Mozilla experiments with a universal content reader, Snowl
Is the browser the right app to display your RSS and Twitter feeds?
Mozilla has released a 0.1 version of Snowl (official blog post), an experimental add-in for Firefox that reads news and nanoblog feeds. It's an attempt to marry together the incoming separate content streams that many of us have feeding on to our desktops full time: News and blog stories via RSS, and social and personal communications from services like Twitter.
Of course, under the skin they're all just RSS feeds. The key to mashing these feeds together is treating them somewhat differently depending on where they came from, and adding in capabilities to let you take action on an item.
Currently, Snowl just showcases two ways to blend news and nanoblog feeds into a browser. There's a three-pane view, like an e-mail client or a traditional offline RSS reader, and there's the newspaper or "river of news" view (which did not work correctly for me). The add-on searches for items you've received as you type in queries, which makes it a useful tool for quickly recalling items.
My favorite feature is the left-hand navigation window, which by default displays a list of people--not folders or feeds, as most three-pane views do. Click on a person and you see what they've sent into your feeds.
Missing, so far, are capabilities to reply to or share items that you've read. Also, the nanoblog and social feed options are limited. Mozilla plans to layer in support for Facebook and other social sources as the experiment progresses.
This is a good stab at addressing a common complaint, and I hope it continues to develop. It's not quite there yet. Personally, I have experimented with reading RSS feeds in my e-mail client, and that just didn't feel right: News feeds don't belong in e-mail. Likewise, I've used Twitter add-ins for Firefox (and Flock), and found the browsing mindset not quite compatible with personal communications.
In theory, I'd agree that it's better to not have to keep multiple applications open to handle the multiple data sources I have coming in. In practice, I think about browsing, e-mail, feed-reading, IM, and nanoblogs differently, and I'm beginning to think that the awkward switching between apps to read each feed actually does an important job of preparing my puny brain for the different context and attention required for each feed.
The Snowl experiment is important, though, and no doubt many people would want a more integrated experience.