ownCloud News app – Alpha release

I am happy to announce the Alpha release of the ownCloud News app, which I developed as a GSoC 2012 project. This is my final GSoC report, so it’s also the time for acknowledgments. Working with the ownCloud (oC) team has been a fantastic experience. The excitement around the ownCloud community is astonishing and people have been extremely kind and helpful with me throughout the last three months. I am very grateful to my mentor Jakob Sack. FOSS projects need people who are much more than just coder, people who are also able to guide other people into the community. Jakob is one of a kind when it comes to this. Many thanks also to Frank Osterfeld (co-mentor of the project), who has been a great source of general “RSS knowledge” and will be very helpful when I will start to work on the API (more details about this later in this and future post). As Jakob pointed out, the project has gained a lot of momentum in the last month. Bernhard Posselt (Raydiation) and Gregor Taetzner (brummbq) joined the project and gave a lot of help with restyling the look of the GUI. I am indebted to them and I hope they will continue to help ownCloud with the same enthusiasm.

The app is basically ready and you can play with it: you can add feeds, folders, remove feeds, folder, view articles, … you know, that kind of things you would do with a feed aggregator :) You can find it in the the master branch of the owncloud/apps repository. Go and clone it! [Update (Aug 25, 2012): notice that ownCloud code has moved to github]

Without further ado, here is how it looks like:

As you may already notice from the screenshot, we decided for an essential look. Some of the usability choices we have made are non-traditional (only one-level folder, no unread item counter), but we hope they will pay off (many thanks to Jan-Christoph Borchardt for those ideas!). Differently from what I stated in the proposal, there is a single view. It will be easier to maintain and we tried to make it intelligent enough so that the user will not feel the need of a different view.

The app also features an OPML importer, which can be found in the Settings panel (click on the cogwheel icon at the bottom of the feed list). If you are curious to see how the feeds that you usually read look like on oC, just open Google Reader, export the OPML of your subscriptions and import them into News.

The plan is to release a final version of the app along with the oC 5 final release (late October/November). Between now and the final release, you are encouraged to test the app and report bugs. Please report an issue only if it’s not listed here yet:

http://algorithmsforthekitchen.com/wiki/doku.php?id=owncloud_rssreader.

If it is, it means I am already aware of it and working on it. I know, the list is still very long…

The main feature missing in this Alpha release is Sharing. In the final release, the user will be able to share the posts he likes with other oC users and groups, as well as with contacts from his oC address book or just using an email address. This will be based on the new oC5 Share API (see Michael Gapczynski’s blog post.)

The Akregator aficionados who are reading on Planet-KDE will be a bit disappointed to hear that synchronization with their favorite feed reader is not yet functional. Unfortunately, the version of oC News that will be shipped with oC5 will not expose an API. On the other hand, the oC6 version of the app will have an API based on the general oC OCS API, which is being developed in the ocs_api branch of the main owncloud repository. I will talk more about this in a future blog post.

Finally, my app has also been a testbed for an interesting oC feature developed by Jakob Sack. You can read more about this feature here: Background Job. In few words, it works like this: suppose you are taking a two-weeks vacation from your nerdy life of checking your feed reader every day, but you don’t want to miss any of the posts that are published at the same time. Then your oC server will do the job of collecting the unread posts and store them while you are playing matkot on the beach. This is cool, isn’t it? Ok, do I sound like I am craving for a vacation? I am actually going to take one in few hours :P See you in September!

19 thoughts on “ownCloud News app – Alpha release

    1. @schultzter: It uses things like background jobs and soon also share api, which are peculiar of oC 5, so I would assume it won’t work with oC 4.

    1. @Jean-Francois: notice that it’s an alpha release, so the testing is meant to be done mostly by other ownCloud developers. Also notice that it’s not a stand-alone program, but it’s an ownCloud app. Once it will pass Alpha and Beta release, it will be shipped in a tar.gz along with the rest of ownCloud. If you want to know how to install ownCloud, you can refer to the following page: http://owncloud.org/support/install/

  1. Sounds pretty awesome. Once you get it to sync with Akgregator I will totally dump Google reader and install ownCloud on my server. Right now it stinks that I effectively need to have different feeds in each one (Google and Akg) because they don’t sync and it’s annoying to do manually.

  2. This looks and sounds amazing. :) I was hoping for something like this when work on OwnCloud was inistailly begun, which is now quite a while ago. I am very much looking forward to trying out a beta release. I hope OwnCloud 5 isn’t too far off. :P

  3. Basically I have 3 main critic points:

    1. the organisation possibilities of the feeds list are far too limited. Instead of restricting the depth of the folder hierachy to 1 I would suggest either to support sub folders again or, if you really want something smooth, to drop the folder concept entirely and implement some kind of tag based sorting system.

    2. we need a list based item view for a quick overview. Of course these items must be collapsable.

    3. the missing item counter is…I just don’t like it. Imho this is a must have for every feed reader. There must be a very good reason to not support this. Maybe wo could move the counter also to the right view…

    1. @Brumm: thanks for the comment! I’ll try to address your points. Notice that those decisions have been taken after discussions on IRC with jancborchardt and other oC devs.

      1. tagging vs. directory is a difficult issue and it often leads to animated fights among designers/programmers. I don’t want to start one here, but I’d rather refer you to the article that convinced me to take this decision. I believe that in our case it makes even more sense than in the more general filesystem case.

      2. as I wrote in the post, we decided to make only one view, but an intelligent one: there will be autopaging, ellipsis of longtext, autocollapsing of unimportant+unread items, and so on. I know, this is only a promise so far :)

      3. the unread item counter is already in the item view, but it’s hidden. We are waiting for more user feedback before taking a final decision. Feeds that contain unread item are bolded and I am planning to mark those feeds that have NEW unread items with some different color.

      I released this Alpha version to get feedback and constructive critics as yours, so I really appreciate your comment.

  4. Ich bin ein NERD :D

    Thanks Alessandro, that was a good read! But I still see at least 1 issue with the simplified folder hierarchy: How do you want to implement syncing to other clients? Since nearly every feed reader on the planet supports folders-in-folders, you are forced to flatten out the folder hierarchy at some point. Dunno how you want to work around that.

    1. @Brumm: Hi again! Of course, we don’t want to lose anything when synchronizing with clients that support a folder hierarchy with higher depth, so we decided to keep the full folder hierarchy in the back-end. The flattening to the first depth is only for what concerns the user interface. I hope this is clear.

    1. @raphael: Thanks for testing the app! No work has been done on the API of the News app yet. The API will rely on a general framework, which will belong to the core of oC and whose development has suspended in the last month to focus on the oC 4.5 release. The good news is that the branch ocs_api of oC’s core, in which this framework is being developed, is going to be merged in master this weekend. Once this framework will be usable enough, I will work on the API of the News app. Hopefully all of this will be shipped with oC 5.

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