Is Mr.Reader Poised To Topple The Empire of Reeder?!?

Mr Reader Icon

I loved Reeder. I still use it on my Mac and on my iPhone, but I’ve pushed it aside on the iPad. Now my favorite RSS reader on the iPad is called Mr.Reader and oh my god, is it awesome or what. Its got all the features you need in an RSS app, but there are just a few that make it magically good and I am so happy that I found it.

Mr Reader Main Screen

Yes, I’ll admit it, the look of the main screen is terrible. Its one of the ugliest main screens out there. But thankfully I don’t stay on that screen long. I almost always just click the item at the top and get to switch to the article view which is just absolutely wonderful:

IMG 0245

One of the things that annoys me the most about Reeder is that the controls are on the left side. They are always over there and I cannot change them. So to go to the next article I either have to do the awkward push up on the screen or cross the screen with my right hand to click the down arrow. Ugh. How can they solve this? Do what Mr.Reader is doing, let me choose where that control bar goes. In this screenshot I have it on the right, but using that button on the bottom, I can move it down or to the left. Perfect.

Plus those arrows to move up and down are just rough indicators. As long as I tap the arrow or above the arrow (but below the other buttons) it goes to the previous article. As long as I tap the down arrow or below, it goes to the next one. Perfect!

IMG 0242

But even though that was one of the main features I got Mr.Reader for, I don’t use it much. The reason is that they figured out an even better way to move around. If you put your thumb on the bezel and drag inward from the left or right, some other buttons drag in with the thumb, like the screenshot to the right. Let go and you go to the next article. Drag up to the button above and it goes to the previous. Wow, that is too cool!

There is one more feature however that makes this app such an important part of my workflow. Often I want to tweet about something I read. But I want that tweet to go out on a schedule so I use Buffer for that. Well, in Reeder, I could click the little services button to send an email. I could then choose the add to buffer email address and Buffer would add it to the queue. Not too tough, but having to type in that address was a bit of a pain.

EmailToBufferFromMrReader

MrReaderServices

Mr.Reader solves this by letting me creating a shortcut for the add to Buffer. Now I click that same services button but instead of having to fill out the details, I just choose email link to Buffer. As you can see, I have a few other choices as well and they are perfect for me. Like adding to my Pinboard account, adding to OmniFocus on my iPad, or emailing the whole article to my personal email. I don’t actually use that last one much since whenever I star an item I get it emailed to me automatically. You know how to do that? Maybe in another post…

My one wish for Mr.Reader is that it did real integration with BufferApp.com. Now that Buffer has an API, it should definitely be added to the list. I also look forward to an iPhone version.

There are other great features in this app, but the thumb-pad and the email link to a specific account are probably the top two that made me switch. I think it’s definitely worth checking it out and it’s so cheap there really is no excuse not to look at it.

How To Download A Secret and Save To An Adobe Air ELS

One of the problems I had to solve with my recent management app was about how to store secret information. My app needed to have access to an API key, and a special username and password. All three of those things were items I would rather keep out of my user’s hands so storing it in the Javascript that is part of the Adobe Air app was not a solution. But I found another way.

Let me explain the plaintext part of the problem. With any Adobe Air app, you can very easily look inside and see all source Javascript in plaintext. Since all the logic in my app is in the Javascript, thats a problem. So I decided to store that secret info on a secured page on a Squarespace site. If you type in the right login, you can see the page (assuming you know where to look).

The information stored on the page is in a JSON string, which is then encoded with Base64. So I set up my app to login, download the information, decode it, parse the JSON, and finally store the info locally using the Adobe encrypted local store. Almost all of that is done in that one ajax call.

Take a look at the source code below. It’s actually written in CoffeeScript, since thats just how I roll. If you are unfamiliar with CoffeeScript, take the few minutes to learn it.

Even if you aren’t using Adobe Air, this is a valuable little snippet. Change the last three lines to do something else with your newly found secret info. Not using Squarespace? Well, that will take a bit more work to get the URL and parameters just right.

The benefit of this is that I don’t have to do much to manage who has rights to the app, I just have to manage who has rights to the page on Squarespace. Also, I stored a hash of the users password in the local store, so on the app’s startup, I just compare the hash of the password the user enters to the stored hash to verify the user is valid and has access to the info.

I am sure there is a hole in here somewhere, but I think it is good enough for my purposes.

Scratching An Itch In The (Adobe) Air

Recently I needed to solve a challenge that came up at work. Actually, it was a series of challenges. First, we needed a better way to display our/my videos. Then we needed a better way to submit and review those videos. We also needed a better way to report on how people consume them. It turned out to be quite a big challenge.

In the past, I didn’t think we needed a solution. YouTube provided the answer for everything. YouTube was the primary host for our videos. It just made sense to display our videos on YouTube as well. We also provided links and embeds of those videos on our blog, as well as on some other web properties.

But every now and then, YouTube changed the formatting for its pages. We have minimal control over the look of those pages. And organizing videos is always a challenge. Our customers have a hard time finding the right video because we don’t have a great way to categorize them on the page.

Reporting on video views is a strong point of YouTube, but we can’t easily see what parts of the videos engage viewers the most. I think I know what people enjoy, but I could be wrong. And the YouTube analytics don’t provide me with good enough tools to figure that out.

So we spent a good long time trying to find a better solution. And it’s ended up being one of my big projects at work for the last few months. The result is still in process, but I am pretty happy with where things are going.

For our customers and partners, it starts and ends with a single web property: FaxDocs.tv. FaxDocs is a list of videos that we can easily put into the right categories. And it is completely under our own control. But behind FaxDocs is a site called Wistia which actually hosts our videos.

Wistia isn’t going to be the solution for everyone as it does require payment. But as soon as you outgrow what YouTube provides for free, Wistia is a great next step. With Wistia, we control the video experience. We have access to great reports that show which parts of the videos are the most engaging. And there is another amazing benefit to using Wistia we did not expect at the beginning. Unlike YouTube, Wistia is not blocked by most corporate and international firewalls.

We already see an increase in views around the world. Administrators in companies that block YouTube are watching our videos. Potential customers in China are watching our videos even though YouTube is not accessible. Looking back, this is enough of a benefit to justify the subscription costs to Wistia.

FaxDocs itself is hosted with the massively popular web hosting company called Squarespace. Squarespace provides a great foundation with enough flexibilty for what I wanted to do.

The downside to using a custom platform as it is now is that my system is a bit brittle. I need to post things in a way that is just right. And I need to refer to a set of instructions with every post. I hate that. It was the same with YouTube and the result has been a bit of inconsistency as to how we post videos. So now I am working on the next stage of FaxDocs. I am creating a management app to make it easier to post, get statistics, and more.

I spent a bit of time thinking about the right way to deliver this management app. I cannot build the app just for me. There are others in the organization that need to work with it. I use a Mac, but everyone else is on a Windows PC. I would rather the app not run on an external webhost. Due to the resources available to me, that means it has to be a desktop app. And a desktop app that doesn’t require installing additional wierd services.

So how can I solve all of those needs? It turned out to be a really simple solution. Adobe Air. I have worked with Adobe Air for the last week now and I am really surprised at what it can do. That’s not to say that Air makes absolute sense all the time. I had a few challenges in building my app for Air that I had to overcome. And I am not developing for Adobe Air in the traditional way, so many of the online articles on the topic are not exactly written for me.

What is the traditional way to write an Adobe Air app? As far as I know, it is to use something like Flash Builder. While I do own Adobe Creative Suite 5.5, the version I have is Production Premium. This does not include Flash Builder. But it turns out that you do not need that to build an Adobe Air application.

My Adobe Air development environment involves two main tools. The first, and very important, tool is the free Adobe Air SDK. This includes the compiler and the debug utilities which I use a lot. The second main tool is a text editor. You can use any text editor you like, but at the moment I am totally loving SublimeText 2. If you are new to Sublime, also check out Jeffrey Way’s Tips & Tricks at Nettuts.

I am going to walk through the process for building an Adobe Air app here on Technovangelist. I haven’t written the articles yet, but I would expect the series to take quite a few posts. I hope you’ll stick with me as I write all the posts. If you have any comments, please share them with me below.