Google Reader is the big daddy of all RSS Feed readers out there. It has become the de-facto choice of voracious readers, and is almost a standard bearer for the segment. However, Google Reader’s presentation does leave a lot to be desired. If you are looking for something that looks great, but is flexible enough to tackle scores of feed at the same time, NewsBlur is a new service that will probably interest you.
NewsBlur is the creation of a single developer – Samuel Clay. If you already have a Google Reader account, getting started with NewsBlur should be a breeze, since it can automatically import your Google Reader feeds. You also have the option of manually importing feeds through OMPL files. However, be warned, importing an OPML file will delete all your existing feeds. The developer tells me that this will be fixed in the coming months. In the future, NewsBlur will be automatically able to identify duplicate entries and add new entries from an OPML file.
As mentioned earlier, the interface is tidy and efficient. Normally, Google’s the one that gets the kudos for keeping things simple; however, somewhere along the line they sacrificed simplicity in favour of functionality for Google Reader. NewsBlur supports three view modes –
Original: This is NewsBlur’s unique selling point. It captures a snapshot of the website and displays your RSS feed in-context of the website. This makes it appear as if you are surfing through the original website.
Feed: In this mode NewsBlur displays a feed as a continuous stream of articles in a consistent interface.
Story: Almost same as above. However, in this mode only one article is displayed at a time, instead of the entire stream.
The biggest challenge modern RSS Feed readers have to tackle is to make discovering news that matters simple and straight-forward. NewsBlur supports nested folders, which allows you to organise your feeds into categories. Additionally, NewsBlur also supports filtering of stories. To get started, you will be asked to rate (like/dislike) selected authors, tags, websites. Based on this initial training, NewsBlur will automatically curate a list of stories you are likely to find interesting.
You can also rate stories, or even highlight keywords from its title while using NewsBlur to constantly improve the suggestions offered by NewsBlur.
NewsBlur is a freemium service. The free version allows you to follow up to 64 feeds. If you want to track more feeds, you will have to shell out $12/year, which is quite reasonable. Since the source code is available, you can also install it on your own server, if you are so inclined.
All in all, NewsBlur is an interesting service. It looks great and is a joy to use. The filtering feature seems interesting; however, I haven’t used NewsBlur long enough to make an educated judgment on its accuracy. Additional features currently in the pipeline include an iPhone app, ability to sort stories, and account management. For me the biggest drawback of NewsBlur is that it doesn’t always update a feed. The frequency with which a feed is updated depends on its popularity. Thankfully, you can manually update a feed using Insta-Fetch. NewsBlur also lacks any sort of social features. If you enjoy reading and sharing stuff with your friends, you should stick to Google Reader. NewsBlur also lacks some elementary features, like being able to quickly check all unread items.