In one hour I’m going to turn off my laptop and go outside to enjoy some fresh air. But before I do, I owe it to you to tell you about one of my new favorite web services. It’s not free, which immediately makes it uninteresting to 90% of you, but you know what? You get what you pay for.
What am I talking about? NewsBlur.
For the reasonable price of $24 per year, you too can use the tool I’ve been using for the past 48 hours to consume what I like to think is the world’s most important information. Now granted, I don’t use RSS like I used to. Back when I discovered the protocol, I quickly ended up subscribing to well over 200 feeds, which caused me to nearly lose my mind. No, today I subscribe to less than 50 feeds, but those 50 feeds mean the world to me since it’s how I stay on top of everything.
What is RSS? You’re reading this, so you already know, but for those who don’t, it’s a really simply concept to understand. Instead of going to your favorite websites over and over again, multiple times a day, to see if anything happened, you instead use an RSS reader (invented by Dave Winer, pictured above) to “subscribe” to those sites.
Their content comes to you instead of you having to go find their content.
You might think there’s no need for something like that to exist in a world with Twitter and Facebook or whatever social network you like to use. And you’re right, most people don’t need RSS readers. But some of us do. Some of us like to read alone. To drink our information straight from the river with our cupped hands instead of buying a half liter bottle from the corner store.
If you’re a news junkie, you’re a news junkie. I don’t have to explain it to you.
So why is NewsBlur the best Google Reader replacement? Well, to understand that you have to understand why I don’t like other news readers. Let’s start with the one that most people are talking about: Feedly. It’s trying far too hard to be pretty. It’s kind of gross actually. I don’t know what their designers are thinking, but I just don’t like looking at it.
Second runner up is Digg. It’s … OK, but too barebones. To the point where it’s almost useless. You can’t even mark things as unread, which is ludicrous. There’s also AOL Reader, which is the prettiest thing I’ve seen in a long time, but there’s one problem, and it’s massive. They update their RSS feeds about once every four hours.
When it’s your job to break news, that makes it impossible to fall in love with.
There are certainly others out there. The Old Reader is a Google Reader clone, but it manages to feel clumsy. FeedBin has a lot of potential, but you can count the seconds between hitting “next” and seeing your next unread article. Feed Wrangler … I signed up, they charge something like $20 per year, and they charged my credit card, but their service says I haven’t paid them yet.
WHERE’S MY REFUND, FEED WRANGLER?
So why is NewsBlur so damn good? It’s functional. Spartan. Feeds are color coded, which sounds weird at first, but it makes such incredible sense. When you’re scrolling through an endless amount of rectangles of text, the border colors of those rectangles makes it easy to remember what source it is you’re reading. I’ve become so used to those colors that I can’t imagine using something that doesn’t have them.
All that being said, the service isn’t without flaws. NewsBlur is trying hard, far too hard, to become a social network. I can understand why. The founder, Samuel Clay, lives in San Francisco and is probably trying to either get bought out or score some VC money, and that’s not going to happen until he can prove the service is “sticky”. How do you do that? By building a social network.
I’d sit here and go through all the social network features in NewsBlur, but I don’t really care about them, and I’ll never, ever, use them, so they just sit there eating up screen realestate for me.
Anyway, FeedBlur has proven to be useful, to me at least. It’s never more than five minutes behind Twitter, which is tolerable. And while it’s not perfect, tell me, what service is?
Disclosure: Mr. Clay and I had a “Twitter fight” about one of his design choices, and he became so insulted that he gave me a refund without me even asking for one. In other words, I signed up for the service, my credit card was charged, I gave him some constructive criticism concerning his work, and now I’ve been refunded. Would I still pay NewsBlur? Absolutely, it’s that good.