A Second Look at Inform.com

We hammered on Inform.com last week following their launch and a fluffy article in the New York Times.

Inform.com’s goal is to provide a useful news interface – both blog and non-blog – and to show the interconnectedness of all of the content.

We had a number of concerns with the service. It’s a full page popup to ensure that they entirely control the user experience. It doesn’t work properly in Firefox. You are limited to reading the content they provide (you can’t add content they haven’t included in the service). The scroll button on the mouse doesn’t work. Etc.

I received an email from Julian Steinberg, the project manager at Inform, a few days after my initial post. He offered a point-by-point response to each of my criticisms. We followed up with a phone call today. I am re-printing his email below (with his permission), and I want to point out a few positive aspects of the service as well that I discovered after he walked me through it.


I read your review of Inform’s beta launch, and would like to take you up on your offer to clarify a few things about our product. Hopefully this will help you see some value in the product, even in its beta form.

Most importantly – and as you pointed out – we recognize the need to improve site usability and other shortcomings in performance. However, given the powerful new tools inherent in the product today, combined with our personal frustration consuming and using news, we felt the trade offs of putting out an early release were worth it.

Below are responses to your specific points, followed by some of what differentiates Inform.

Re: “I honestly can’t figure out what it is, even after reading the Times fluff piece. They say its an RSS Reader but adding feeds is anything but easy. Newbies need simplicity. Oldbies want something that handles a ton of feeds efficiently. This does neither.”

* Inform isn’t an RSS reader. While the ability to add RSS feeds to Inform will be incorporated into an upcoming release, we are not an RSS reader today. However, you can ‘subscribe’ to any of the sources we cover today, including blogs, in a similar way to RSS feeds, and read them by section. Unlike many RSS readers, we crawl every article on every source we cover and include all the articles from each publication, whereas RSS readers may only include a portion of a publisher’s content.

Re: “What it does do well is break. Early and often. They warned me that it was optimized for IE, but I’m a firefox guy and I charged ahead. Bad idea.”

* The only difference when using Inform with Firefox versus IE 6.0, is that we do not display articles directly within our reader. Instead they pop-up in a new window or tab, which some users prefer while others clearly do not. Otherwise, the functionality is identical in the two browsers. We are committed to continuing to support Firefox users and working to enhance their experience.

Re: “The UI is unworkable – even my scroll wheel on my mouse is disabled on the site.”

* Inform often displays two scrollable windows on many pages. To activate a window for scrolling, you must click inside it first (similar to Outlook Web Access or a product that has multiple panes).

Re: “I try to find the good in new products, but I’m failing on this one. Please, tell me what I’m missing.”

Michael, this might be a better conversation than email exchange. We are genuinely interested in your feedback and I’d welcome the opportunity to discuss this by phone with you. I can be reached at 646 722 XXXX. We have a lot of enhancements planned for the future, and hope you will bear with us while we continue to improve Inform.

Julian Steinberg

This was a reasonable and articulate response to a fairly aggressive post. And other than the scroll wheel funtionality (it doesn’t work), his counterpoints are good ones.

Here’s what I learned from the walk through:

This is a beta, so thin content is excusable. They do an excellent job of relating content to other content via topics (basically keywords). They do a great job with filtered tagging (searching across multiplie keywords like “miami” and “football”), something no real time search engine does today and which is a really useful way of drilling down into new content. You can also toggle on/off blog and non-blog news.

New feature releases over the next couple of months include a video seach and viewing tool, better firefox integration and the ability to add feeds that are not currently already included at Inform. I’m looking forward to all of this.