Friday, April 17, 2009

NewsRob 1.9 Preview - More Download Control

NewsRob 1.9 is around the corner. So I'd like to share some bits before the release.

More Download Control

The new version brings you more fine grained control over what is downloaded and how long it takes.

I often hear that NewsRob is slow and it takes very long to make the web pages available offline.

Let me tell you what happens:

NewsRob downloads the feed content and the web page. Let's first have a look at the feed content. The feed content's text is already part of the feed that is synced with Google Reader. So only the images that are referenced in the text need to be downloaded – so that you can see them more quickly when browsing through your articles, or that you can see them at all when you are offline.

This is a relative straight forward process and doesn't take all that long. And in many cases that is all that is needed. So from now on you can select a download option called "feed content" to stop after that.

There are lots of web pages – in particular the commercial websites that really want you to see the ads on their webpage to make their business model work – that only provide summaries in the feed. That's called a partial feed as opposed to a full feed that contains the full text and all the images.

When you encounter those partial feeds in Google Reader you'll see only a line or two describing the content in the article's body. To read the actual article you have to click on the title to open up the web page as a new tab/window in your browser. That is slightly annoying when you are at your desktop, but really annoying when on Android. It just takes very long to open a new browser window or even launch the browser.

(Btw. If any of you know of a Mac or browser based reader application that does what NewsRob does, please let me know.)

So to take care of that NewsRob let's you display the web page inside NewsRob.

That is possible when the content is downloaded as well as when the content is not downloaded (yet). In the latter case NewsRob just acts as an ordinary browser and downloads the page on the fly. This also works when you use the download options "headers only" and "feed content".

The web page that is referenced in the article is called "alternate content".

To offer this alternate content offline, NewsRob downloads the html page and goes through it looking for images. When it finds a reference to an image it downloads that image, saves it to the SD card/phone memory and changes the reference in the html page to point to the local file.

Then it repeats the process for all the stylesheets. After the stylesheets are downloaded, they are processed the same way – that is NewsRob looks for image references, downloads the images, changes the stylesheet, etc.

I hope you can imagine that this takes a bit of time. Please also consider that the web pages are not meant originally to be downloaded to a mobile phone. A typical commercial web page has 100-300 images embedded. Those images are usually very small though: these are rounded-corners, dividers, navigation elements and whatever else the history of the internet brought with it.

So if you don't need the web page – because the feed you're interested in is a full feed – use the "feed content" option; otherwise use the "feed content + web page" option.

Why a "feed content + web page" option, not a "web page" only option? Doesn't this take up more space and time than necessary?

The web page and the feed content share the same content and NewsRob preserves that. So if an image is downloaded for the feed content, the same instance of the images is also used in the web page or vice versa. As a consequence the feed content comes "for free".
The "feed content + web page" option was the default – and only option – in NewsRob until now.

The new default is "feed content".

And there is a third choice now "headers only"; this means that no feed content is downloaded.

This is basically the functionality you have when you use the mobile version of Google Reader.

You can still see the feed content, but the images are downloaded on demand. You can also still see the web page, but it is downloaded on demand.

So it's not exactly as the mobile version of Google Reader as you don't need to open a new window when you want to look at a linked web page, the alternate content.

The "headers only" option is great for feeds that just contain short textual information. All information is then already contained in the feed. There is no need to download the alternate content or images in the feed for status updates of your Facebook buddies or the latest tweets.

The option is also great for partial feeds that contain some articles that you like, but you don't care for all of them. So with "headers only" you stay informed what articles are there and can look at the alternate content when you are online, it just takes a little bit longer as it has not been downloaded ahead of time.

You can specify the new download option on a per-feed basis and also set a global default:





There is another new option you can specify on a per-feed basis: the display preference.

The default is that for a feed where you specified that the web page should be downloaded an article from this feed will also be opened in the "Web" mode. This is also the case when you navigate between articles on the Show Article screen.


If you specified that NewsRob should not download the content or only the feed content, then the default is that the Show Article screen is opened in "(Display) Feed" mode.

But you can also specify the "(Display) Feed" or "(Display) Web (Page)" mode explicitly.

Why would that make sense?

Consider this: You have a partial feed from a commercial news site, then it not only takes long to download the web page, but it also takes a lot of time to display it. Remember the 100-300 files?

So it may make sense for you for those feeds to configure downloading the feed content + web page, but open articles from this feed in "Feed" mode by default, so that you can browse very quickly through your articles and click on the header to change to the "Web" mode, if an article is interesting to you.

Does this make sense? You tell me – leave a comment. NewsRob is intended for people that live in their news reader, not so much for the casual users that checks once a week for something to read.

You could tap in the Article List on the globe to directly open the Show Article screen in "Web" mode before. With the introduction of the new configuration options this is an obsolete feature for most of the cases and so I removed it. If you are one of the two people using it, please don't fight the removal. In an attempt for more simplicity this feature is gone for good.

The "Feed" or "Web" mode is displayed in the upper left corner of the Show Article screen. Below that you'll see the download state as before (globe, phone).

The download state can also be seen in the Article list in a bit more detail than before.




  1. Thanks for the details. Looks great!

  2. I think newsrob is great but you're missing the point of rss feeds - they are supposed to be a "fast" way to read lots of websites in one place. In newsrob it's still way to slow if you have more than 300 feeds even with headers only turned on because you are preventing use of the app while capacity is deleted or item status is synced - do that stuff in the background.

  3. I can't follow you. NewsRob does that in the background.

  4. so is there a way to setup global view to FEED even with download set to feed+web as a default?

    Or I will have to go through every feed manually???

  5. Dezz

    the short answer is: No, there is not.

    We discussed this on the mailing list a couple of times and it's just not an easy user story.

    Btw. I wouldn't recommend setting the default to "web", as it takes a lot of time and bandwidth to download that. You should better just use it explicitly for some sites that only provide partial feeds.