Browsing others’ brains

Folks who know me know I’m a fan of Google Reader; to date, I haven’t found a better consumption experience for reading and responding to all types of content that I’m interested in. Not only does it have a lightweight interface, it provides a social lens to see what my friends and colleagues find interesting (and allows me to similarly broadcast my commentary). And, most important of all, it works on all my devices, particularly the iPhone, providing views optimized to each environment.

However, and this may sound strange, I’m not always interested in what I’m interested in. After getting my fill of news on all things data visualization, design, Mac, tiny houses, cryptozoology, App platforms, social media, deals, foreign policy, StarCraft, and Paul Simon, I sometimes wonder what other folks are reading.

And that’s when I turn to Newspyle.

Newspyle is a simple, 3-columned website that shows the latest news bubbled up by others (who I generally don’t know) on Digg, Reddit, and I’m able to see, at a glance, what the rest of the world is finding interesting. Obviously, these three sites aren’t truly representative of the antithesis of all things Micah. (There’s still plenty of Mac, design, and web-oriented news.) But there is a fair bit of content I otherwise wouldn’t see… and wouldn’t bother perusing each of these sites (or their associated feeds) to filter such gems.

Only problem is, when viewed on the iPhone, the Newspyle site was hard to work with. It’s 3-column approach, which worked well on laptops and desktops, became hard to navigate and read on a smaller screen. The often-limited bandwidth of the phone, too, posed a hurdle when all the Digg links sent users off to Digg first (instead of directly to the story you were interested in).

Because of this, I recently built my first iPhone Web App: Newspyle for iPhone. And all it took was 2 hours. Actually, it took 20 minutes to make the App. But then I needed an extra hour and 40 minutes to troubleshoot some nuances that weren’t quite right initially. I did all of this using 4 things:

  1. Newspyle (for the idea),
  2. Dapper (to extract content from Digg, Reddit, and Delicious),
  3. SimplePie (to parse the 3 sites’ RSS feeds and print the content into the App),
  4. (which, somewhat ironically, isn’t available at but provides the iPhone UI appearance).

The whole process was remarkably easy, as the time allotment suggests. Of course, it helped that the idea was already baked. And that tools like Dapper, SimplePie, and exist. And, are free.

Even more exciting, though, than simply building the App was that it made it (in some way, shape, or form) into the actual product. On a whim, I emailed Kunal Anand (the good fellow behind Newspyle) to tell him about what I put together (and attached the “working” code). Instead of a cease-and-desist or a thanks-but-no-thanks, Kunal seemed genuinely appreciative of the work, and pushed a similar but superior version live to the public. (I don’t know the details of Kunal’s reworking of the code, but it runs much faster, has better state memory, and uses a battle-tested backend solution.)

As such, now any visitor to the Newspyle site using an iPhone is automatically redirected to Newspyle for iPhone. And now, hopefully, more folks will get to enjoy (in an easier-to-read and lighter memory footprint) the collective wisdom of the crowds (at Digg, Reddit, and Delicious) while on-the-go.

All in all, this was a great introduction to iPhone development, and my (little) effort made things easier for me. I now get a much quicker browsing experience at Newspyle while on my iPhone, and hopefully others will, too. I again extend my thanks to Kunal for so graciously accepting the work of a fan; the Web is a wonderful place when folks can interact, contribute, and extend in this manner.

(PS: If you want a great way to use Google Reader on the iPhone, aside from their iPhone-optimized site, be sure to check out Byline by Phantom Fish.)


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