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FAQ: Syncing & Podcasting

Feature requests are often repetitive, so I thought I would address two common requests, if only to cut my inbox some slack.

Syncing (ie. syncing of feeds/articles/etc. between different Macs/devices): In short, yes, but not until syncing is built into the OS. I haven’t looked into the implementation details yet, but I’m presuming that these mechanisms in Tiger will suffice for our purposes.

Podcasting: I have a more meandering answer. To a reasonable extent, NewsFire already supports podcasts. NewsFire recognizes audio enclosures and it does display them. If an article has audio content, that content appears when you view the article. I think this user interface makes sense. It’s simple, easily understood by the user, and fits well within the NewsFire interaction style. Moreover, I think it is sufficient for most users.

I presume when people ask for podcast support they want non-interactive preloading of audio content and importing of this content into iTunes. My gut reaction to this is that if podcasting is essentially about importing audio content into iTunes, then the proper place for podcast support is in iTunes itself. I mean, Apple already supports streaming radio in iTunes. Insofar as podcasting is a new type of web radio, it makes sense that it should take its place alongside streaming radio inside iTunes.

Of course, getting podcasting into iTunes ultimately isn’t up to us. In the meantime we’re left with two classes of applications that do podcasting: dedicated podcasting apps and RSS readers that have hacked on podcasting features. In principle, there is nothing wrong with dedicated podcasting applications. However, most of the feedback I get is that these podcasting apps are just not good. That’s not to say the idea of a dedicated podcasting app is wrong – I think it’s very right – it’s just that the implementation thus far has not lived up to expectations. The failure of these applications to deliver compelling user interfaces should not reflect poorly on the idea.

Desperately trying to play hero to podcast fans have been RSS readers that think that since news syndication and podcasting use the same data format, you should have one huge app that does it all. My major concern with this is that you are mixing interface metaphors. The metaphor behind podcasting is radio. The metaphor behind RSS readers is the newspaper. Different metaphors demand different interaction designs and this demands different user interfaces. Fusing two fundamentally different interaction designs muddles the final design.

As a matter of personal taste, I despise bloat – I like my applications tight, lean and focused. I think the user experience is better when you have applications that do a specific task and do it really well. I would love for a really great dedicated podcasting application to emerge. Who knows, if no one else steps up to the plate, maybe I’ll have to write one myself.

What does this mean for NewsFire? Honestly, I don’t know. I’ve stated my dislike of bloat. However, I don’t want to rule out anything – every time I say “no” to a feature, I end up changing my mind 6 months down the road. In fact, the quicker I dismiss an idea, the better that idea probably is. I certainly am interested in what people think on this matter (that’s partly the reason for this post). My assumptions about how people interact with podcasts might be wrong. I am reasonably convinced, however, that if either iTunes adopts podcasting support (unlikely) or a really stellar dedicated podcasting application emerges (I sure hope so), the demand for heavy-duty podcasting features in news reading apps will fade.

  • February 25th, 2005 1:34 pm



On the whole podcasting front I agree that the metaphors don’t mix. Maybe someday someone will integrate something into iTunes, or make decent dedicated application for it.

Though I don’t think the metaphor is complete to compare RSS Feeds as Newspapers, and RSS audio enclosure as the radio. RSS and the scheduler/poler in NewsFire is the “paper boy” for the newspaper, and the “ether” for the radio.

Newsfire renders the paper as best as any other newsreader I have used, and to add some kind of audio/radio paradigm would not be desirable. Though you could leverage the power NewsFire’s poler/scheduler/retreival and provide a hand off to another application. This would not pollute the design.

At the most basic, say on enclosure download -> run user program X with arguments a and b (a being the filename and location, b being the xml metadata for the enclosure.

I could write a suitable script in python in minutes to do all the magic i desire for podcasts with this interface. You could also then create another application to do the same thing with a bit more UI elegance.

On a side note, this enclosure hand off could be a nice place to integrate say an elegant Bitorrent client to auto download .torrents that are served in RSS. That would extend the “ether” metaphor to delivering “television”.


I’m really undecided on this. I like NetNewsWire’s implementation of sending the mp3 to iTunes, but I tend to delete most of them after listening to them.

Newsfire’s method of playing it in the app is fine for most cases, although can’t listen while reading other news items.

Hm, yes, it does seem that people would listen to a podcast only once. Perhaps iTunes isn’t as sensible as I presumed. That gives me some ideas…


Perhaps just having the option to ‘Download Enclosure’ somewhere handy – such as in the date field?


Sorry, me again.

Just read this interesting article:

It broadens the idea of podcasting just being for for audio/music files. It would be great to have updates and release notes automatically downloaded.


Regarding Jon’s comment, go check out the feed from Reinvented Software. They’ve been using the enclosure item to provide direct downloads of their software for as long as I’ve known about them. Seems like an obvious use of the technology and a nice convenience for the end user.


(full disclosure: I’m still testing NewsFire and NetNewsWire 2.0 to decide which to register)

As others have pointed out, enclosures are more than podcasts and currently NewsFire doesn’t do anything with non-audio enclosures, something I kind of think it should; after all, it is part of the feed.

As for podcasts themselves, I’m mixed about how they should be handled. NNW sends them to iTunes, you play them in place; neither seems optimal always so I’d give the user a choice, perhaps by feed. Either send them to program X or download them to folder Y or display them and let the user decide.


David – I guess thats possibly a task for the RSS feed markup too – to identify the type of content that its enclosing?


I get a lot of feedback from Feeder users who get frustrated with podcasting apps and prefer to use real newsreaders like NewsFire.

Dedicated podcasting apps like iPodderX focus purely on the podcast enclosures, but the feed items’ descriptions may contain links to show notes, while other items in the feed may not have a podcast enclosed at all, such as text-only blog entries (e.g. Adam Curry’s feed: http://www.curry.com/xml/rss.xml). Podcasting apps ignore non-podcast items and don’t show the description, so you need to run two apps if you want to a) download the podcasts to add to iTunes and b) check out the show notes and keep up with the podcaster’s blog. Unless you use NetNewsWire 2, which does both.

NewsFire and other aggregators already do most things much better than a podcasting app. All that’s missing is the ability to download the enclosure to disk and optionally add it to iTunes if the enclosure type is right and the user wants that.

iTunes integration is only really important when people want to put the podcast on their iPod to play later. Automatic downloading is supposed to help people get away from the click-wait-play scenario. For example, podcasts can be downloaded overnight, ready to be synced with an iPod and listened to on the way to work in the morning.

If NewsFire is to support appcasting, it will need to download files anyway. Consider that it may only be a matter of time before more traditional sites, such as news organisations, start adding media to their feeds. Looking ahead, I don’t see podcasting support in newsreader apps as bloat, but complimentary. The extra functionality required is fairly minimal.

Podcasting seems to be exploding all over the place in all sorts of interesting shapes and forms and while iTunes might eventually become a podcasting aggregator it seems unlikely in the near future. NewsFire is a cool app and podcasting is a cool idea. They could be so happy together.


John – The MIME type is already specified; I suspect that’s not what you mean, though. The type is often clear from the feed, assuming it doesn’t lie. For example, Konfabulator’s Widget Gallery feed includes the widget described in each entry. I can set NNW2 up to auto-download it (no thanks!) or prompt me; I’d like to be able to do the same in NewsFire (I believe it currently ignores them).


I don’t know how much attention you pay to the various podcasting clients out there, but you might care to check out PlayPod. It looks to me to borrow rather heavily from Newsfire’s look without capturing any of it’s elegance.

Regarding your stance on bloat, I don’t agree that this would be. All I really want is to have one app that manages RSS feeds. I don’t really want to listen to podcasts in Newsfire, nor do I want Newsfire to sync with my iPod. You’ve said that enclosures are handled by Newsfire already, which is cool, all I want is for Newsfire to hand audio off to iTunes. This is pretty much all that other podcasting clients already do. You don’t need to add a directory (all the built-in directories are shit. At the moment it’s better just to go to the various podcasting websites) or anything else. Just hand off audio enclosures to iTunes and let it do the rest. You already do something similar with Acquisition, so I don’t really see that this is much of a conceptual stretch. I love Newsfire and I’ve said before that there’s really nothing I can think of that it lacks feature-wise. Except this :-)


I’m all for podcasting/enclosure features in NewsFire, especially if you can choose what to do with each file type (save to…, open with…, ignore) on a per-feed basis. The standalone podcasting apps are simply not that good, and it doesn’t make sense to use two different programs for RSS feeds, regardless of content (or metaphors or paradigms).

After that, you can start working on a killer BitTorrent client. Please? :)


I’m still trying to figure out which RSS reader I want myself, but I’m leaning heavily towards NewsFire. I think it would also be sufficient to send audio files that come from RSS enclosures to iTunes. I also think it would be useful to let the user choose, on a per feed basis, whether to send to iTunes, save into a folder of user’s choice, or the current behavior (play in place).
It would be nice if there was a global option to convert the podcast files to Bookmarkable AAC once they are in iTunes. This would facilitate iPod listening. However, it isn’t that hard to do manually.


Cool ideas. But I think a direct-to-iPod solution would be best. NewsFire would have a little bar at the bottom of a window containing a MP3 within a podcast, much like the Party Shuffle controls in iTunes. It would somehow ensure that it would go directly to the iPod, either by hacking the database of the iPod or somehow scripting it so that iTunes would sync to the iPod and then delete it. Of course, this would only work if an iPod is connected. And it would be even hotter if NewsFire were to tell iTunes or do it by itself to convert to the .m4b bookmarkable AAC file. Global settings could either allow all rules to apply to all feeds or each specific feed. It would be hot. iPodderX is the fugliest app ever, other than anything coming our of Alpha Omega software.


Hi – I have been using you app for a long time and it has changed the way I view the web for the better.

The introduction of audio enclosure detection is great as it allows podcasts to be easily heard. But would it be possible for a play / stop button. At the moment as soon as the feed is clicked the audio streams. This is fine if you want to listen to the podcast but if you just want to see the show notes etc it can be annoying, Also a drain on podcatsers bandwidth.

Many Thanks and keep up the good work

Kind Regards

Voice Two


I would love for you to add a “move to itunes” button to the entries that have enclosures. I use you product to preview the audio and would love the option to add to my audiocast playlist!

Also I agree with Voice Two, that I should be able to prevent auto-downloading of the enclosure in a global pref.

Thanks for a great app. If you ever want to talk about it let me know.


Hey, i’ve a somewhat unrelated request… i wish i could command-click to open the headline in a new browser tab, that would be fantastic. keep up the good work…