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Follow Important Software Updates in the TidBITS Watchlist

Often, when I use the Macs of friends or relatives, I notice that a lot of their software is out of date. It’s not surprising. Although Sparkle and other automatic update mechanisms (see “Sparkle Improves Application Update Experience,” 20 August 2007) have made the act of downloading and installing updates easier, many people are leery of installing updates until they’ve heard from a trusted source that the update is worthwhile. That’s true even of updates from Apple; nearly every time I visit my parents, I install all the Apple updates that Software Update has been recommending since my last visit.

That’s one of the reasons that we write about software updates in TidBITS – to give you a head start on determining whether an update is worthwhile before you’re prompted to update. The other reason is to alert you to updated software that you may have dismissed in the past due to bugs or missing features, or that you may simply not have known about.

Obviously, we don’t always have time to explore the software in detail – the announcement of an update should not be considered a review – but we do put thought into covering only updates to the software we think is most interesting. (We generally post no more than a couple of items per day, whereas VersionTracker shows 64 updates for just the day before I wrote this.) Even for software we consider interesting, if the update in question is too minor, we won’t clutter your head with additional information about it. (To give credit where credit is due, staff writer Doug McLean is handling the vast majority of these updates.)

For a long time, we treated updates like any other article, but even with our editorial filtering there were too many releases to cover in any significant depth. So, we created a TidBITS Watchlist article that we would update throughout the week with new updates. That worked fine for publishing in the email issue the following week, but worked badly for helping our Web- and RSS-based readers learn about updates as we posted them. The single TidBITS Watchlist article also integrated poorly with our highly successful TidBITS Commenting System.

However, we didn’t want to post each Watchlist item as a normal article, since they’d totally take over our home page, pushing other articles off quickly. So Glenn and Jeff and I put our heads together and came up with what we think is a much better approach.

We are now writing Watchlist items as independent articles, which enables them to collect comments and be dealt with individually. However, we’ve tweaked the TidBITS Publishing System to keep Watchlist items off the headline list on our home page; that prevents other articles from disappearing too quickly.

To simplify finding the Watchlist items, we’ve created a TidBITS Watchlist widget in the upper right corner of every page on our site, listing the last 10 items we’ve posted. Click an item’s name to read its full writeup and leave any comments you may have about that program.

Though they don’t appear on our normal home page headline list, Watchlist items do show up in the headline lists for the various sections of our site, available from the left-side navigation bar. They also appear in our RSS feed as independent items.

Our email issues required a different approach. Although many independent articles work well on the Web and in RSS, they become overwhelming in email. So there we’ve maintained the single TidBITS Watchlist collection article; those of you who only read TidBITS in email probably haven’t noticed anything different. This week brings one small but important change: each Watchlist item in the collection has a link that makes it easy for you to comment on what you think about the update on our Web site. Your comments really do help extend the depth of our coverage, so keep them coming!

The magic of the TidBITS Publishing System enables us to keep this TidBITS Watchlist collection article, along with the ExtraBITS collection article that collects individual ExtraBITS links from the site, exclusive to the email issue, where the collections make sense, and off of our Web site, where individual items are more appropriate.

So take a few minutes and check out how the TidBITS Watchlist widget works, and let us know in the comments if this approach to alerting you to software updates is effective, or if there’s something we could be doing even better.

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