On Rojo, it’s unclear where the recommendations are coming from.

4) In your getting started tutorial, you mention subscribing to channels as the first thing to do after you’ve registered. If so, this needs to be made clear in the interface. Right now, the Content Features panel is where attention goes, since nothing is in the middle.

5) Terminology is inconsistent.
“channels”, “feeds”, “blog”, “stories”, “subscriptions”
“flagged”, “shared”, “tagged”
“people”, “contacts”

These things all refer to the same things, but really confuse people who aren’t Rojo developers.

6) The icons aren’t obvious. It’s hard to use them.

7) The “My Reading” content area is why people are here. It’s a third rate item where it is right now.

Second, the positive.

1) Shared by contacts is really cool. That can be a reason why this service takes off. However, it must still be secondary to the user’s own content. They first want to organize their own stuff, then they can learn about related items. For instance, I first want to set up my feeds for web design, content issues, and then I want to see what other things fit into those categories that I don’t know about.

2) The step by step guide is good, but could be much better. Why not include the important stuff right in the interface? It needs to be within the user’s context as they use the product. Frankly, if I wasn’t interested in this stuff, I would have been gone very early. For comparision, when you sign into del.icio.us for the first time, you’re given 3 bookmarklets that instantly help you start adding channels. They’re on to something in terms of ease of learning the system.

3) The tags idea works well, as demonstrated by del.icio.us. However, you also have “related channels”, which is VERY COOL. This could be your best feature!!! I didn’t find this for a long time, because it didn’t occur to me that I would get different content depending upon when I clicked on a feed name in “My Subscriptions” or “My Reading”. A feed is a feed is a feed. I never thought about it at different points as a “subscription” and a “reading”.

4) You guys obviously have all the technology here. You don’t need to add any more features yet. If it were me, I would focus on making it the easiest service in the world to use. Advanced features aren’t really a differentiator, yet.

Overall Impressions:

Overall, the terminology inconsistencies hurt me. For instance, I’m on the “channels” tab and I see a list of “subscriptions”. Then I click on a “feed” and get the “view feed” URL which states “Channel Properties”.

I recommend calling them “feeds” (noun) and only use “subscribe” as a verb. Ditch “channels” and “subscriptions”. Also, “stories” is ambiguous. I’ve always called them posts. (newsgator and bloglines call them “clippings”). I’m not sure if there is a clear winner here.

When I talked to you on the phone, I got interested in how you talked about the social aspects of Rojo…that you could share posts (stories) and feeds with others. By getting recommendations from known entities (not corporate ones) the service becomes truly powerful.

In psychology this is called “social proof”, and it’s the reason, of course, why Amazon sells way more product than anyone else. On your site, however, it isn’t being leveraged yet. However, all it might take is a change in terminology. Instead of “recommended” use “most popular” (make sure that they really are the most popular). Instead of “shared” use “what your friends are reading”. Instead of “recent” use “latest”. These provide a social urgency.

So those are my general thoughts on Rojo and others.

Thanks for your offer, Mark. It provided me with an impetus to really compare some of the feed readers. Up until now I had only been doing that anecdotally, based on the few that I had used. After delving deeper, I think now is really an exciting time to be involved in the rise of RSS, with all the innovation going on.

I hope my feedback is useful (on some level). Best of luck with Rojo!

Cheers,

josh

So that was my letter to rojo. Honestly, I don’t know if Mark ever received my email, let alone considered my comments therein. I do know, however, that they have made a lot changes. But if they were an improvement or not I don’t know. Any Rojo users out there who experienced the transition firsthand?

Published: April 22nd, 2005

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