The Fraidycat logo, two low-polygon cats walking along with 'fraidycat' displayed over them

In December I started using Fraidycat, a new, free and open-source feedreader by Kicks Condor. While I last summer voiced anticipation for its impending release, I did not expect how immediately and wholeheartedly I would appreciate and enjoy it once I began to use it. Fraidycat, just-born warts and all, quickly became my favorite feedreader program, entirely supplanting my use of ReadKit — and even giving my favorite Twitter client a run for its money, in some use-cases.

Fraidycat’s novel philosophies about fetching and displaying new content from disparate web-based sources respect one’s attention more, I do believe, than the long-prevailing single-stream news feed model. I have felt no qualms about leaving it running all day long for the past several weeks, where it serves with equal utility as an at-a-glance summary of what’s new among all my favorite blogs and such, as well as a conduit for diving deeper into any single source’s recent articles.

The progam’s core differences from a typical feedreader:

It does not fetch or display any item’s content, instead retrieving only minimal metadata from each source. It grabs items’ titles, URLs, and last-updated timestamps, plus a little extra metadata about the source itself. To read an item, click its title in Fraidycat’s window, and your usual web browser will fetch and display it in that source’s home environment.

For display purposes, Fraidycat groups items by source, rather than the traditional strategy of pouring all received items into a single feed ordered by time-of-arrival. Furthermore, it flattens sources such that each one occupies only two rows of Fraidycat’s window: one for the source’s name and icon, the other a horizontal list of its most recent items’ titles, truncated to fit. (You can tap a button to temporarily see a single source’s items as a traditional vertical list.)

When Fraidycat receives a new item, it “bumps” its source’s display-row up to the top of the source-list. Due to its grouping and display rules, though, that source’s articles don’t take up any more total vertical space in the window than they did before the new items’ arrival.

Finally, Fraidycat only shows up to ten items from any source (I think?), and furthermore doesn’t track whether you’ve clicked on anything or not. Things just flow by, faster for chattier sources. When items become stale, they quietly vanish. Nothing anywhere tallies up how many unread items you have piled up, because there is no pile.

Combined, these rules remove the anxiety that a traditional news feed presents of always running behind. Instead of a vertical tower of articles growing faster than you can possibly read them, you have a tidy list of favored sources that never changes shape — it just re-orders itself from time to time, swapping out the “front-page headline” for the affected source-row as needed. You can dip into any with a click, but if you don’t, the quiet passage of unread older items into the past no longer feels like a personal failure; it brings no more heartbreak than seeing yesterday’s newspaper go into the bin . It is so refreshing.

Fraidycat also prides itself on its ability to let you tune how often it checks in with a given source. If a website proves so chatty with new and updated items that it stays affixed to the top of Fraidycat’s window, you can ask the program to check in with it less often — only daily, say, or weekly — in order to give other sources a chance to bob up to the fore now and again. You can also segregate items into tagged categories, so that e.g. Twitter-based sources get to race around in their own view, apart from slower blogs or online magazines. (Fraidycat does indeed support not just RSS-based sources but Twitter accounts, Instagram feeds, and a surprising array of other stuff I haven’t tried.)

This leads to my one significant critique with Fraidycat’s current design: I don’t think that sources set to have less frequent check-ins should necessarily get relegated to separate views. Currently, each tag-based Fraidycat tab has sub-views for “Daily”, “Weekly”, and so on, as well as the default “Real-time” view. When you set a source to anything other than “Real-time”, Fraidycat banishes its display to that sub-view.

I think this plays a little too much into the program’s shyness about mixing too many sources into one list. As it stands, I tend to forget that any of the “rate-limited” views even exist, within a given tag-view. I don’t mind clicking around in between the category-tags according to my mood, but further clicking around between checking-rates doesn’t feel the same. These rates don’t denote any difference in content or quality from its neighboring sources, after all; I just want to see them presented a little less prominently.

Update: I note with amusement that, according to the project’s rejected-features page, this does indeed describe how the first versions of Fraidycat used to work — but early testers hated it, it seems! Regardless, Fogknife stands by its assessment.

Even though Fraidycat’s interface remains a bit rough around the edges, I find it quite a pleasure to explore. After I imported my old RSS reader’s blog-list into it, I discovered some fascinating side effects from the way it sees websites not as cannons that fire out content continuously until they at last fall silent, but repositories that last for as long as their URLs resolve. I thus found several bittersweet signing-off announcements from blogs that had long since wrapped up their work, and which in every case had gotten buried in the flood of my combined RSS feed. Fraidycat will give one source’s year-old item equal billing to another’s hour-old one, if that’s its most recent update — while also making clear, at a glace, the relative age of each item. I like that a lot.

All told, I find Fraidycat a most interesting new way to keep up with the web without either the guilty futility associated with traditional feedreaders, or the anxious addiction that social-media monoliths encourage. I quite look forward to following this program’s ongoing development.

(I use Fraidycat’s stand-alone macOS edition, even though it seems primarily intended for use as a Firefox or Chrome plugin. Linux and Windows stand-alone editions are also available.)

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