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Bad RSS Feeds & Usability


I got some fantastic feedback from Sophie, she reported some odd behaviour with Headlines showing blank stories and not loading stories which contained images. Turns out Headlines was working perfectly – However  I learnt a whole lot more from Sophie’s email than I expected.

This bug report was worrying and unexpected, as headlines is built load all images if they are available, and should never show a blank. Sophie was kind enough to send be a screenshot of Headlines running on her handset. This was very educational.

Missing the Missing Images

I checked out the screenshot (see left). When the title of the story title fills the entire width of the "box" then that means that Headlines could not find an image associated with that story. If headlines did find an image it would only place the text on the right side of the box, leaving space for the image to arrive later.

Not every RSS stream supplies images, so when Headlines encounters stories with no images then it uses the enter width of the story button for the title.

But what Sophie was reporting is interesting. Her feedback basically said that it is hard in Headlines to work out which stories should have images and which shouldn’t. In the current version of headlines I don’t show any indication that an image is loading – I simply leave a blank space for it. Sophie’s feedback shows that this can lead to confusion. In future versions of Headlines this is something I need to address.

Missing the Missing Title

I  was able to find the feed Sophie had added - it is a NY Times blog series called "The Principles of Uncertainty". I checked out the feed, and the “blank” story is just that, a story in the RSS Feed with no title! I’ve included a little snippet of the raw RSS content below… the blue is the empty title.

A little snippet of bad RSS:





Thu, 24 Dec 2009 21:54:19 +0000</pubDate>

              <dc:creator>By MAIRA KALMAN</dc:creator>



              <guid isPermaLink="false">http://kalman.blogs.nytimes.com/?p=349</guid>

              <description><![CDATA[By George! 'And the Pursuit of Happiness' will appear on New Year's Day, 2010. ]]></description>





So what Sophie was saying was that without some additional information she couldn’t tell if the lack of a title was a problem with Headlines or a problem with the news feed. This is something I need to work on. I’ve added some additional checking to the next version of Headlines that validates the news feed and adds corrective messages. Now when you add a feed which contains a story without a title Headlines will tell you. The title will display “<No title for this story – Headlines>” as the title. I could have used the description text, but what if that is missing too?

I learnt a lot from the feedback I’ve received so far. I have one final release before hitting Ovi! This release, my RC (Release Candidate) will include some of the improvements discussed here.  I look forward to sharing it will you all very soon!



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