Ollicle Reflex refined for smarter feed reading

It’s been a long time cooking, but I am finally taking version 6 of Ollicle Reflex out of the oven.

Download and install

Download latest version: Ollicle Reflex

Double-click the unzipped .nnwstyle file and NetNewsWire will copy it to where it needs to be.

~/Library/Application Support/NetNewsWire/StyleSheets/

This style uses JavaScript to do some things CSS alone cannot. Make sure you enable it

Requirements

I have not tested this style extensively with anything other than the current version of NetNewsWire (3.1.3) and Safari 3 (which determines the version of WebKit NetNewsWire is sporting).

Note: styles for NetNewsWire 3 do not affect the Combined view – only the Traditional and Widescreen views.

Key features

Screenshots

I’d love to have a screencast to give you a better preview of the style. For now here’s a few screenshots that illustrate the font size and layout flexibility. Although, rather than waste time looking at them, I recommend scrolling back up the top of this page and downloading it.

Widescreen NetNewsWire layout

One column layout by default

Widescreen one column layout

Larger font size

Widescreen one column layout with large text

Two column—smaller font size

Widescreen two column layout with small text

Traditional NetNewsWire layout

Two column layout by default

Traditional two column layout

Larger font size

Traditional two column layout with large text

One column—larger font size

Traditional one column layout with large text

Black background

Traditional two column layout with black background

Scripting image layout is tricky

The logic executed to determine if an image should be scaled, aligned or left inline is much simpler than my initial somewhat ambitious scheme. I was driven crazy trying to get my head around the increasingly complex possibilities that cascaded from attempting to consider how to handle clusters of images such as those often found in the FlickrBlog.

After sufficient frustration I decided to focus on the more common occurrence of individual images of unpredictable dimensions alongside or within a portion of text. In a nutshell, the trade-off is that images that ought to sit nicely alongside each other in the one row are now forced under one another vertically. Very occasionally this looks broken.

Many bloggers continue to use double line breaks instead of regular paragraphs. I’ll give them the benefit of doubt by pointing my accusatory finger at their blogging tools rather than their shoddy HTML. Regardless, this made the task of ensuring associated text and images remained close in the layout particularly challenging. I delayed the release of this style until I came up with a means to get the better of this puzzle.

Why spend some much time on a simple looking style?

The consistency and convenience of feed reading comes with a price. In the thoughtfully constructed HTML content of a RSS feed I get the author’s words and images. I also get the emphasis and structure of their sentences and also links to their references. I get their meaning. I don’t get their CSS.

Many readers, who consider themselves visually or design literate, appreciate the aesthetic of the original artifact of the authors website. Many web authors are dismayed to see the effort they put into the presentation of their posts wasted to feed readers who never see the intended context of the site itself. These people don’t need help finding each other. For everyone else, there is work that can be done. The decisions that go into CSS in a modern website address more than just aesthetic vision of the author.

CSS is the primary tool for removng the obstacles to easy reading. A website built within a given layout and structure provides enough restrictions to widths and heights that effort put into molding the text to best fit it’s space is worthwhile. Outside of the cushy environment of the homepage, in the diverse wilderness of RSS and Atom consumption, these constraints lose relevance. Therefore, outside of the author’s site, so does the author’s CSS.

A feed reader style like Ollicle Reflex, if it is to to fulfil the needs of a discerning reader, needs to be much smarter than a style for an average blog. Not only is the content presented by a feedreader more varied (and often broken) than any given site, the user of a good feed reader has a great deal more control over how how these feeds are viewed.

These diverse demands, and my curiosity, have driven me to turn to JavaScript in Ollicle Reflex. CSS alone struggles to keep the content looking consistently considered.

Scratching my own back

Like NetNewsWire, Ollicle Reflex is free. I build it chiefly to scratch my own itches. That said, I love to know others are using it so bring on the feedback!

To all of you who have been suffienctly tempted by my words above to click out of your feedreader to load ollicle.com to best appreciate it’s full artistic intent… Lets say I have put a little more effort into Ollicle Reflex than my site in recent years :/ Might have to get back onto that.

Further thoughts

14 March 2008

Updated the download link above to version seven:

  • User preference for line-height now works (Thanks Matt).

  • Added user preference (in javascript.js) to hide/show the del.icio.us tagometer (Good suggestion Jonathon).