Posted April 15th, 2004 @ 11:11pm by Erik J. Barzeski
PulpFiction: I've mentioned this application several times. I've displayed its icons. I've joked about it. I've hinted at it. It's been listed on the Freshly Squeezed Software site since before the introduction of Rock Star. I could claim I've been trying to build a buzz, but in reality, we've just been taking our time getting it done.
Originally intended to be released October 24 (does that date ring a bell?), I can now announce that PulpFiction should be out on May 15. Beta testing will begin May 1. The price will be set sometime between those two dates. Almost all of our features are done - we're bug-squashing and internally beta testing.
Many of you have ventured a guess at what PulpFiction is and does. Some of you have come close. Nobody's nailed it completely, and, oddly enough, none of you have ever noticed this button on my blog. It's been there for at least six months:
I seldom speak of NetNewsWire on my blog even though I've got eight dozen feeds attached to this blog and about 100 subscriptions. I've got all sorts of friends, tech blogs, etc. to keep up with. I seldom mention NNW because I've been using PulpFiction for a few months! PulpFiction provides permanence, filters, and a fairly authentic built-in browser. It lacks a blog editor and will cost less than NNW. I own a copy of NNW, and prior to PulpFiction, I used it for months. I appreciate that it suits some people, but PulpFiction suits me more. Brent does amazing work. So does Freshly Squeezed Software.
I'm a big fan of "if you don't like it, do something better." I believe that PulpFiction is that "something better." It's better for me, anyway, and it may be better for you. Yes, PulpFiction is an aggregator of XML feeds. Its top ten features, in my mind, are as follows.
Top Feature 1: Mail-like Interface
The majority of Mac OS X users seem to use and like Mail, the free email application that comes with the OS. A year or so ago I wondered "why can't blogs essentially act as a one-way mailing list? What's so different about a published article and an email?" Yes, technologically there are many differences, but both are forms of communication. I sign up to mailing lists because I'm interested in what's posted. I subscribe to a news or blog feed because I am interested in what's posted.
PulpFiction relies heavily on this paradigm throughout its interface. It, like Mail, has folders in a drawer. It's got a two-paned interface. It's got an activity viewer window and its keyboard shortcut for emptying the trash is cmd-K. We've had to veer from Mail in some respects - it's not often that someone has 100+ email accounts, but quite common to have that many subscriptions - but in general, our motto was "do it like Mail." We're not copycats - we've had to write, implement, and design everything ourselves - but "doing it like Mail" affords customers who are new to XML feeds a lower barrier of entry. It also affords us some nice other things, like…
Top Feature 2: Persistent Storage
Months ago I read someone's article about Botswanian butterflies. Having recently learned something about Botswanian butterflies, I wanted to comment on the entry but I couldn't find it anymore. NetNewsWire doesn't store articles, so it's useless. Google hasn't picked it up yet. I know it was in someone's blog, but whose? I can't search them all.
Welcome to the world of "I need persistent storage!" PulpFiction, like Mail, keeps all of your articles. You quit PulpFiction, you relaunch it later, and they're all there. It's got a trash can that permanently deletes articles when they no longer appear in the feed, but otherwise they stay right where you left them. That Botswanian butterly manifesto would be a click or two away.
Top Feature 3: Flagged Articles
In fact, had the Botswanian butterfly manifesto piqued your interest, you could have flagged it within PulpFiction. Like many email clients, PulpFiction allows you to flag articles for later review. It even provides a special folder just beneath the inbox that displays all of your flagged articles. If you've ever found yourself saying "interesting article… I should write about that later…" then this feature is for you!
Top Feature 4: Search Field
Of course, had you forgotten to flag the Botswanian butterfly article (or simply not had the foreknowledge to know you'd want to write about it in the future), you can use PulpFiction's built-in search feature. Like Mail's, you can search the the entire article or some of the article "headers" in the current folder or all folders. "Butterfly" may turn up 197 results, but "Bot butter" might turn up only one: the one you seek. Like all of Apple's applications, searching is life and real-time.
Top Feature 5: Labels
If flagging and searching aren't your thing, or you simply crave more organization than they can provide, then you will like labels. Labels color either the row background or text of each article with, by default, the same label color applied to the subscription itself. In my copy of PF, I've assigned NSLog(); and its comments feed a bluish label to quickly distinguish it from any other articles. Cocoa-related XML feeds are brown (as is cocoa), Friends' XML feeds are green, and FSS XML feeds are orange. Of course, you can change label colors at any time, so a misfiled article on Botswanian butterflies from a blog I've marked with Cocoa-brown can instead be relabeled with Ornithology-yellow (Botswanian butterflies, as you may know, are the primary source of food for the Botswanian yellow-tailed swallow).
Top Feature 6: RSS/Atom Support
Though at this point RSS (Really Simple Syndication) and Atom are very similar, each have different goals. As the only two major standards in blogging and content syndication, PulpFiction supports both out of the box and will do its best to stay current. Frankly, I've yet to understand what the big deal is. We support both because we can and they're there. That's the feature. As a point of historical reference and possible humor, the original placeholder text for this feature was "Aside from giving Dave Winer the finger, we're not sure what Atom's purpose may be. But hey, we support it."
Top Feature 7: WebKit/Built-in Browser
PulpFiction has a built-in browser that eases comment-making by loading Web pages - complete with Safari's cookies - directly within itself. You never have to leave your aggregator to leave a comment! Just submit a comment, close the window, and go back to reading other articles. PulpFiction's built-in browser supports many of the core functions needed to browse the web without adding the bulk of a full browser replacement. We've got back/forward buttons, a location bar, reload and stop buttons, and a status area. Of course, if you prefer to use another browser, PulpFiction allows you to open your articles in that browser.
Top Feature 8: CSS
One of the downsides to reading articles in a newspaper is that you can't customize how it looks. It's printed, after all! Computers offer us a lot more possibilities, and PulpFiction exploits those possibilities through its use of customized cascading stylesheets (CSS). With CSS, you can customize the fonts, colors, alignment, spacing, margins, and overall appearance of all of your articles! The more adventurous can even customize the HTML markup used to generate and display each article, further expanding the realms of possibilities. Want to recline in your chair and do some reading? Choose a stylesheet with big big fonts. Prefer white text on black backgrounds? Go for it! The choice is yours, and PulpFiction allows you to view the content you want to see, the way you want to seee it.
Top Feature 9: AppleScript
PulpFiction realizes that it is not an island. Mac OS X apps have an awesome potential to play nicely with others, and it's via AppleScript that this can be done. With a full dictionary, there's a lot you can do with PulpFiction. Send yourself IMs when important news is downloaded, filter scripts, post updates to your own blog, and more! PulpFiction also features a scripts menu for convenient storage of and access to your AppleScripts.
Top Feature 10: Filters
My favorite feature: filters! Where would we be without filters in our email clients? Filters file things in the proper folders, flag important articles, send timely articles to your cell phone, and more. Filters can weed out anything with "QotD" in the subject if you're not a particular fan of my Questions of the Day.
PulpFiction's filters aren't weak, either. You can filter based on title, link, author, category, source, subscription, and article content. With selectors like "contains" and "begins with" you can nail your filters to the wall. Actions include move, copy, bounce dock icon, play sound, delete, mark as read, set label, open in a browser window, and run script. Of course, you can combine both selectors and actions to create truly unique, powerful filters that suit your needs.
So there you have it…
That's PulpFiction. That's what we've been hiding all these months. PulpFiction will enter private beta testing on May 1 and should be available to the public on May 15. We invite you to come along for the ride and get to know another way of looking at your feeds. It should be fun!