RSS seems to be a seriously hot technology again. In recent weeks, there has been an extraordinary deluge of apps being released in response to Google Reader’s shutdown. Some of these are trying to tempt prospective users by offering innovative extra features, but many are happy to provide a clone-like experience. There are, however, some apps which have built on Reader’s foundations, but have added their own refinement, particularly in the direction of minimalist design, Digg and AOL being prime examples.
A new invite beta service named MnmlRdr, which has somewhat stayed under the radar thus far, is a promising new entry in this last category. I’m trying to find out whether it is an undiscovered gem, or whether it should be left in the shade.
MnmlRdr definitely stays true to its name. The presentation of black text and column separators on a flat, white background provides excellent clarity. Reader outcasts will also feel truly at home in MnmlRdr’s two-column layout. Feeds and folders are lined up vertically on the left, while the contents of feeds are listed, as headlines, on the right.
Clicking on individual stories expands them to their fullest extent – yes, Reader-like again – and although there are several post-related options on offer, articles never feel cluttered, thanks to the placement and subtlety of the controls.
Minimalist design may be MnmlRdr’s signature feature, but there is plenty more to this web-app than good looks.
Feeds can be added one by one, or via an OPML file, and they can be organized via the settings menu. Once your feeds are loaded, MnmlRdr provides a further extension to its Reader mimicry in the form of a Star-based system of post favouriting, along with a Read Later function. Both of these are made available in the expanded article view, and both your favourites and your saved articles have their own folders in the left hand column.
One outstanding, if subtle, innovation to be found in MnmlRdr has its roots in the mobile compatibility of the service. While browsing any feed, you can drag each story, Mailbox-style, to the left in order to mark the story as read, or to the right to mark it with a star.
The last thing to note is the pair of controls at the top and bottom of each full-length feed item. At the bottom is a checkbox which, when selected, will keep the article unread, and at the top is the option to jump directly to the next post in the feed you are reading.
I’ve tried an alarmingly large pile of RSS readers since Google’s announcement back in March, but I can honestly say that MnmlRdr provides a blend of design and function which I hadn’t previously seen. In most respects, MnmlRdr reminds me of Digg’s newish Reader, but I actually prefer the former, not least because it is currently better equipped.
The design is not going to win any awards – it isn’t artistic enough for that – but boy does it do its job well. The practical needs of the RSS browser, such as options to favourite and read later, are also well met, which is by no means the case with every barely-there app in this market.
In spite of this apparent all-round perfection, MnmlRdr still isn’t a fully-fledged product. Only the features mentioned above are provided, so there are no extra social functions, fonts or colours to be had. There’s also the small matter of signing up; the lone developer, Jordan Sherer (who trades as Widefido), is currently setting up the accounts of beta invitees personally, so don’t expect to get access in a hurry.
In general, however, MnmlRdr is already an accomplished product, and although it doesn’t feature the bells and whistles that some of its competitors offer, it does do the job of retrieving and displaying your feeds admirably.