I love Shaun Inman’s projects. I’ve been using his Mint package for years, and I’ve recently become a big fan of Lessn and Shortwave (here’s my waves file, for those curious on the types of things I use it for) so when I heard he had released an RSS aggregator my interest was immediately peaked. The man knows how to build sexy, lightweight, useful apps: the kinds of apps I gobble up.
So, what makes Fever different from the horde of other RSS readers? First, like many of Shaun’s projects, it’s self-hosted. You need your own web host (or a friend who will let you use theirs) running a recent version of PHP and MySQL. Before you purchase Fever you’re required to download a small package which will detect if your server will support Fever. It’s very simple to use, and aside from telling it your database details is pretty much upload and go. If everything passes, you’re given a code to use to purchase Fever, and you’re good to go.
Shaun not only requires people test their server configuration before letting them to purchase Fever, but couples Fever’s installation with that test package. It’s brilliant, cuts way down on install hassle, and I’m sure saves him a lot of “Help! I bought Fever but it doesn’t work on my server! WTF?!” emails. Kudos, sir.
Next, while Fever can behave like your average feed reader and just display your news in chronological order, it also offers a wide variety of ways to view and filter these updates on a site, group or feed-specific level. You can see full content, or just excerpts, or just the text without images, you can have news ordered by news or oldest first, and so on. Shaun’s introduction video to these options on the Fever homepage does a great job of describing why this is a must-have feature that you never knew you even needed.
Finally, the real headline feature of Fever, “Hot.” Hot is the dashboard of Fever, and it essentially analyzes the popularity of a particular link or topic amongst the feeds you follow and gives that topic a weightscore temperature.
So, let’s say you follow a lot of gaming blogs (as I do), and yesterday was Sony’s big announcement of the PS3 Slim (not to mention the price drop on the PS3 line.) I follow a lot of gaming news and blog sites, but most of what they cover is redundant; I don’t need to see the same information about the PS3 Slim 15 times over.
So, here’s the genius of Fever; blogs that you favor the content become “Kindling”- stuff you really want to read. Now, for those 14+ other blogs that are usually redundant, you subscribe to those as “Sparks”. Sparks are blogs that don’t usually have content you want to explicitly read, but still want or need to know about. Sparks are the core of the weighting system in Fever, and each time a duplicate Spark topic is discovered Kindling feeds with matching topics get their temperature knocked up on the Hot page.
Make sense? No? Well, let’s think about it using the universal Digg analogy; your Kindling is your topic, and Sparks are users digging that topic further towards the homepage (or, in Fever’s case, the Hot page.) The more diggs (sparks) the topic has, the hotter the temperature (the higher up on the Hot page it appears.)
I’m probably not doing the best job of explaining it, but here’s what it boils down to: Fever makes sifting through a lot of feeds dead simple. It makes skimming through the day’s news dramatically faster than other RSS readers, including Google Reader. Likewise, the amount of keyboard control you have with Fever overshadows even Google Reader; you never even have to touch the mouse to navigate your news. Fantastic.
Overall, I’m in love with Fever. It’s changed the way I get my news, information and pointless web comics.
Really the only faults I can find with the software are features that I miss from having used Google Reader for years; in particular, there is currently no way to share content you come across with your Google Reader (or other) contacts, and there is no way to save a feed item to your Instapaper without first navigating to that page and using their bookmarklet, or adding it manually.
I’ve contacted Shaun about these faults, and he assures me an API is in the works, and sharing functionality will be the first plugin out the door. Hopefully we won’t have long to wait, but until then I’ll suck it up and deal with these disadvantages. Fever is worth it.