I’ve been using NewsBlur as my candidate Google Reader replacement for a few weeks. During that span Samuel Clay, the developer, has made many improvements. It’s now to the point that I think the web version is better than Google Reader. In fact, I no longer use Google Reader when at a PC. (Not so for mobile devices. More on that below.)
NewsBlur is now fast, which it wasn’t when it got slammed with demand after the Reader pull-out announcement. It’s visually beautiful (not important, but nice). It has many sharing features, including those Reader used to have but doesn’t anymore. You can subscribe to other users’ shared items. You can click a post out to Twitter, Facebook, etc. My favorite aspect of Newblur is its split layout view, which combines a list view with a stories view. With Reader, you could get one or the other, but not both simultaneously. Split view combines the fast scanning advantages of a list (basically, post titles only) with the browsing advantages of a stories view (the post content). This may not make sense until you try it. About that, more at the end of the post. But trust me, split view rocks.
Oh, best of all, NewsBlur can pull in the full content of partial feeds more reliably than any other way of doing so I’ve ever seen. Nothing that claimed to do this for Google Reader ever did so all the time. So far, I’ve never seen NewsBlur fail at this. All of Paul Krugman. All of Jon Chait. All of Reihan Salam. All the time. So awesome.
The other thing I like about NewsBlur is it has a clear revenue model. You pony up for a subscription (a couple of dollars per month) for the premium version. However, if you don’t want to do that, I hear that Samuel will let you try it for free. His contact info is at the end of this post. Finally, NewsBlur doesn’t try to razzle-dazzle you with magazine-style, pop-out images. Puh-lease. That’s for kids.
I had been keeping a mental list of things I don’t like about NewsBlur. But as I’ve used it, those have mostly fallen away. They were nitpicky details, mostly ways in which NewsBlur differed from Google Reader. Yeah, I was used to Reader and its Google-chic ways, but that didn’t make Reader good. I’ve come to appreciate that NewsBlur is, in fact, better. The only remaining thing I really miss about Reader is search. NewsBlur doesn’t have it, but I believe it is in the plans.
About those mobile apps: They’re not there yet. The iOS app is good enough, but it is lacking the ability to see your previously read posts. I need the ability to look back at stuff I’ve read before, so I hope this gets fixed. [UPDATE: I’m told you can see previously read posts by pulling the development version from dev.newsblur.com/ios/download. That’s true, but only within folders, not in the “all stories” list as one can with the web app.] It’s also light on features. It really is a very dumbed down version of the web app. I’d rather it be full feature.
The Droid app is further behind. It doesn’t even pull in my feeds, which is a slight improvement from crashing all the time. The previous version was very good at that. I know Samuel is on this, and I expect a revision is forthcoming.
I intend to let you know when the mobile apps are up to snuff. Meanwhile, I highly recommend the web app.
Some important and not-so-important details:
- For all the newest features, use the development version at dev.newsblur.com.
- Despite what it seems, you can get free, trial access. I hear that it appears like that’s not an option, but apparently once you enter your email address, you’ve got trial access.
- There are a lot of configuration options. Maybe too many. This can be confusing. I hear there’s a video tutorial in the works.
- Samuel is awesome at responding to users. Best bet is to tweet at @NewsBlurSupport. You’ll also find him on Twitter at @NewsBlur and @samuelclay (I like his tweets). And, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- See also the press page.
- There’s no harm in waiting a bit longer before trying Newsblur. Reader will be around for almost three more months.
- There are other Google Reader replacements. Other than Feedly, I have not tried them. I won’t try any that isn’t going to have syncing apps across all platforms and that doesn’t have a clear revenue model. I worry about a “free” reader going Google.
- Newsblur is open source. You can roll your own.