Read Through Your App.net Stream With Rivr

App.net (or ADN) features an unusual business model, particularly for a social network. The idea of a paid social network that depends on its developers to advance the platform is unheard of, but comes with some significant benefits. For one thing, you know your information is private. App.net isn’t going to sell anything you post. For some people, this is enough to differentiate the “Twitter clone” from Twitter. But perhaps more interestingly (and not unlike the Twitter of old), it encourages developers to race towards innovation.

Rivr is trying to claim a piece of that innovation for itself. Rivr is an app that focuses on making your stream beautiful and intuitive, and it’s not afraid to bend some interface rules to get it done. Rivr is extremely functional, but you might be wondering if its ease of use gets lost in all this extra functionality, or if it’s as easy to use as Netbot, perhaps the most popular ADN client in town. Read on to find out.

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The User Experience

Right away, you’ll notice that Rivr is different than most social networking apps. Unlike Netbot, there is no tab bar on the bottom of the screen. Your stream is unified so even though there’s a separate Mention stream, there’s no real need to visit it. Swiping to the right reveals the app menu, and swiping to the left allows you to write a new post. There’s a nice animation for each swipe and a little bit of bounce-back to just about every flick in app that feels really visceral and, more importantly, natural. This is app design that works because it’s visceral. It’s fun. Social networking should be fun, so that’s important.

The unified stream in ADN is functional and easy on the eyes, but it isn't particularly beautiful.

The unified stream in ADN is functional and easy on the eyes, but it isn’t particularly beautiful.

What really makes Rivr different than most of the competition is the variety of options available for a new post. You can write a post, take and edit a picture, shoot a video, share the song you’re listening to, geotag a post or even just post an emoticon. The real bread and butter here is image and video sharing, in my opinion, which is really intuitive and looks great in Rivr’s unified stream. Rivr displays images and videos as inline posts, so there’s no additional taps to take a closer look at anything. To refer back to Netbot, these are things that Netbot has skipped in its effort to be as familiar as Tweetbot. This is functionality that Rivr is building on top of ADN, which bodes well for both the future of ADN and Rivr as a client. Innovation breeds further innovation.

Choosing a filter in the app.

Choosing a filter in the app.

The Interface — What Works and What Doesn’t

The colour scheme is unique to Rivr. For lack of better words, it appears naturalistic. The colour palette is decidedly brown. There is a Nighttime Mode in the Settings, but I didn’t find it preferable in any situation. It also takes a few too many taps to get to the Nighttime Mode to make it of any real use, not to mention the fact that it can’t be scheduled. Adding a simple Nighttime Mode symbol (one that looks like a moon) directly to the bottom of the main menu would alleviate this issue, but it still doesn’t help with what I feel is a lack of colour or contrast appeal.

It takes too many taps to do simple things in Rivr. Gestures could be beneficial.

It takes too many taps to do simple things in Rivr. Gestures could be beneficial.

The real problem with the interface is that a lot of things take too many taps to accomplish. Netbot has gestures. Swipe over a post to look at a conversation or even just the details. Rivr has none of those things. Rivr is all about tapping on posts, and then tapping again to select how you want to handle it (reply, repost, etc). The bottom line is that it simply doesn’t feel efficient.

My one other big beef? If there’s a repost in my stream, instead of seeing the original poster’s avatar, I get the reposter’s avatar and a couple arrows in the post to indicate that it’s a repost. I prefer Netbot’s method: the original poster’s avatar is displayed, and beneath the post it says “Reposted by X.”

Like the rest of the app, profiles aren't glamorous, but they are functional.

Like the rest of the app, profiles aren’t glamorous, but they are functional.

Don’t get me wrong, I really like Rivr’s interface. It looks good if you don’t turn on Nighttime Mode. I particularly like that there’s no persistent tab bar. But in real-world use, it feels like Netbot is just a hair faster and more intuitive thanks to its gesture support.

What’s Missing?

There are a lot of features in Rivr that simply aren’t in other ADN clients. Image posting is a great example. Rivr not only allows you to apply filters to shots directly in the app, but it also supports Camera+ natively as well. Video support is a great added feature. There are more ways to post on Rivr than there are in any other ADN client I’ve tried (and yes, you can still crosspost to Twitter if you like). Instapaper and Pocket support come built in. There’s an option to open links in Google Chrome.

I don't personally find that Nighttime Mode holds any additional appeal.

I don’t personally find that Nighttime Mode holds any additional appeal.

So with that in mind, what features are missing from Rivr? The biggest one is multiple account support, something a lot of power users frequently request. People looking for that will have to go to another client. And although Rivr supports Instapaper and Pocket, it doesn’t feature an Instapaper or Pocket mobilizer for easy web-based reading. Beyond that, although Rivr uses ADN’s storage, it doesn’t support web services that Netbot supports such as Droplr, CloudApp, Mobypicture and the like. These features are mostly minor, but for many users, they’re important.

Is Rivr Worth Your Time?

ADN is still in its infancy and it’s going to be interesting to see how it grows with time. That being said, ADN’s growth is dependent on developers pushing growth and growing with it. Like a lot of other people, I love Netbot because I love Tweetbot. But, despite its popularity, I’m not sure Netbot is going to grow with the ADN service. And in all honesty, Netbot feels too familiar. With ADN, I feel like I should have the opportunity as a user to experience a new kind of social networking app.

Thanks to its push towards innovation, I feel like Rivr is going to try and grow as ADN grows. Development will continue, and its developers have an active interest in seeing Rivr grow into something bigger. Rivr is flawed, but its flaws aren’t tremendous and it’s trying new things (like in-app video shooting) to push social networking forward. It feels like ADN can steal from Rivr’s features over time in the same way that Rivr will absorb ADN’s. I have more faith in Rivr’s continued innovation, while I feel that Netbot might stall.

There are a lot of ADN clients out there for iPhone alone, many of which are very good (check out Felix and Riposte if you’re looking for other great alternatives) and many of which are free. I haven’t tried them all, but I have tried a few of them, and Rivr is one of the most forward-thinking and features one of the better designs. Most importantly, Rivr is plain old fun to use. And it’s free. Rivr might be imperfect and have some room to grow, but it’s still a polished and recommended ADN experience.


Summary

Rivr isn't perfect and has room to grow, but is less plain and feature-packed than the competition.

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