Trying out T3h Blox0r - "The best online aggregator ever!" - allegedly

 by Martin Belam, 17 May 2006

I've been testing online RSS aggregators, to see if any of the services out there are able to tempt me away from Bloglines. So far I have had a look at FeedLounge, and Rojo and Google Reader. Next up is T3h Blox0r.

T3h Blox0r is a web-based aggregator with a 5tup|d1y spelt name for the Firefox browser. On the plus side T3h Blox0r is open-source - so at least I could potentially get in and fiddle with the bits I didn't like. On the minus side, I got a little tired of the claim "The best online aggregator ever!" popping up everywhere.

Much more than the other readers I have been testing, T3h Blox0r seems to be an attempt to emulate the desktop style of feed reader, and to that end is the only one I've tested so far which displays the original content from the website, rather than a simple stream of text and images. I'm not overly-keen on this approach myself. For me the feed-reading experience is partially about not having to learn the design and interaction patterns of a hundred different sites, or with the intrusive advertising on some major news sources.

Getting feeds into the system wasn't too intuitive - there seemed very little in the way of autodiscovery. When given a URL T3h Blox0r would try and preview the contents of a page, rather than identify any feeds from it. Clicking subscribe sometimes worked - and sometimes didn't, even when the item in the preview pane was an RSS feed itself - the problem being that the address bar doesn't synch with what is in the preview pane.

T3h Blox0r's fails to recognise this XML file as a valid feed

Once I got some feeds in the system, T3h Blox0r offered several different ways to view them, via icons in the top right-hand corner.

T3h Blox0r's selection of feed views

As with FeedLounge, I found that I really like a view with all of my feeds in the left-hand pane, a list of items from the currently selected feed in the middle, and the individual items in the right-hand pane. This is something that my current Bloglines set-up doesn't give me, and I think part of the reason that I didn't get on with Google Reader was the sparseness of the display compared to this kind of information rich view that I like.

The two problems I found with this view in T3h Blox0r was that firstly it didn't seem to remember this as a preference next time I logged in. Secondly, because rather than just extracting the data from the feed Blox0r insists on displaying the contents of the original site in situ, I found that my ability to actually read the content depended on the host sites ability to resize that content into a window pane less than 500 pixels wide. Of course, the responsibility for that lies with the HTML of the site in question, not T3h Blox0r - but, hey, I'm reading RSS feeds - shonky HTML/CSS shouldn't have to come into the equation. Especially my own ;-)

Not all sites work well when reduced to less than 500 pixels wide

Tomorrow I'll be looking at some other aspects of T3h Blox0r, including how it deals with tags and Flickr photostreams.


Interesting, but I don't really get the point of online aggregators for most people. Surely a machine based RSS reader is easier and more convenient?

Horse for courses I guess - I just went four months without being able to rely on getting my laptop connected to the web on a regular basis so online was my only option. Well, I suppose I could have stopped ready geeky feeds of course ;-)

Before that though I always wanted my RSS feeds synched between my work and home machines

My RSS reader (Awasu) allows syncing of feeds between different instances - via FTP, it seems. I haven't tried it as I tend to read different feeds at home than at work.

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