If you’ve ever come back from a vacation or conference and been reluctant to open up your RSS reader due to the sheer number of unread items that certainly awaited, you are already familiar with “second inbox guilt”. It’s caused by having a second unread count, much like your email inbox, that you have to constantly churn and plow through every day.
The cure for this disease, however, may well be a fever.
Fever is a different kind of RSS reader, rather than burdening you with unread entries and making you rummage through hundreds or thousands of posts to find what you want to read, Fever tries to bring the important articles to the top, making them easy to find and easy to follow. Though it lets you maintain a list of “must follow” feeds, it also works to find and summarize the most important news before you even get there.
Though it is a new and potentially compelling idea for managing RSS feeds, it does have some pretty severe limitations, including a hefty price tag, that will likely keep it from being widely adopted or used. Still, it is worth taking a moment to see if it is right for you.
The Big Idea
What Fever does is in many ways similar to how Google tracks PageRank on the Web. It looks at your RSS feeds and tracks what sites/stories the entries are linking to. The more articles that link to a particular story, the “hotter” it becomes. If enough entries link to one page, it becomes a “hot” and gets pushed to the top of your feed reader’s front page. Best of all, every story that links to that item is displayed directly underneath, making it very easy to read everything that’s been said about it in your feed.
Fever does this by classifying your feeds into two types. The first is “Kindling”, which are your “must read” feed items. These are the feeds where you are interested in nearly every post and want to read them as if they were in a regular RSS reader. The second kind is “Sparks” which are active feeds that are more hit and miss, where much of the content isn’t of interest. Sparks feeds are not intended to be read, but rather, are simply used to increase the temperature on popular stories.
In Fever, temperature is always based on the human body, meaning 98.6 degrees F and 37 degrees C, so that when a story gets “hot” it runs a fever, pushing it well over than normal temp.
The result is that, if you subscribe to a lot of feeds or are gone for a long period of time, you don’t need to read through hundreds or thousands of articles to find what was important. Simply checking your “Hot” list, for which you can set the date range, will clue you in to the most important stories within a few minutes.
In addition to its unique way of displaying RSS feeds, Fever also has a few other benefits to consider.
- Clean Layout: Fever’s layout is clean, intuitive and AJAX powered. It automatically refreshes feeds at regular intervals and does a good job displaying a lot of information in a very uncluttered way.
- iPhone/Mobile Version: Fever also has a very effective mobile version designed for the iPhone or similar phones. Works great for keeping up with news while on the go since it is tailored to doing quick checks of important stories.
- Bookmarklet: Since Fever has multiple places to put a feed, it has a special bookmarklet that lets you add feeds to either your Kindling or your Sparks depending on where you need it.
- Keyboard Shortcuts: As with Google Reader, Fever uses keyboard shortcuts to make navigation easier and faster.
However, despite all of this, Fever is not right for everyone. Though it comes with a large number of compelling features, it has a series of drawbacks and concerns that will probably prevent it from becoming a mainstream success.
Drawbacks and Limitations
The same as Fever is different in way that it reads feeds, it is also different in the way it is implemented. Rather than being a site that you go to and register for an account or an application that you install on your desktop, Fever is a server-installed application, similar to WordPress or Joomla. This means that, in order to use Fever, you have to have your own server with PHP and MYSQL available and know how to set up applications on it.
Also, similar to those applications, the set up of Fever is not as simple as desktop applications. It involves uploading a folder, setting permissions, creating a database and a new database user. Though not difficult to a veteran Web admin, it can be intimidating to a more casual user that only does such things rarely, if ever.
Another factor to consider is whether your server can easily handle the load of Fever. Though it seems to be pretty light and not use up a lot of memory on my server, it is easy to see how, especially with a ton of feeds, it could become a drag, slowing down your public site.
However, the worst barrier for many will be the price tag: $30. Though it’s not an extremely high amount to pay for an application, in an era where nearly every other RSS reader is free justifying the expense may be difficult to justify.
In the end, Fever is a great RSS reader that is going to be severely limited by a heavy price tag and a limited number of users capable of installing it. If there were a place to create a Fever account and run it on their server, Fever would undoubtedly start winning over a larger audience. But currently it is limited to a niche audience of those with Web servers that are willing to spend the time and money to set it up on their server.
For better or worse, I am in that market and have been using Fever this past week and loving it. However, I can easily see that it is not for everyone nor is it for most.
Ironically though, my greatest complaint about fever has been the time it has taken me to set up and run. I’ve had to reorganize my feeds to maximize the temperature on relevant stories and keep the number of “must read” feeds to a minimum. I’ve also had to subscribe to many additional feeds in the “Spark” folder to help find important stories (strangely I wasn’t subscribed to enough feeds at first).
Still, I see those actions as an investment to help me spend less time reading feeds and still be more aware of the important stories in my field.
If you meet the qualifications for running Fever, which you probably do if you run your own WordPress install, it may well be worth giving it a shot. Otherwise, just wait and see if maybe, someday, they’ll consider setting up a hosted version of it you can register for.