In less than 5 days, Google will be shutting down Google Reader. A lot of people are now scrambling to find a new service to migrate to. The closing of Reader has opened up a relatively large market for new new reader apps. Some focus on social and sharing, some are bold and are rethinking the news reading experience, and some are trying to be as simple as possible or as close to Reader as possible.
Today, Im launching an app that Ive been working on for the past few months (I actually started it before Google decided to close down Reader) to compete with the others to become the next Google Reader replacement.
FeedStash started out as a side experiment when I wanted to play around with Elasticsearch. I needed a fairly large set of textual data and RSS feeds from blogs seemed to fit the bill quite nicely. I began writing a collection system to grab stories from a set of RSS feeds, quickly discovering that RSS is probably one of the most inconsistent formats in the world and every site does things a little differently than the next. After building out a solid collector, it seemed fairly natural to give it a web interface to use Elasticsearch through. This is where things started moving away from a playing with Elasticsearch and into building an RSS reader.
I had managed to get a basic web UI up and running to view and manage feeds. It was right around this time that Google dropped the bomb that it would be closing Reader on July 1st. Everyone was in an uproar over it and it was very clear that the seemingly dormant RSS community was very much alive and boy was it angry. The few weeks immediately following the apocalyptic announcement, RSS and news reader apps started popping up all over the place. Looks like it was time to get my shit together if I wanted to build something to be used by people.
Keeping things simple
The benefit of all these other people and companies building apps early on is that they ended up doing a bit of market research that would benefit everyone else. The countless posts on Reddit and HackerNews about people launching new apps spawned threads of comments of very useful feedback. Turns out people dont want the super social applications; they just want to be able to read their news in peace with the ability to organize and filter their various subscriptions. They also wanted it to be super simple. Theres no need to take a radical new approach on UI design here. Just make it easy for people to use.
This first iteration of FeedStash is just that - simple. You can import your feeds from Google Reader either by uploading the exported OPML file or by signing in with your Google account and letting FeedStash grab it using the Reader API. This will import and subscribe you to your existing subscriptions.
We decided to keep reading and organizing feeds really simple so that we could get this out the door in time for July 1st. On the right side, you’ll start with a single “folder” called “All Feeds”. This is the master list of all of your subscriptions. By default it will show a stream of all your feeds combined sorted by the date the headline was published. If you want to view just the headlines for a specific feed, simply click on the feed name on the left side of the screen.
You can create as many folders as you’d like. Just like the “Add Folder” link on the left side. It’ll prompt you for a display name then allow you to add any of your current subscriptions to it. When you click on that folder on the left side, it will slide open much like the “All Feeds” folder and will give you a stream of only the feeds in that folder. Again, if you want to view headlines from just one feed, simply click on it.
Headlines are displayed in chronological order based on published date on the right side of the screen. Clicking on the headline title will expand it and show you the preview content. Content quality and length will vary from site to site. Some sites put entire articles rich with pictures in video in their previews, and some put hardly anything at all. Clicking the “continue reading” button will open the headline in a new tab and navigate to its source. Some people actually like sharing, so Ive included some very subtle social share buttons that are visible when you expand the headline. You can share on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and App.net. Also since a decent number of people were reqeusting it from other apps, I added a link to add the story to Pocket so that you can read it later. None of these require you to connect your account as they are all handled through web intents. When you click on one to share, it will pop open a small window on each site which will render its own share dialog that will be pre-populated with the story title and link.
Personally I like to view the headlines and stories that Ive already read, rather than trying to dig through a huge list to find them, so I have included a dedicated page to displaying headlines that you have read in the past. Headlines are marked as read as soon as you click on them in the stream.
Favoriting is another pretty basic but widespread notion as well, so Ive included a dedicated page for favorites as well. To favorite a headline, just look for the “favorite” link with the heart next to it and click it.
Feeding the servers
With deciding to launch FeesStash publicly, I have also decided to charge $24/year for it. The decision to do is was based on the fact that:
- keeping servers running to support the app costs money2. people have been quite vocal that they are willing to pay money for a service like this
- Charging for it keeps me on top of everything. All to often I see people create free services that fall by the wayside because the creator either forgot about it or moved on. Having paying customers is far more motivating because often times they are more loyal and demand quality.
The road ahead
There are a number of features that Im looking to add to make the FeedStash experience even better. Heres a look at what’s to come.
A RESTful API
Syncing seems to be a one of the highly desired features of any news feed service. Everyone consumes news and content in their own way and establishing an API that can sync with our core system would allow users to build applications to suit their needs.
Better mobile experience
This first iteration of FeedStash was built to be mostly usable on desktop browsers and tablets (it happens to fit perfectly on an iPad in landscape mode). We hope to bring a better mobile experience to smaller form factor devices like smart phones through the web interface and then (hopefully) eventually through native apps.
Sometimes finding that pesky RSS icon on the site you’re browsing is hard to do. With our bookmarklet you wont have to search for it. Thankfully there is a standard for a meta tag to define where the RSS feed for the current page is located. When you click the bookmarklet, it finds those tags, lists the feeds available, and allows you to subscribe to it right on the spot. No copy and pasting it into the app or anything. We want to provide you with the quickest way to subscribe in order to not disrupt your web browsing.
This is something that I haven’t seen all that often in news and RSS applications. Id love to be able to search for new feeds and headlines or even search through those that I have already read or search through my favorites. FeedStash stores each feed uniquely in the database and keeps records of the posts that it pulls in. Indexing that bit of data to make it searchable could open up a world of new discovery options.
Some people like to organize feeds into folders, some prefer to get even more specific and create tags on the post level. We want to expand the amount of personalization possible so that you can organize your feeds in almost any way you see fit. Allowing users to have such fine customization over the content they read could also allow us to further analyze your content to do things such as surface feed and story suggestions.