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Author Topic: AlertBear 104 -- First Impressions  (Read 13024 times)
moerl
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« on: March 30, 2006, 05:55:10 PM »

So I finally decided to check out AlertBear (http://www.alertbear.com/). Let me put it short and say that BrotherS's hype was not unjustified Wink.
I thought I would give you a quick overview over how AlertBear works and why it might be worth your time and attention to check it out.
 
AlertBear comes with with the following preset of feeds:



I left them all enabled for the time being and will customize the list later. To do that, I can select the option CHOOSE FEEDS, which will pop up the following window:



As you can see AlertBear is fully equipped with most options you would expect. You can edit feeds, (duh), export and import OPML lists, (nice! even if this feature is fairly standard today, I'd say Wink), and add and edit categories. This last feature is particularly welcome as it will let you organize your feeds in categories of your own choosing. In the first screenshot I posted, categories are the terms with blue backgrounds.
 
AlertBear lives in your system tray. It is designed not as a full RSS/Newsfeed client/reader but more like a feed-tracker. This claim is also underlined by the fact that, as I said, it lives in your tray. That being said it should come as no surprise that AlertBear is controlled by right-clicking the tray icon, which will get you to all the commands you need to modify options and generally control AlertBear. Here's a shot:


 
Now, let me tell you about how AlertBear works. The most prominent architectural element of its functioning is what it calls "The Stack". If you use an IM client and it supports tray status messages, you will be familiar with what this looks like. But just to put us all "in the same room" for the purpose of this overview, here's yet another screenshot, (and not the last one, either Wink):



See what I mean? That's the stack. It slides in with a super cool animation from the right onto the screen, and slides out just as sexily. It's a very satisfying animation to watch, if I may say so without sounding weird. In the stack we also find AlertBear's philosophy, which is based on the idea that the reading of newsfeeds should not be treated the same way as the reading of emails. In other words, the idea behind AlertBear is to plug the user into a continuous "river of news" that keeps flowing. This means, in English, that as newsfeeds are updated, the stack slides onto the screen and shows you the latest newsfeed entries from the respective sources. A nice idea indeed, you will have to admit. Now, this idea is not entirely without its problems and I will get to that later, but the shortcomings are very subjective to my own experience and it is quite possible that you will disagree with me.
 
To get back to the stack, here's how it works:



I reused the previous screenshot, except in this one, I've added highlights. What I highlighted with blue rounded boxes are the feed entry info areas. The text in my blue boxes becomes underlined when you hover your mouse anywhere in that feed entry's bubble, and when clicked, it will open that particular feed in your default browser. Obviously, this will let you check out the very latest feeds faster than ever before. It's hard to imagine a more direct way to get to the latest feeds. The red rounded box highlights the "open in AlertBear" buttons that are available for each individual feed entry. Here is another aspect of AlertBear's that will not take a few days to let you realize how great and handy it is. Clicking the blue arrow will open the following window:


 
You can tell what that is, right? You guessed it, it's AlertBear's very own more traditional feedreader overview window. Luckily for me, there is not much to say about it. It is as basic as what you see in the screenshot, but with all its simplicity, it is nevertheless a crucial feature. AlertBear would be a lot less functional and useful were it not for this overview window. As you can see there is a list of your subscribed feeds on the left showing, just as you're used to from your email client, the numbers of new and unread feed entries in parentheses next to the feed's name. You can't right-click anywhere in this whole window. Well, you can, of course, and many times if you like... it's just not going to do anything smiley. This is no complaint, mind you. Sure, it would be handy if you can right click feeds on the left and have an option to jump to the "edit feed" screen right from there, but you can do that easily by clicking "choose feeds" from AlertBear's tray context menu. Double clicking any of the feed entries in the main list on the right will open it in your default browser. The filter you see on top filters feed entry titles only, not the bodies of the feed entry's themselves. It's a small detail, but a good thing to know.
 
One more thing about the stack: hovering your mouse anywhere on the stack and scrolling your mousewheel will scroll through all the feeds in the stack based on when they reached your AlertBear. It's a nice touch and gives AlertBear additional points for intuitive interface design. You can quickly find feed entries that showed up a short time ago, and if you have to find a particular feed entry from yesterday or earlier in the day, you can always open the overview window mentioned above, and perhaps look for it using the filter field--if you can remember the feed entry's title.
 
You can see on AlertBear's context menu some self explanatory functions. "Mark all as read" requires no further explanation, "Hide history" hides what I have hitherto called the "overview window", ("history" is AlertBear's name for it), and if it's hidden it turns into "show history", of course. "Empty stack" will delete all feeds currently in the history and will let you start with a naked AlertBear. Take from that comment what you will. As I've discovered yesterday in the IRC channel, many people who hang out there might as well be logged in from mental institutions cheesycheesycheesy, so perhaps this particular comment got you thinking? cheesy
"Check feeds" is as self explanatory as toilet paper, "About" needs no mention, and because the one option I have not yet mentioned is so glass-clear I will not even say about it that it needs no mention, I actually won't mention it!
 
We are all advanced software users here, and many of us even software makers, so I've probably gone into far too much detail already. But here are the screenshots of all of AlertBear's option dialogs, to give you an idea of what more you can do with AlertBear:
 

 
The preferences tabs and all of its content should be self explanatory and do not demand further explanation, save for one exception: Bearkey. I have no idea what that is myself, so if anyone wants to add that in a later post in this thread, please do.
 
I set up a hotkey for showing and hiding the stack with ALT+A and it works beautifully. Fast and stable as it is, it's a joy to hit the hotkey and see the stack slide in and out of the screen. It's the type of thing I could see myself doing if I get bored... keep hitting that hotkey and watch the animation over and over and over again smiley.
 
And there you have it! A pretty complete overview of AlertBear. I should mention that it was updated today as well, from build 103 to 104. I'm not aware of the changes made as I installed it today, but BrotherS may notice some changes as he has been using it for a few days already.
 
I was on my way to install Greatnews RSS when I decided to give AlertBear a try first. AlertBear is a radically new approach to RSS. It's not your typical newsfeed client/reader. And this may be the right place to tell you about what I am not so fond of in AlertBear.
The River of News concept is a very nice idea. But one thing about this philosophy could be somewhat problematic for some people.. imagine yourself actually trying to be productive, trying to complete work at your PC. With a more traditional newsreader like FeedDemon or Greatnews, you are in control of when you will read newsfeeds. With AlertBear, on the other hand, you will be interrupted at regular intervals, and not just with harmless popups from the tray, but with extremely potent distractors! They are newsfeed entries after all, and you know how efficient RSS can be at robbing you of your much valued time, right? Of course there is a mirror image to this "complaint", which really is no complaint at all. After all, this is a question of philosophy, not an actual deficiency in AlertBear itself. I can think of at least two ways to render this "problem" sterile. You can set the feed update time to something very high.. like one hour, two hours, or even more.. that way you will barely ever be interrupted by AlertBear, and its updates and stack slide-ins may even serve as a way to relax you at regular intervals. After an hour of work, you may even want to read a feed here or there, to take your mind off of what you're doing and learn something new. The other way would be to turn automatic checks off completely, which I assume is possible by setting the check interval time to "0". If you do that, you can simply check for new feeds manually from AlertBear's context menu in the tray.
 
One thing I would love to see added to AlertBear is the support of favicons in the stack. The way things are now, all the stack bubbles look exactly the same, and it's not easy to see what feed entry came from where, nor are the titles very easy to tell apart. If AlertBear could display favicons of the particular feeds, the stack would not only look much cooler, you could also see at a glance where the latest feed updates are coming from. Also, the text formatting of the text in the stack bubbles should be fully customizable to allow the user to change the font style, size and color. Of course AlertBear is still young, and all those things may be real possibilities down the road. The "history" window is very basic and while it does its job just right and does everything just as you would expect, it probably could be furnished with another feature here and there. What those features might look like I will leave up to you to think of, but you get the point that it is all at a basic stage at this point. That's no bad thing in itself, I'm just letting you know.
 
Also, from what I can tell at this point, there is no way to save your favorite feed entries in any way. That would be a nice touch to have in addition to what AlertBear already offers.
 
AlertBear is one fine free application. Let its relative simplicity in design not fool you. This is a great way to keep up with the latest newsfeeds. Personally, I think I will stick with the more traditional approach after all, and here's why: FeedDemon got me addicted to reading feeds with the "newspaper" view. This means that a newsfeed is taken and from it is generated a stream of the latest unread entries which you can then scroll and read very quickly. It looks very pretty too, with different styles for newspaper display available. Since I heard Greatnews actually has this feature as well, I am very eager to see how Greatnews handles this and whether it is as good as FeedDemon. Also, I like the idea of having all my feeds in one more sophisticated interface more than having to deal with a tray-based application, as cool as AlertBear is/may be. I like to open an actual RSS client and see all the latest stuff at one glance, then decide what I am interested in and which channel I would like to read. AlertBear will simply let me know of the very latest feed additions, based on when they are published. Of course this means I can choose right then and there whether I'm interested and if I would like to read that feed, allowing me to effectively skip it if I don't think I will want to read an entry at all. With the more traditional approach, I will have to make these decisions while looking at ALL the latest entries at once. But that's where the newspaper feature comes in: it makes that very task blazing fast. Further, if you listen to podcasts here and there, I don't know how AlertBear would deal with that. I am sure support will be added sooner or later, but again I would like to have all my feeds organized in one window which will let me read feeds in a reading pane, rather than having me open them in a new browser window unless I expressly wish to do just that.
 
I could probably go on, but I think I've said not only far more than I first intended to, but more than any of you would care to read, so sorry about that smiley
« Last Edit: April 03, 2006, 03:00:42 PM by brotherS » Logged
mouser
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« Reply #1 on: March 30, 2006, 06:02:53 PM »

wow!
now this is why this forum can be so nice.

that is an excellent minireview.
i think you did a perfect job of explaining the nice things about it and the aspects that might not be best depending on your style of working.  really very helpfull!
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jgpaiva
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« Reply #2 on: March 30, 2006, 06:12:07 PM »

Thank you Moerl!
Great review, very complete. I was going to install it too, after reading this review. I only won't because of the "distraction" problem you mentioned, I'm having trouble getting things done. Wink

 Thmbsup Thmbsup Thmbsup BIG Thumbs Up!  thumbs up thumbs up thumbs up
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Darwin
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« Reply #3 on: March 30, 2006, 07:13:37 PM »

Wow! Excellent job, moerl. I'm going to go back and read it again - there's so much there that I'm sure I missed some key points.
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moerl
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« Reply #4 on: March 31, 2006, 12:31:13 AM »

Thanks guys for the very positive feedback! I appreciate the comments, and please feel free to correct me if I got anything wrong, or to add anything that may be missing Wink
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nudone
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« Reply #5 on: March 31, 2006, 12:52:29 AM »

great job, moerl. keep them coming.
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brotherS
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« Reply #6 on: March 31, 2006, 12:56:17 AM »

Wow, great review!  Thmbsup

The preferences tabs and all of its content should be self explanatory and do not demand further explanation, save for one exception: Bearkey. I have no idea what that is myself, so if anyone wants to add that in a later post in this thread, please do.
Bearkey seems to be an older, more wider approach that wasn't successful:

Quote
Bearkey Alerts is the easiest way to keep up with the latest information from all over the web. News headlines, sports news, computer news, and most importantly - all your Bearkey service updates These include notifications for topics or boards being updated, a user wanting to speak to you in IRC, specific users posting, or even posts which contain certain words or phrases.

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brotherS
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« Reply #7 on: March 31, 2006, 01:01:18 AM »

Thank you Moerl!
Great review, very complete. I was going to install it too, after reading this review. I only won't because of the "distraction" problem you mentioned
Nooo, don't let that scare you! He offered the solution as well:

imagine yourself actually trying to be productive, trying to complete work at your PC. With a more traditional newsreader like FeedDemon or Greatnews, you are in control of when you will read newsfeeds. With AlertBear, on the other hand, you will be interrupted at regular intervals, and not just with harmless popups from the tray, but with extremely potent distractors! They are newsfeed entries after all, and you know how efficient RSS can be at robbing you of your much valued time, right? Of course there is a mirror image to this "complaint", which really is no complaint at all. After all, this is a question of philosophy, not an actual deficiency in AlertBear itself. I can think of at least two ways to render this "problem" sterile. You can set the feed update time to something very high.. like one hour, two hours, or even more.. that way you will barely ever be interrupted by AlertBear, and its updates and stack slide-ins may even serve as a way to relax you at regular intervals. After an hour of work, you may even want to read a feed here or there, to take your mind off of what you're doing and learn something new.

Quote
I'm having trouble getting things done. Wink
Then you should read my post in http://www.donationcoder....orum/index.php?topic=2928 smiley
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« Reply #8 on: April 03, 2006, 08:27:56 AM »

You should add an URL for http://www.alertbear.com/ in a larger font in the first post smiley
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moerl
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« Reply #9 on: April 03, 2006, 10:20:57 AM »

You should add an URL for http://www.alertbear.com/ in a larger font in the first post smiley

You're right.. though DC users are all far more than skilled enough to google something smiley. You're right, a direct link should be included. Is it ok now? smiley
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jgpaiva
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« Reply #10 on: April 03, 2006, 10:39:59 AM »

You should add an URL for http://www.alertbear.com/ in a larger font in the first post smiley
AhAh.. I was about to say the exact same thing.
Moerl: it's not a matter of not being able to google it, it's just that it's bit easier with a direct link tellme
« Last Edit: April 03, 2006, 10:55:33 AM by jgpaiva » Logged

brotherS
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« Reply #11 on: April 03, 2006, 03:03:30 PM »

Is it ok now? smiley
It's ok now - I took the liberty to change it a *cough* little Wink Just making it big doesn't make it obvious it's a (clickable) URL hiding behind the text. embarassed
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moerl
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« Reply #12 on: April 03, 2006, 03:10:15 PM »

Is it ok now? smiley
It's ok now - I took the liberty to change it a *cough* little Wink Just making it big doesn't make it obvious it's a (clickable) URL hiding behind the text. embarassed

Works for me. To me it was very obvious, since a link has a different COLOR than normal text, so I'm not sure what the problem was in knowing that part of the text is actually linked to outside content. Also, you could have underlined the word "AlertBear", but I like your method better. Whatever works for you guys. I normally tell links from regular text by its color.
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« Reply #13 on: July 05, 2006, 08:21:20 PM »

Wow, thank you for letting me know about Alert Bear.  I quit using Trillian Pro for feeds and starting using this.  NICE.
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brotherS
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« Reply #14 on: July 06, 2006, 11:38:21 AM »

I quit using Trillian Pro
Good decision smiley Did you read http://www.donationcoder....um/index.php?topic=1201.0 ?
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« Reply #15 on: November 23, 2006, 02:18:23 AM »

Hi moerl, what about a reivew for TTNews?
http://www.donationcoder....um/index.php?topic=6203.0
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