The frenzy of Snackr downloading seems to be slowing down at last, but with more than 5250 downloads (and 500 mostly positive tweets on Twitter, including a plug by @scobleizer), I have to admit that I’m greatly surprised at how much interest there’s been. Frankly, I assumed Snackr would only appeal to a very small number of people; I figured most people would look at it and say “Huh? Why would I want this thing crawling across my screen?” (as, indeed, a number of people have).

After reading through a lot of the tweets and blog posts about Snackr, it seems to me that different people like different things about it. Some people like the design; others like the “up-to-the-minute” feel it gives (somewhat illusory, since it currently only updates each feed every 45 minutes for politeness); others are simply mesmerized by the crawl.

But I think the core of what a lot of people like about it is the same reason I built it originally: the randomness factor. It’s the idea that you don’t have to actually force yourself to keep up with every single thing on every feed, because you don’t have time to do that anyway; you can just sample. It’s very liberating, and it leads you to read items from feeds you don’t normally look at that often.

(Not everybody agrees with this idea; I’ve seen a number of tweets from people saying they didn’t think Snackr would work well if you have a lot of feeds, suggesting that they really want to read everything. In my view, Snackr doesn’t work well unless you have a lot of feeds; if you don’t have much to read, it would just scroll the same stuff by over and over again. But some people do seem to be interested in using it that way.)

Of course, the randomness could be decoupled from the ticker-style presentation; normal blog readers could easily implement a “pick random recent stuff for me” as well (in fact, I’m kind of surprised that popular readers like Google Reader and Bloglines don’t already have this). One of the early tweets about Snackr said “it’s almost what I want: a twhirl-like RSS reader” (twhirl is a popular Twitter client, also built with AIR). I didn’t quite get that at first–wouldn’t that just be like a normal blog reader? But it occurred to me that what he meant was that it would always feel like a mix of new stuff was showing up on top.

That idea, combined with the fact that there are definitely a lot of people turned off by the constant crawl of the ticker (and the lack of ability to control it directly), made me think that it would be worth adding a non-ticker mode to Snackr–a manually-scrollable list of items that would update itself every few minutes. It would still randomly sample feeds the same way the ticker does; it just wouldn’t distract you with constant motion.

This mode would probably be useful for other reasons as well. For example, I’ve started implementing a “star” button on items, so you can mark items you want to keep around to read later. I was originally thinking that when you wanted to read your starred items, Snackr would just switch to showing only starred items in the ticker. But it occurred to me that you might also just want a list of all your starred items that you could manually scroll through. Having a non-ticker mode would fulfill that need.

Anyway, since I have an actual day job (remember Thermo?), I probably won’t get to this immediately. (Not to mention the tons of other great suggestions and bug reports I’ve been getting.) But now that so many people are using it, I have a lot of incentive to keep improving it! Of course, people might tire of it quickly–it’ll be interesting to see how many people are still running Snackr a month down the road.

Now, if I’d only figured out a way to get ads into it…

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