One of the challenges while designing Automatic was the variety (and unpredictability) that exists in feeds. Although their structure is rigid, whether it’s RSS 1.0 or 2.0, or Atom, there is no “minimum set” of tags that must be included – meaning, there can be very little to no assumptions about the content. For Automatic, the decision was made to use the date tag to drive the matching and filtering engine. While it worked quite well, it eventually became apparent that it didn’t work when a feed “backdated” items (this usually occurs when a site allows users to create feeds “on-demand” by adding items, and an item that was added later might actually have an earlier date). It also didn’t work with feeds that have no date tag, which admittedly, are a small minority.

So, in order to support these 2 scenarios, the engine in 2.1 has been redesigned to be largely date-agnostic. The result is better support for feeds that backdate, and of course, support for feeds that have no dates.

For some subscriptions, depending on the rules set up and the previous matches, you may notice a one-time download of old items. These items were not previously downloaded by Automatic, but were ignored by the old engine. Going forward, the behavior should be the same.

Posted on Friday, September 10th, 14:59. Filed under: Automatic, Features, Mac OS X

So far, the most frequent feature request for Automatic 2 has been the ability to customize the TV Show subscriptions in some way (alternate feeds, download folders, etc). The presets have been so popular that many previous users of Automatic used them to replace their own subscriptions, but then realized they wanted to tweak them.

In all honesty, a lazy solution was easy: the flip of a switch in the code could allow any TV subscription to be edited in the Custom interface. But that solution didn’t really address the question: “Why did users so strongly prefer the presets, even over their own, already configured Custom subscriptions?”.

Apparently, the answer lies in the TV data. Every preset has information attached about the show, such as the banner and episode list, and is presented in various areas. So in 2.1, it will be possible to attach show data to Custom subscriptions as well. Not only for shows that Automatic already knows about, but for any show. Also, episode data will be presented in the Subscription pane as well: you’ll be able to toggle between the subscription history or the episode list.

In light of the improvements to presenting show data with Custom subscriptions, converting a TV Show subscription to a Custom one now makes sense. Presenting a special interface for customizing TV Show subscriptions would be a bad idea, considering there is already a very powerful and robust rule creation interface in place. So in 2.1 you will have the ability to convert a TV Show subscription and tweak it to your heart’s content. The only difference between a TV Show subscription and a Custom one with show data attached will be the section they appear in (TV Shows vs. Custom).

This solution covers all the bases: it leaves the TV Show interface intact, allows users to customize TV Show subscriptions without losing the show data, and even enables subscriptions with show data that was not previously available in Automatic.

Posted on Thursday, August 19th, 03:30. Filed under: Automatic, Features, Mac OS X