Following on from the New York Times Reader last year, made with Microsoft's rich presentation technology WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation), three more big media companies have released Web/desktop News Readers built with WPF. Tim Sneath from Microsoft notes that the Daily Mail in the UK, forbes.com and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer have all just announced WPF-powered News Readers that are similar to Times Reader.
Image: Nigel Parker, Microsoft NZ
Read/WriteWeb covered the NY Times Reader back in August, noting that it works online or offline - and is probably best suited to a portable computing device like a laptop or tablet. It also aims to be a mix of the print and Web reading experience. With big media publications, where content is read every day and often on public transport like trains and buses, the user experience is considered to be key. Microsoft believes the WPF technology provides a better experience than with browser-based News Readers (like Google Reader or Bloglines). Many people would debate this, pointing to the increased convenience and portability of browser-based solutions. Nevertheless, this news today shows that Microsoft is putting a lot of effort into bringing big media companies on board and using WPF instead of browser technologies.
Tim Sneath argues that the new WPF News Readers provide "tremendous flexibility, control and customization over the reading experience". He also says the goal is ultimately to provide a toolkit to publishers "that any web content publisher can use to create their own custom reading experience." At the same time it will allow publishers to create branded News Readers, which again is important for big media companies. Currently the toolkit is in private beta, but Microsoft expects to open this up "in a few months time" so that anyone can build a similar customized News Reader. They will probably get a lot of takers too, given that most newspapers and big media companies will want to try and 'lock in' their customers with branded, standalone RSS Readers.
Nigel Parker from Microsoft NZ has checked out all the new readers and notes that Forbes is the only one not to ask for user registration. He says that registration enables newspapers to deliver targeted advertising:
"By providing a reader with a richer user experience the papers are able to request an identity (people are used to providing this for client applications like itunes, IM and email). The advantage here is that the papers are able to deliver more targeted advertising to their readers. Forbes appears to have gone against this trend and provide the data to the reader (no identity required)."
He also says that Times Reader is the most feature rich of the 4 current products - with advanced search, note taking, emailing and saving or articles. Although he points out a neat Daily Mail accessibility feature called "Speak this article".
Overall, desktop RSS Readers are a tough sell in the current environment - where Google Reader and others have proven that a lot of 'magic' can be done with the browser in web-based Readers. Microsoft's WPF news readers may well be just a white label solution for newspapers and big media, rather than showing the way for generic RSS Readers. Still, that is a big market in itself.