Mixtab vs Google Reader: The Emergence Of Visual-Based RSS Feeds [Mac]

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visual rss feed

Like most MUO readers, I’m an avid user of RSS feed readers and have probably tried over a dozen in the last year alone. Many tech savvy users favor Google Reader as their feed aggregator, but with the advent of the iPad and other mobile devices, how we browse and read web content is changing. The move seems to be from the traditional headline-based readers to more of visual and topic-based readers, in which lead images of articles guide our attention.

We have covered iPad RSS readers, including Flipboard, Pulse, and Zite—all three of which take a visual, topic-based magazine style approach to presenting feeds. These readers are a natural fit for the iPad, but what about visual-feed readers for the Mac and the PC? Well yes, they are available. Paid apps like NewsRack and Pulp are both visually based, but one free option is Mixtab, which can be downloaded from the Mac App Store.

Mixtab feels like a mixture of traditional newspaper and magazine browsing and reading, with a touch of StumbleUpon web browsing in which you discover sites other than the ones you subscribe to. So what do I mean by visual-based vs. headline-based readers? Well, tell me, which grabs your attention more,  the headline-based user interface of Google Reader,
visual rss feed
or the visual-based interface of Mixtab?
visual rss reader
Mixtab is a fast, smooth RSS feed reader built for browsing topics as well specific feeds. It has the feel of a magazine on your Mac. The Home page presents you with Tabs which are collections of feeds based on broad topics, e.g., Fashion, Cooking, Tech News, Travel, Popular Science. According to the developers, Mixtab “analyzes all the content for each Tab in real-time and displays the most popular words of the past 24 hours in the navigation bar. Top Words makes it easy to see what the big stories of the day are.”
visual rss reader
So when you select a tab you are presented with headline news from various sources, with many many introduced by a lead image. In the navigation bar of each page, you get the  trending topics of the day. So all the stories under the “Finance” tab include keywords like “Jobs,” “Market Stalls,” “Money”, “Data” and “Phone.” Each of these keywords present you additional set of headline stories.

So basically with Mixtab, you “stumble upon” articles, feeds, and websites that you might not otherwise know about.

More and More Tabs

Click the Tab Gallery button in the toolbar of Mixtab, and you are presented with hundreds of other tabs on all kinds of subjects. You can of course add your own topics, but you may need to try different keywords to get the results you want. When I searched for “personal finance”, nothing came up; instead, I had to go with “finance.”
visual rss reader
You can also create a Tab of specific feeds, by selecting the “Create Tab” button and adding your feeds based on topics, specific feed URLs, your Google Reader or other RSS feed aggregator using your reader’s OPML file.
rss visualizer
I got mixed results when I tried adding specific feed addresses. Some popular feeds I tried to add resulted in an error messages. Importing the OPML file for my GoogleReader account did however work very well. Also the name you give your tab cannot be the same as one that already exists in the gallery.

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When you launch the app, you must register an account, which is used to archive your feeds. It also looks as if user generated tabs are also shared with other users of Mixtab.

In addition, Mixtab includes a little eye candy in which you can change the theme of the application’s skin.
visual rss feed

What’s Missing

While it’s not fair to compare the first version of Mixtab to the long established Google Reader, the latter’s aggregator can be useful for pointing out what Mixtab needs in it’s future versions. First off, this application is begging for keyboard shortcuts, which will allow users to more quickly navigate the browser interface. As I browsed the site, I kept wanting to navigate pages with my Magic Trackpad. If Mixtab included keyboard shortcuts, I could easily assign them in BetterTouchTool and navigate much of the browser without having to use the cursor.

No doubt, developers already have this on their to-do list along with features for bookmarking or starring individual stories, as well linking and saving stories to social networking sites, and read-later bookmarking sites like Instapaper.

So what do you think of Mixtab? Does it have visual appeal for you? Let us know if you try it out.

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