The almighty web browser

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Dave Hyatt (lead developer of Safari, former lead developer of Chimera) explores the idea of adding a news aggregator capability to the web browser, e.g. mixing NetNewsWire with Safari.

On the pro side we have:
  • integrated browsing experience: no switching context between applications. Jason Kottke illustrates this.
  • intelligent bookmarks: clicking on a RSS link would bookmark the feed and the bookmark would display the number of new articles
  • the feed's HTML is rendered in the web browser (note that nothing prevent a news reader to have equally good HTML rendering)
  • bring news feeds into mainstream: regular users would subscribe to news feeds if they were as easy to use as bookmarks (vs. the geeky/news whore community who don't mind downloading a separate application and do lots of URL copy/paste)
On the con side we have:
  • bloated web browser
  • news readersaggregators have more features than "just the news": e.g. NetNewsWire allows me to edit my blog, something I don't want to see in the browser (except for the ultimate Flash interface)
  • no browser independence: like for bookmarks, you're stuck if/when you need (or prefer) to use a different browser to read the news
I've seen other arguments (look at the long comments list on Dave Hyatt's blog), but they can be interpreted in various ways:
  • It's better to parse news with a separate application, click on the interesting ones and stack them using tabs (obviously in a Mozilla-based browser as Safari doesn't do tab browsing). I don't see what would prevent Safari (or another browser) to provide an equivalent, or better experience.
  • It would slow down innovation. There are two sides on this argument: Apple (or any similar editor of a web browser) would never be as responsive as an ISV and it would kill the small ISVs producing news aggregators. I think both sides nullify the argument. Apple would have to provide the best experience to its mainstream users, while ISVs would continue to innovate and provide independence and features not found in browsers (such as blog editing). As for the parasitic approach, it appears that it's normal life on the software world, and the simple news aggregators are free anyway.
  • Better see recognition of RSS (sent to a handler application) than integration within the browser. Again, I don't see why one prevents the other (we should have both, like for viewing a page's code).

With other nice ideas, such as the ability to "dress up" the aggregated news feed with your own CSS, Dave Hyatt shows he has given this approach more than a simple thought. I think that Apple has the capability to do it and further improve the user experience. Actually I don't see any reason why they should not give it a try. At the same time, I wish ISVs such as Ranchero continue to innovate, may be by focusing on the "power bloggers".

[Update] in my initial post, I left one mention of "news reader" among three of "news aggregator", which seems to generate confusion regarding the usenet news readers. It's gone. Usenet/news are of course a different thing altogether and have been happily running since the quaternaire age of the Internet on their own protocol (NNTP). Still, I bet that the more news aggregators will have HTML rendering capabilities or be fully integrated into web browsers, the more people will refer to them as news readers. Aggregators, feeds, usenet, RDF, NNTP are geek terms that regular users don't want and don't have to learn.