Gathan Beaga

onset of fever

I’ve been a faithful user of Shaun Inman‘s Mint, a ravishingly beautiful and terrifically useful self-hosted stats application for websites, for nearly four years now. Even though I do have Google Analytics installed as well1, Mint is what I refer to most often: it’s always up-to-date and it quickly and concisely shows me what I want to know.

Mint showed a really interesting combination of design, UI skills and über-coding ability all rolled up together, and I’d wondered what Mr Inman would do next.

fever-01That next thing is Fever°, an RSS feed reader. Fever° is unusual in that it’s an application that you need to host on your own webserver, much as you might self-host a WordPress blog. It also costs money.

I’ve bought it, and been using it for almost a week, and I can say that it is money well spent.

As you’d expect, it’s lovely to look at, and works perfectly well as a feed reader. It has lots of keyboard shortcuts, and plays nicely with A particularly nice aspect of Fever° is the iPhone version of the site: it’s perfectly optimised to the screen, and when saved as a webclip2 behaves almost identically to a native application – even down to being chromeless and having a startup screen.

But the most interesting thing about Fever° is the splitting of feeds into two broad (though not necessarily exclusive) categories: “Sparks”, and “Kindling” (you’ll get used to these names fairly quickly). Kindling are all your must-read feeds, the things you follow religiously.

fever-02Sparks are all those interesting feeds you’ve subscribed to but may be just too high-volume to read all of. What Fever° does is scan these, together with the Kindling feeds, to detect the most “important” or most linked items; assigning and ranking these with a rating based on human body temperatures and placing these your “hot” list for priority reading.

I’ve started using this… but I’ve come to the conclusion that I need a lot more feeds in the Sparks category. I’m open to suggestions.

One worry with self-hosted applications is installation. If you host your own website on your own domain, you are probably mostly there already. The first step, once you’ve created a database on your webserver for Fever° to use, is to download and run the Fever° compatibility suite. You have to do this, and your webserver pass the test, before you can purchase Fever°3. But if you get this far, you are actually 90% done on the installation – because once you enter the activation code into the compatibility suite, the rest of Fever° installs itself.

This has to be one of the most painless web application installation processes I have ever experienced. I hope other developers are taking notes.

The next step is to load it up with feeds. It was easy to import my feedlist from Google Reader. The next additions were the various shared items lists from friends in Reader; and after that I thought about some suitable additions to Sparks. High-volume and interesting link blogs seem like a good idea, so I added in Slashdot, Digg, Metafilter, among others. Done!

So… why use Fever° when Google Reader already does this? And why spend US$30 when there’s cheaper ways of doing it? Here’s three reasons:

  • I already use and love Inman’s Mint. I therefore had a pretty good idea of what Inman, a genius, idiosyncratic, solo designer-developer, had the ability to come up with. I like supporting genius, idiosyncratic, solo designer-developers (Loren Brichter is another).
  • I like self-hosted applications, up to a point, but I also like not depending too much on any one provider for anything. (To put it another way: I don’t want Google to be a single point of failure in my life.) So a plurality of web applications is A Good Thing in my book.
  • Fever° is cool, and I fully expect it to be further developed in interesting ways. For example, sharing links between friends is one big strength of apps like Twitter, Friendfeed and Reader. Something similar for Fever° would be brilliant.

Which brings me to Fever°‘s annoyances. It’s only a version 1.0 application, but even so I’m finding very little to carp about – in fact the following just seems like whining:

  • On the iPhone, external pages resulting from tapping on outward links appear in a little frame above the page that allows you to easily go back into your Fever° session. The problem is that when you do, it’s displayed very very small and you have to force a screen redraw by changing the orientation of the iPhone to horizontal and back again.
  • In a web browser, if there’s a refresh of the feed you are reading, you lose the article you are on. Of course, you can press “u” to see all unread items, so all is not lost.

But those are just minor things. Fever°4 is a ravishingly beautiful and terrifically useful self-hosted RSS Reader. You should really have a good look, even if you don’t buy it: a brush with the product of genius is always inspiring.

1 People who write blogs are nothing if not obsessed about the number and nature of their readers; and Google Analytics provides a more common basis for comparison. How big is yours (audience, I mean).

2 By tapping the “+” you can save a Fever° icon to your home screen – just as you can for many other websites, though with varying levels of eye-candy.

3 Presumably learning from his experiences with Mint, this compatibility suite part of the install makes absolutely sure that no-one who has paid money for Fever can fail to install it because of some non-standard server configuration (and it would seem that Mr Inman has seen it all with his experiences supporting Mint).

4 I’ve overdone it on the ° ° °. They do get tiresome, don’t they.