A Review of Touchstone

Cross-posted from the Particls blog.

Over the past couple of months we have really been working hard to polish the “TouchStone User Experience”. We have received many bug reports (oh my! the duplicates!). But one, deserved special mention. It reads more like a review – and we love reviews:

So I grab a copy of the alpha.

And I have to tell you, this looks good.

First, a disclaimer: I’m not a heavy rss user. I don’t use blogs (often), I do use rss feeds but not an unmanageable amount. My Google homepage can quite happily manage all the data I need to see. The downside of this is that I have to click to home to view my feeds. Obviously, I could use a third party solution, but none of them ever really ‘worked’ for me (too intrusive, too limiting, too much). Of course, using tabbed browsing means a self-refreshing google homepage can be left in the background at any rate (everyone uses Firefox or Opera, right? RIGHT?).

So let’s say I’m a ‘casual’ rss user, and not one of these people who has millions of blogs to manage. I’m probably not the best person to stress-test something like this.

Nonetheless, I have plenty to say about this gadget.

The Touchstone ticker looks ‘right’. It looks like a slick bit of software; it loads quickly and is immediately functional. You know someone’s spent a bit of time working on the look – and it slips into a docking position at the top of my second monitor like it was meant to be there. I have all my ‘internet’ stuff on one monitor, which means that clicking a touchstone link invariably just means looking below the bar to see what I wanted to see. If anything else, this is probably an advertisement for having two monitors, but I digress. The mouseover effect to view extended information is excellent, if a little slow at times: obviously grabbing header data for a whole bunch of feeds can be a little time consuming – I wondered here if there was any caching facility for these feeds, so that information once grabbed doesn’t need to be grabbed again. Not being a developer, I am most likely barking up the wrong tree 🙂

The second major bit of cool is the setup dialog. It’s mostly icons; and I’m in two minds about this. The icons themselves are extremely pretty and once understood, very obvious. Once you’ve got the ‘lingo’ (does Touchstone use common feed/blog parlance? I wouldn’t know, to be honest) you can see exactly how this thing works. However: I am a huge fan of threaded lists, and while the icon-based system is entirely worthy, I can’t help wondering how much easier it could be for the casual user if you had all your options in front of you, ready to be selected from a thread. Again, I’m no usability expert, but it’s something I noticed.

Also, a minimize button for the main dialog would probably not go astray. People get used to windows functioning in certain ways (I, for instance, like that many programs now offer the option to minimize direct to system tray – as with as touchstone – rather than the taskbar,), and getting rid of the minimize button, while making the dialog a whole lot ‘prettier’, does limit usability.

Here be my creative criticism. The software looks fantastic; highly scalable and thouroughly well programmed. I wish you guys the best of luck with it: keep sending me the alphas! I’m looking forward to system tray and mouse alerts – and the content ranking system should be awesome, if the work done so far is any indication.

Good luck again!

Anthony.

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