Future Age, my new feed reader

Screenshot of a starred item in Future Age

When Google Reader was killed I started using a fork of Adam Mathes’s Neko, hosted on Heroku. It served me well for seven years. The keyboard shortcuts and the very minimal feature list were perfect for what I wanted a feed reader to do: show me stuff to read.

I had to do a bit of maintenance three of four time in the seven years. Purging read articles to alleviate errors, upgrading the “stack” it ran on. Neko was written in python & javascript and I don’t know the either that well but I was able to muddle through.

Last year Heroku announced that the stack needed to be upgraded again and I had a year to do it. I put it off as long as I could. Before Christmas I tried to upgrade the stack and no amount of muddling helped. I checked Adam’s GitHub and found he’d rebuilt Neko from scratch years ago.

In February Robin Sloan published a wonderful essay, An App Can Be A Home-Cooked Meal, about a mobile messaging app he’d made for himself and his immediate family. I’ll spoil the ending for you:

When you free programming from the requirement to be general and professional and SCALABLE, it becomes a different activity altogether, just as cooking at home is really nothing like cooking in a commercial kitchen. I can report to you: not only is this different activity rewarding in almost exactly the same way that cooking for someone you love is rewarding, there’s another feeling, one that persists as you use the app together. I have struggled with words for this, but/and I think it might be the crux of the whole thing:
This messaging app I built for, and with, my family, it won’t change unless we want it to change. There will be no sudden redesign, no flood of ads, no pivot to chase a userbase inscrutable to us. It might go away at some point, but that will be our decision, too. What is this feeling? Independence? Security? Sovereignty?
Is it simply… the feeling of being home?

That was enough to get me off my chuff and cook up my own feed reader.

My first commit was on March 8, a basic new Ruby On Rails website. It was in production four days later, collecting feeds but no real UI. That came 13 days ago. I spent way longer than I’d like working out how Javascript and Rails are supposed to work together and got a bit annoyed with things. But this week I cracked it and started dogfooding. A couple days ago I turned off my copy of Neko and started using Future Age full time.

Yes, it’s named after the Wilco song. I read my feeds in a Future Age.

Some observations:

  • Programming is super fun when you’re just doing it for yourself. Robin Sloan is right.
  • It’s really easy to get stuff running on Heroku. It’s the perfect hosting platform for this kind of project.
  • You get a lot of stuff in the default installation of Ruby on Rails and it’s hard to know what to exclude. I’d appreciate the ability to specify an option like –simple-website or –just-an-api-damnit or –pretend-its-2008
  • The Asset Pipeline is just as confusing and annoying as it was when I last seriously worked on Rails seven years or so ago

I’ve taken a lot of satisfaction out of this project. It’s not finished, but it’s “good enough” to show off. There’s still decent sized TODO list of things to fix up or get working better. And there are some useful features I could add.

If you’d like to use Future Age, can I recommend you try The Old Reader or NetNewsWire instead? Or write your own. It’s fun.