EventBox beta – a review

For the last week or so I have been trying out a new social network aggregator application called EventBox from The Cosmic Machine. It allows you to manage your Twitter, Facebook, Google Reader, Flickr and Reddit accounts from the same window. You can also subscribe to RSS feeds.

I had read some glowing reviews on Smoking Apples and thought I’d give it a try. After all, I love Twitter and regularly use Flickr. I also subscribe to 40 or so RSS feeds. I must confess to not liking Facebook much and only check on my account once a month or so. I don’t use Reddit at all. Having everything together sounded like it could be quite convenient. Plus, I just love trying out new software!

Currently EventBox is a beta application. In other words, it isn’t yet complete. Some of its features are missing and there are still a few bugs. Now, most developers offer beta applications for free while users test them and give feedback. Then once the application reaches its final version beta testers are usually offered a discount off the full price. EventBox gives a 2 week free trial but then you have to pay $15 to continue using the beta. (The full price will be $20.) I can’t deny I was a bit annoyed when I discovered this is the system. I’ve never before paid to use a beta product and I felt it was rather cheeky to expect payment for an unfinished application, even it it is at a lower rate. I am ashamed to say I had pretty much decided I wouldn’t like EventBox even before I had started using it.

Prior to using EventBox I had been using Twitterrific to access Twitter from my Mac and NetNewsWire to subscribe to 40 or so RSS feeds. I was visiting the Flickr website most days and was only checking on the Facebook website once a month or so. I don’t use Reddit. So as things stood I wasn’t paying a penny to access any of these services. I figured EventBox would have to be pretty good to make me want to actually pay for it.

Anyway, I downloaded it and I must say I was impressed with how easy it was to set up. It asked me which services I want to use (I  selected Twitter, Flickr and Facebook), I input my username and passwords, and it synced them all. My initial impression was of a clean, attractive interface – the main window has an iTunes-style sidebar and the events appear to the right. An input area for typing tweets and dragging photos is at the bottom of the screen.  It also had an HUD (heads-up display) that looks very much like Twitterrific and works with Growl.

So far so good. I then decided to start working with keyboard shortcuts and hotkeys. This is when I became frustrated. I didn’t work in the same way as Twitterrific. The keyboard shortcuts were different. The hotkeys worked differently. In Twitterrific, when the HUD appears I clicked my hotkey to make it the focus and then used the up and down arrows to navigate. In EventBox I clicked my hotkey but this made the HUD disappear. I then had to click it again to make it reappear and then I can use the arrow keys. When I closed the HUD I had to click back on whichever app I had been working with previously – it didn’t automatically go back to it. These may seem like minor issues but I found them intensely annoying and pretty much gave up on EventBox at that point.

A few days later I decided to take a look at EventBox’s help page. I really don’t know why I hadn’t checked it out before. I’m someone who usually won’t use anything until I’ve read the manual cover to cover. Here I found a list of all the keyboard shortcuts and preference settings including, hooray, the ability to make EventBox inactive when you close the window so that it automatically goes back to whatever you were using before. No solution to my hotkey problem so I tweeted @eventbox. I received a prompt reply saying they’d see what they can do about it.

Once I’d sorted the HUD I realised there was a lot I could do in EventBox that Twitterrific can’t such as search, retweet and shorten URLs.  I also like that it tells you how long it is since each tweet was posted. On Twitterrific you have to hover over each tweet to see this information (and it doesn’t always disappear when you move the pointer). I would still like to see threaded conversations (such as in Tweetie) and I see it is on The Cosmic Machine’s roadmap. I did miss the chirping bird sound that Twitterrific uses to alert you of an incoming tweet but my family were glad to see the back of it – they all found it really annoying! Something else I’d like to to is the the ability to have Growl only alert you to @replies and direct messages. At the moment it alerts you to all tweets so I turned it off as it was all getting too much.

Now I was able to take a look at EventBox’s other features. Earlier this month I signed up to the 365/2009 group on Flickr. You have to post a photo taken on each day of the year. (One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to take more photographs so I figured this would be an good way to get me using my camera.) So now that I’m using Flickr daily (well nearly, I have missed a few days) I found easy access to my and my Flickr pals’ photos really handy. You can view full size photos from within the app as well as upload them. (I haven’t tried the upload feature as I like to do it from iPhoto.) You can also view and add comments.

The Facebook integration is quite nice to have but to be honest, I could take it or leave it. You can view photos and statuses. You can also upload photos and update your own status messages.

I thought I’d try out the RSS reader so imported one of my folders from NetNewsWire. It all works well but the interface isn’t as good as NNW. Each news item has a title and a small preview with another preview pane below. I’d rather just see the titles of the items so that I could see more at once. I’d never used Google Reader but I thought I’d give it a shot so that I could try out the syncing with EventBox. I imported my feeds from NNW into Google Reader (which turned out to a surprisingly easy process) and then synced with EventBox. It worked very well, with all my folders coming through too. I would love to see the addition of Instapaper support.

So, having spent some time reading the extensive help pages I came to realise that EventBox is actually far more powerful than I had originally thought. It comes with an enormous number of keyboard shortcuts and the preferences allow for a great deal of customisation. Having set out with the intention of not liking EventBox I found myself rather enjoying it. It really is quite handy to have everything in one place – especially if you want to switch things off for a while. There is a mute button to switch off all notifications until you click it again. Saves you having to go to individual apps to switch them off when you need peace to get on with something.

All in all I’ve come to the conclusion $15 isn’t a bad price and once it’s finished and fully featured $20 will probably be reasonable. I’m still not sure of the wisdom of charging for a beta. I think it may put a lot of potential users off. However, in the current economic climate developers may be finding it increasingly difficult to work on applications without any income. Maybe this is the way things are going to go. Anyway, I have stumped up the money and am now a fully fledged EventBox user. Twitterrific has been abandoned. NetNewsWire is on probation. (I thought I might carry on with Google Reader for a while as it syncs nicely and I rather like the stats it gives you on its webpage.) I’m looking forward to seeing what further features The Cosmic Machine come up with in the final release of EventBox.

Note: At the time of writing the price for EventBox is $15. However there is a discount code in Smoking Apples Magazine giving 20% off. I don’t think this code will be valid for much longer though.

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