NetNewsWire Tips: Persistence and Smart Lists

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
February 1st, 2011 • 6:52 pm

I am a long-time NetNewsWire user. I don’t feel the need to explore other news readers at the moment, but lately I have had thoughts that have led me to discover additional features that make my news-reading experience more pleasant and efficient.

It probably has to do with the fact that I now have a proper high-speed Internet connection. It might be at the lower end of the spectrum by current standards, but it’s still a fairly new experience to me given that I had to spend so many years on dial-up and then on an iffy satellite-based service.

During these many years, I acquired a number of habits, some of which were directly linked to the constraints of my Internet connection. Now that these constraints are no longer, I am slowly “expanding my horizons,” so to speak, by exploring things that were previously beyond my reach (HD video, among other things) and doing more of the things that I was already doing, in a more efficient way.

News reading with RSS-based software has long been a way for me to keep track of many web sites without having to endure the lengthy page loading process in my web browser. But even with RSS, I still only had so much time to devote to reading the feeds, some of which still required a certain amount of bandwidth (because of embedded material) and some of which were about things that I didn’t have enough bandwidth to explore anyway.

For example, some feeds would get updated too often for me to keep track of all new items all the time, and most feeds in NetNewsWire would only list the 20 most recent items on the corresponding web site. For many years, I mistakenly thought that this 20-item limit was not due to NetNewsWire, but to the default configurations of most blogging tools, which the bloggers didn’t bother to change. In my view, these blogs seemed to assume that people checked them all the time (every day) and did seem to believe in leaving more than 20 new items visible at any given time.

And then the other day I started wondering whether there wasn’t a way around this. I suddenly started thinking that maybe this 20-item standard was linked to a default setting in NetNewsWire itself, and that maybe that setting could be adjusted.

And sure enough, I soon found that, for each feed, in the information inspector, NetNewsWire has a section called “Persistence”:


And if you check the “Use custom persistence setting” box, you can then force NetNewsWire to keep items for much longer than the default behaviour.

I suspect that this persistence setting ignores the default setting of the blog itself altogether and keeps all items for the chosen period, regardless of whether they have disappeared from the feed itself or not. In any case, there isn’t really any way to tell whether the default 20-item limit is due to NetNewsWire or to the blog feed itself. The bottom line is simply that this persistence setting works, and that I can now keep items for much longer and am not forced to check busy blogs more regularly than I have time for.

One obvious side effect of this is that, for busy feeds, the list of items can quickly go way up, to a total of hundreds of items. That’s not necessarily a problem, but for some feeds that I am subscribed to, this is combined with the fact that I am only interested in some of the items. So if I don’t check these feeds regularly, I can soon end up with lists of hundreds of items that I have to scroll through to find the ones I want.

This led me to think that it would be useful to have some kind of “smart feed” feature, similar to smart folders in the Finder, smart address groups in Address Book, and smart mailboxes in Mail.

And sure enough, NetNewsWire actually has such a feature. A smart feed is actually called a “Smart List” and you can add such lists alongside regular feeds:

New Smart List

Selecting the “New Smart List…” command in the “File” menu gives you access to a dialog box where you can set the criteria for the smart list:

Smart List Dialog

You can, for example, create a smart list that shows only items from a given feed whose title/description/summary contains a specific keyword:

Smart List Example

(No points for guessing why I set this particular one up!)

And of course, you can name the smart list whatever you like and put it where you would normally put your feed. You can hide the actual feed that the smart list is based on by putting it inside a subfolder, and this way you have a custom feed that only shows you specific items within that feed.

Et voilà!

You can of course further edit/modify the smart list at any given time, simply by double-clicking on it.

Persistence settings and smart lists are two things that I only discovered recently, after many years of using NetNewsWire, so I figure that I might not be the only person in this situation and that some other NetNewsWire might not be aware of all that they can do with the software. Hence this blog post.

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