How to Kill a Beloved Feature?

Yesterday I wrote about killing unused features.  But what about killing a feature that people do use?

This is the dilemma I’m facing with the news item list, which is the middle panel in FeedDemon (the one that displays a list of articles in the current feed – it’s hidden by default in recent releases, so you may not even know it exists if you’ve only recently started using FeedDemon).  I’ve wanted to kill the news item list for a very long time because it dramatically complicates FeedDemon (both from a developer and end user perspective) and it really slows things down.

I also want to kill it because I think it was a bad idea to start with.  See, the main reason the news item list exists was to mimic Microsoft Outlook’s one-item-at-a-time reading UI.  I figured if I made FeedDemon look and work like Outlook, then more people would find it familiar, and therefore more people would find it easy to use.  Since then, though, it has become clear that RSS is not email.  Trying to read your feeds the same way you read your email – that is, treating every item as though it has to be read – leads to information overload.

Anyway, I’ve downplayed the news item list ever since v2.0, and it’s no longer documented in the online help.  I could really simplify things if I killed it, but at the same time, I’m pretty sure I’d lose customers by doing so.  Most people don’t use it – but every time I’ve hinted at its demise, I hear from people who say they couldn’t use FeedDemon without it.

So…what would you do?  Would you kill a feature that most people don’t use in order to simplify your application, or would you keep it around forever to accommodate loyal customers who rely on it?

Update: Please note that I’m not saying the news item list is being dropped – just that I’d like to drop it!

51 thoughts on “How to Kill a Beloved Feature?

  1. I definitely would stop using FeedDemon if that was gone. I actually DO read all of my items, or at lesat click on it to mark it as read, if I’m not interested (based on the topic name).
    I only subscribe to feeds that I’d be interested in at least 90% of the content.

  2. Since U usually use the Newspaper view to read, and click on the envelope to mark things as read, this usually wouldn’t impact me — unless I want to reread an already-read item.
    Without that panel, how would I navigate to a specific item in one feed?

  3. I’d say it becomes a mixed bag. Since FeedDemon is begin offered as a freedownload, you can’t really ask “is supporting this feature worth the money its users give to the company.”
    I would most likely look at its usage statistics. Find out what percentage of users are using it and from there … it’s pretty much a gut decision.

  4. Removing that feature would leave me with no option but to keep using the current version of FeedDemon until it no longer will synchronize with Newsgator and after that I’d move to another client. Would be sad to let it go, after all I liked it enough to pay for it before it went freeware, but removing this specific feature would leave me with no other choice.

  5. Freeware is, well, free, maintained at the discretion of the company. Life’s not fair, but in this case, the risk of drifting towards a Blunder 2007 (aka Office 2007) is more frightful than loosing a few users. That’s just me, and I could be wrong, in which case I’d still do it. I’ve had to do this myself, otherwise future enhancements would become more difficult to realize.

  6. (Without wanting to sound like an arse)
    Are. You. Crazy?
    This is singularly the best feature of FD! It allows me to scan headlines of around twelve news stories INSTANTLY and easily mousewheel down through the rest.
    This is the one feature that got me to pay real £££ (before it was free) over the other competitors out there.
    I DO NOT want to have to page through pages of images, BIG FONTS, bad formatting and advertisements.
    I cannot believe you have started hiding this feature as its so significant. Its fabulous the way you can F11 between it and the full page browser view. I cannot believe my usage patterns are so different to everybody elses.
    Please don’t remove it!
    Paul.

  7. If it has to go I suppose it has to go, but definitely wait for a major update(eg. whatever becomes 3.0 and not say, 2.8) to do something this disruptive.
    That said I do use it–since pre-1.0–and if it were gone, I would need something better/faster than clicking that little envelope in the browser pane. Otherwise, I might have to consider moving on. (Sorry. I hate when people level threats like that, but the current option really just wouldn’t work for me. On the other hand, half the reason I looked at FD in the first place was liking what you’d done in previous apps, so I trust you’ll come up with something. /suckup)

  8. Please don’t remove it!
    Even if it’s like outlook and trying to read feeds the same way we read emails, it allows to quickly scan feeds entries and only go to those that are interesting.

  9. I can’t imagine using FeedDemon without this feature. Definitely will not upgrade to a new version.
    But I guess your question was not about this feature, but about “killing” in general. I’d leave such (an important!) feature in the app forever.

  10. Thank you for teaching me how to remove it! I don’t care if it stays or goes, but I definitely don’t need that feature.

  11. I considered abonding FeedDemon until I found the News Item pane! I was a LONG time user of SharpReader which uses the News Item style. Please do not remove the News Item feature. I only use FeedDemon with the News Item feature turned on.

  12. KILL IT…
    Honestly, I’ve never used it, and ever so often I find it turned on for some reason, and have a hard time finding out how to make it go away.

  13. The news item list is the way I scan all my news items, and is the only way I have found to reduce information overload.
    The way you are suggesting using FeedDemon is very foreign to me, and I am not sure I really understand it. Perhaps what is really needed are some simple and short videos (using Camtasia perhaps?) to demonstrate best practices (as the online help is rather sparse).

  14. I use it all the time, to scan headlines and only look at posts I’m interested in. Always. If it wasn’t there, I would have to stay on the current version, which would be a huge shame.
    Please don’t take it out! Like many of the others, this is one of the features that originally persuaded me to pay for FD.

  15. I used to heavily rely on the News Item List and had argued against significant changes to it for quite some time. But while I was at NewsGator, I actually started reading in newspaper mode only, using Surfer (I’ve never really found a use for the other styles).
    The only way I could see getting rid of the list is to make sure the functionality that everyone relies upon is present in the newspaper. I don’t think the available styles or even the view options in Surfer do this yet, e.g.: Group By, sorting, column choices, etc.
    That said, I really don’t miss those options, though once in a _great_ while I fall back on the list while looking for something. I don’t use the equivalent function in NetNewsWire at all.
    As an aside, even though I knew it was coming, the first time I got the “RSS isn’t email – you don’t have to read everything” message, my first reaction was “Don’t tell me how to read my feeds.” I still feel that way, even though I’ve adjusted my reading habits. I guess I’m saying that just because _you_ don’t like to use FD like Outlook doesn’t mean it doesn’t make sense for others.

  16. On what basis do you think most people don’t use the news list? Whilst this is a biased sample responding here, it may be representative of an otherwise silent majority who speed-read feeds using the list, only skipping to the newspaper section for feeds of particular interest. Before removing any feature that a large proportion of the userbase may have come to rely on, it seems valid to ask what’s in it for them.
    By tuning the visibility of read/unread items and page size, the middle panel becomes a very effective way of covering vast quantities of data, not a one-at-a-time mechanism at all. It has great value to some of us.
    If the logic of removing features because they cost time or effort is taken to the logical extreme, there would be no software development at all. There is a cost/benefit ration to be examined here, but only the programmer knows the cost, and only the user knows the benefit.

  17. Glad you said you’re _not_ removing it!
    In answer to your actual question, I’d try to find a way to simplify the app while retaining the feature. Sounds simple when I don’t know any of the gory details :)

  18. I tried using FeedDemon without the news feed but find myself turning it back on. what I like about it is the ability to find an item quickly. By that, I mean, I don’t have to look at all the items in a feed one at a time and keep scrolling down or go to the next page to find something.
    I know I could probably change the reading pane to just show titles and then click on the feed, but I guess its creature of habit. (I may try this though to see how it works)
    I tried using the Newsgator html client but came back to FeedDemon for the news pane.

  19. I used to use the News Feed feature but found it took too much space off the main browser window. I cannot really understand why some of your readers are so wedded to the feature. If you stick to the main browser window and choose the ‘summary’ display you can use the back and forward buttons to navigate between a headline list and the full articles. I still occasionaly use the News Feed but would not miss it if it went.

  20. If this feature was removed, how would I go back and find a previously read item? I do this semi-frequently.

  21. I realize not everyone uses FeedDemon the way I do, but I depend on the News Feed feature to scan the latest items (and the dates as a demarcation of what may be interesting to me recently.
    Would I miss the feature? Heck, yes! Would it cause me to leave FeedDemon and find another feed reader that supports a news feed in a separate column? Probably so.
    I love the product and have been loyal to Nick’s products for years, but (sometimes I dislike that word) I need to have this feature.
    Oh, thanks for at least bringing this up for discussion before you go thumbs up/down. Many developers wouldn’t care and it would just be done.

  22. I just want to throw in my vote for leaving it. I too would have to find another solution (or just not update) if the News Items pane was gone. I have way too many RSS feeds to not be able to quickly scan down a list of succinct subject lines to find the stuff I want to read.

  23. I use the News Item List all the time and it’s one of the main reasons why I use Newsgator instead of competing products…sorry!
    I guesss I could get by without it if there were a newspaper style that mimic’ed it’s look and feel. It’s the only way to quickly scan a long list of posts quickly without a lot of additional info (clutter?) that’s added to the newspaper views. See, I use if for (a) sites that list updates to shareware, (b) forums that do a terrible job of supporting RSS in that there’s ton’s of duplicate entries, etc.
    If you wanted to drop this, I’d be okay if I had a newspaper view that essentially looked the same.
    In fact, if there’s an area of improvement I’d like to see in FeedDemon, it’s more and better newspaper styles.

  24. Maybe I’m just showing my age, but I can’t even begin to imagine how I would use FD without the news item list. Then again, I use Outlook. QED, I guess.

  25. In answer to your question about killing features like this, I like what Brett Simmons is doing and removing the feature from the UI, but leaving a preference so you can retrieve it back if you *really* want to use the feature.
    From http://inessential.com/?comments=1&postid=3514 for his thoughts on killing features, here’s the relevant quote:
    “… the features still exist, but now as ‘hidden’ prefs that you can set in the Terminal. These aren’t the first hidden prefs, nor will they be the last, I’m sure.”
    I’ll add my voice to those who like this feature and don’t want to see it killed. But I wouldn’t mind if you removed it from the interface so that your new users don’t know about it, but leave it as a preference for us older users.

  26. Everybody who says they use the News Item List to scan a large amount of feeds quickly – what is different between the NIL and Headline mode for doing that? I tend to use Headline mode and then expand the items I want to read.
    And this question has been asked before but some of the answers were along the lines of “because I use it that’s why” – what *specifically* about the NIL that can’t be done in the newspaper view makes you use that feature and would be willing to die or switch readers before giving it up?

  27. I think you need to do a blog entry showing how to use FD without it. You can view a previously read news item by changing the filter. You can view just a list of headlines by changing the newspaper style.
    I used to use it all the time until I realised that river of news style is way better.

  28. There’s a fine line with keeping features around for a small group of people. However, when the small group is vocal and loyal, it’s hard to ignore them. I, for one, have been a paid FeedDemon user for years before it was free. Now, I’m not naive, I know that doesn’t make my opinions any more important with FeedDemon’s business decision.
    One thing about the news item list that’s really nice: Easy reading with the *keyboard*. I realize I am probably in the minority, but I use FeedDemon mostly when I’m offline and commuting (either on a cramped bus, train or airplane) where a mouse is not feasible.
    It’s really nice to be able to see all of the headlines without having to grab a mouse and scroll. Then, I either arrow-down or spacebar to an article of interest, read the article in the browser window, and/or flag it or move to the clippings folder ALL WITH THE KEYBOARD. Or, if no articles are of interest, a quick CTRL-SHIFT-A (to mark all read) and SPACEBAR brings me to the next feed of unread articles.
    Of course, I’ve been using FeedDemon this way for so long, there may be a better way to do this which I’m just ignorant of. I guess the best way to migrate these “old school” users over would be to have some sort of tutorial in the help on how to best use the program. However, if it doesn’t work for me, I agree with dirhael above in that I would probably never upgrade to said new version and keep using the existing version.
    Just my 2 cents…

  29. @critter42, @Jeremy: I agree completely – FeedDemon’s newspaper view has evolved to the point that it does pretty much everything the news item list does (and a whole lot more). I’ll write a blog post describing how to use FeedDemon without the news item list, and hopefully that will convince some (but, I know, not all) customers that the news item list really isn’t necessary.

  30. @Pete: A big reason I think most people don’t use the news list is that I’ve hidden it by default in recent versions – to the point that new users often don’t know it exists – and very few people have complained about it.

  31. I would really miss the news item list, which is great for deciding whether I want to read the entire post (and yukk-yukk to people who allow only a few lines of the post to be read on Feed Demon and other aggregators). As someone else already said, if it were eliminated, I’d hang in there with the last version which had it until that version was unusable.
    With FD, as with Homesite and TopStyle, it is easily possible to use the major features or even a small subset thereof and get a lot of benefit. This is a good thing, especially for me as I am running out of time to devote to learning curves.
    I’ve used FD since I bought the first one. I’ve never regretted it.

  32. @Josephine – You can do the same thing directly in the newspaper – in the upper right of the newspaper are three icons – headline, summary and full post. If you set it to headline, you get just the headline and all you need to do to read the whole post if you want is click the triangle and the whole post drops down.

  33. I prefer to use that list, but it’s more important for you to create the kind of program you really want to. There are plenty of other RSS readers out there of all shapes and sizes. If I or others don’t like the change, it’s no big deal to switch to another program that works the way we want.
    Why I use it: Because I’m the kind of user that prefers to go through articles one at a time, reading them or at least skimming them. If I’m pressed for time, I’ll just zap the least important feeds, and spend time with the rest.

  34. Wow! I’m sorry to say that, but I don’t really like the direction you’re going… (If the majority of the population would rather watch a movie than read the book, should we skip publishing the book altogether? What’s the problem of having BOTH demographics HAPPY with the same product? – the ones who will actually read the book and the ones who like the story told in the movie)
    Yes, I know you have to program for the masses and I know RSS isn’t EMAIL. If you actually subscribe and read hundreds of feeds, which send thousands of messages per week, it’s impossible to keep track, read or archive ALL of it. That’s pretty standard.
    But still, some feeds are better than others and what’s the harm of treating SOME (keyword: some) FEEDS just like email?
    For instance, I have a FEED from a friend’s blog that I love, and she writes about once a week. Her Blog does not keep archives from everything she writes, so, yes, I would like to treat it just like email, archiving every single message as if it were email.
    For the record, I have every single email that was sent to me since 1990, and yes, I find it sometimes very handy, sometimes very useful, and sometimes very entertaining; and yes, it’s totally worth archiving it.
    I feel the same way about SOME of the feeds, but if I don’t have the ability to archive it, search and read it like a regular message, then it saddens me that I will have to start looking again for another feed reader, just when I was starting to think that FeedDemon was almost perfect…

  35. O, no!
    This feature was the one of the most important reason on my choice of FeedDemon. That would be very disappointing to look for new tool, after I’ve already accustomed to one.
    But I suppose that from developer point of view you are striving for some kind of perfection. Probably there is alternative decision, which would give a choise for user how to interact with the application. May be from this conflict of intersts some completly new idea would be born. As a customer I would rely on that.

  36. I use FeedDemon like Outlook. And with that; How many of us each day chronologically go through their emails if they are getting 20 or more messages a day? You’ll probably prioritise your messages reading the ones important to you first. For me the same is true with FeedDemon.
    Right now the news item list for me provides a quick look up (or index) of articles. This is especially useful for feeds which deliver more than a dozen topics a day and having to use the newspaper to scroll through and next page content time after time can be a chore. Sometimes you just want to go to the article that is shouting at you the most.
    I think the news item list should not be killed as there is the option in FeedDemon to remove the news list. It is not a permanent fixture and users can disable it if they don’t find it useful.
    Presenting the summary of an article again (having seen it after clicking on the feed) does add confusion and I can understand the dilemma with keeping the item list or not.
    Why not change the behaviour/functionality of the news item list?
    I believe it would be better served as a (direct) click-once trigger to the news article on the source web site (instead of having to double clicking the news item list).
    Or (thinking about this further with reference to my first paragraph)…
    The user experience of FeedDemon could be distilled into two modes; Casual (simplified, no news list, newspaper paging) and Classic (i.e. Outlook) – much like WinZip. Users can choose which mode (of behaviour) they would like from FeedDemon during install and also have the ability to switch modes during the runtime of the application.
    This would address the 2 very different styles of experience which FeedDemon caters for.

  37. Thanks for your feedback, Nick. So, I like to think I have an open mind, so I’m giving the newspaper idea a try. I saw your keyboard shortcuts in “Focused Newspaper Shortcuts” and have a question:
    Is there an easy way to switch between “Full Posts”, “Summaries” and “Headlines”? The way I read feeds is to quickly scan all the new posts. Since I usually only have time to read my feeds once or twice a day, a lot of the feeds may have anywhere from 5 to 50 new articles. I like to quickly glance at the unread topics in the news item list and then hone in on the articles of interest by selecting it and reading in the newspaper pane. If I use the “Full Posts” or “Summaries” view in the newspaper, I am doing a lot of scrolling. If I use the “Headlines”, then I can’t read the post without switching views.

  38. Well.. I guess I should have poked around a little more and realized that “Enter” expands the article in “Headline” mode.
    Like I said, I’ll give the newspaper idea a try for a few days. Maybe it will work just as well. I’ll keep you posted…

  39. I like keeping the feature, personally. The folks that point out that it is the best way to skim and clear a lot of items are right on.
    I would be less sad to see it go, however, if the newspaper settings you select in the upper-right for full post, summaries, or headlines was remembered individually for each feed. Right now, I read certain feeds using that middle panel since I want to see the full posts, whereas I usually want to see only the summaries. I know I could manually switch as I move from feed to feed, but I find it easier to just go to the middle panel to “switch modes”.

  40. I had no idea you felt that way about the list. It makes sense now that I think about it because I wondered why every time I install feeddemon I have to pull that list feature back up on the screen. It is of course your discretion to do what you want with the direction feeddemon grows.
    I have to ask… If the purpose is to be able to scan the news feeds and not read every single one, then doesn’t it make sense that the list feature allows a person to do just that?
    I have a several newsfeeds which I only scan and pick out a few news items to read- maybe something like 1 in 20 items. Not to mention the watch feeds which I don’t have the interest to read every day and I’m looking for specific items which don’t always get pulled out by the generic watches I have made (more narrow ones would miss what I was looking for).
    I don’t want to scan the news feeds by making feeddemon download all the information in the news feed and then make me scroll through the entire feed output. I’d rather scan the titles and pick and choose what I want to read like I would with a newspaper. Making a person look through the entire news feed would be much much slower than reading the headlines (like most people do on newspapers). I see feeddemon as a newspaper not as a email.
    As a compromise perhaps it would be possible to combine the two windows into one. If I could get a list of the headlines and then click on the headline to say scroll out below it the news item then that would be wonderful(click again and it would scroll back up). It still brings in the problem of downloading information that I don’t always need, but there may be a way to combine the two lists into one.

  41. Dang maybe it is just me but I didn’t realize I could play with the newspaper styles. Perhaps making them more obvious if you do kill them off, although I do like having the groups splitup by days…. I wonder if I can build my own newspaper styles.

  42. I use it…
    And some point is helpfull if you has a picture/graphics blogs, with 30-60 picture a day. In the post-by-post approach is just loaded this 30-60 large pics once, in other way, 1x unreaded feed item => 10×60= 600 large pics, tons odf time of download once… :(

  43. Holy cow this is my favorite feature of FD to be honest. I really don’t know how I’d get along without it. To me it allows me to quickly scan a bunch of headlines and simply click on the one I want to read. I didn’t know there was any other way honestly.

  44. Keep it.
    I use it all the time. I use it to speed check all of the info and then only read the items I want. I have used FeedDemon since it was originally in beta and I love the program but without the News Item List its benefits would rapidly diminish. I use it to help my work and without the ability to speed past all of the junk and find the nuggets, my job will become much harder.

  45. Uh, with the amount of feeds I have to go through I would be bound to old versions or switch if the news list was dropped :)
    As for simplification I’m against it, for commercial products it might make sense, that’s why people record that commercial crappy music that blends into tastes of majority.
    Just because new users are braindead and can’t be bothered to learn something that old users already learned doesn’t mean software has to drop features. All major apps in all the segments are feature rich. Yes they can look confusing to new users, but I dispute research that states that users download bunch of programs, test it and then decide what’s best based on uncluttered interface. No, they google for “the best app for this or that” read the reviews of people they consider gurus, download, stare blank at the screen, scratch nose, and after few weeks learn to use it.

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