Feedly App for Android (Bad Design)

Feedly is an RSS aggregator available for Android, iOS, and through web browsers. I use Feedly primarily through Firefox, mostly because I find the mobile app too annoying to use.

My landing screen in Feedly.

Upon opening the Feedly Android app, the first visible screen is the most recent story in the user’s first category. (At least I think it’s most recent -Feedly is unclear about how they rank stories. Sometimes there are “featured” stories which might have some sort of relevancy or other ranking attached to them. Either way, the system for determining what stories show up where is not at all visible to the user.) As we can see in the screenshot to the right, the first category in my Feedly account is my “Library” collection. While there is nothing wrong about this being the start location per se, I have a different conceptual model of the landing screen taught to me by Feedly’s web browser interface. On the web, the landing screen is a generic “Home” page that includes the most recent (and that obfuscated term “featured”) articles from each of my preassigned categories, neatly delineated on the page. By landing me only in the Library category, the app has assumed that I want to read those articles before any other.  Moreover, Library only comes first because the categories are listed in alphabetical order, not because of any sort of input or ranking on the user’s part.

The discovery menu, accessed by swiping from right to left.

The most common mistake I make when using the app occurs on this landing screen. When I want to read this first article arbitrarily presented to me, I always swipe left. In my mind, the splash screen is the title page, and (according to my mapping of reading an article) I should turn the page from right to left. However, this motion brings up a discovery menu used to add new feeds to the user’s account. By comparison, in my model of an app, I would assume a function like this would be accessed through a menu because it is concerned with the settings linked to the account, not the display and access of materials.  The worst part about the menu is that it already is found in a menu. Pushing the magnifying glass icon visible on the top bar in the first screenshot accomplishes the exact same thing. Not that that magnifying glass icon offers a good affordance about the menu. The magnifying glass already signifies a search function.

So how to read the article?  There app offers no affordances. Swiping down (as one might expect if their conceptual model is reading a web page) brings us to a list view of other articles in the library category (see below, left  side). Instead, the user must click on the article.  Then, the app loads a new screen that behaves like a web page with the article reading vertically. At least that much can be clearly communicated to the user. If instead of showing a single featured article, the home display was always a list view, it would be clear how to select one. There is no gulf of execution when picking an item from a list.

The various screens seen when scrolling through Feedly.
The various screens seen when scrolling through Feedly categories.

By far my biggest annoyance with the Feedly app is how to view all articles. The screenshots above show the trail I take when swiping through my categories.  After the landing screen, I swipe down to get to the one page list of library articles on the left. (There are only every four articles here even when there are many more unread articles in the category.) Next, I get to a splash screen for my Webcomics category -shown in the middle. I swipe down again to get to a one page list of unread webcomics (not shown here due to space.) Then I swipe down once more and arrive at the “Done” screen on the right.

feedlyuncatThat’s all. 9 articles reviewed. Even though I subscribe to 30-something RSS feeds. The reason the app does not show the majority of articles is because I have not put them in a category.  In order to read them I must open the app menu and scroll down to the individual feed I want to read. It does not even give me the option to read them in a group, like I can do with my Library or Webcomics categories. In order to do that, I would have to put them in a new category, perhaps “Misc” (though Library would still show up first.) Once again, this is a completely different system image than the Web-based version of Feedly, which does allow browsing in a generic “All” category.  Also, in order to view all the unread articles in a category (not just the 4 shown earlier) I have to enter this menu and select the category that way. There is no reason this action yields different results than browsing via the home screen.

All in all, the Feedly app seems to fail both halves of good design: It is never really clear what to do nor is the user fully able to see what is going on.