Podcasting

Podcasting has been getting some press recently, more so than normal. I first noticed it back in September when The Washington Post declared that podcasts are back and making money. I never knew they had left and the making money part wasn’t much of a surprise either. Roll forward a few months and we seem to be in the middle of a popular podcast storm.

Top Shelf from The Verge did a great video on why podcasts are so popular just now. Serial Podcast is one of the biggest podcasts in years and has succeeded in reaching new audiences. It’s also set the record for fastest podcast to 5 million downloads. It seems more and more people are not only listening to podcasts but actually producing their own. That’s not much of a surprise either as it’s fairly easy to record and publish your own podcast. I know as I’ve been podcasting since 2009.

What was more surprising was the posts recently from a few of the more notable tech podcasters and also the heat it generated on twitter. Firstly Jason Snell posted on not being intimidated to do a podcast. A lot of what Jason wrote resonated with me but unfortunately there was some heat on twitter from a few sources on technology and what gear you should be using. A sort of follow up from Marco Arment tried to move the debate on so that it focussed on the listener. I agreed with some of his points but felt it strayed into gadget snobbery again.

So after 230 episodes of DigitalOutbox what have I learned:

  • To get started you don’t need much, especially if you aren’t sure if podcasting is for you and you want to give it a go.
  • Me and Shak started with a headset with mic built in. Quality wasn’t great but it got us off and running. Use an iPhone headset as it’s good enough to get you going.
  • If you are enjoying podcasting and want to keep going after a few episodes then invest in a better mic. I use a Rode Podcaster, Chris uses a Blue Yeti and I think our audio quality is good. You can go a lot higher quality if you want but I do think it’s diminishing returns. To keep it easier, both of these are USB mic’s.
  • Get a decent set of headphones that don’t leak audio – if they do then your mic, especially the better quality ones, will pick up on the audio from your headphones.
  • Each podcaster should record audio at their end. Recording Skype and using that for the audio source causes more issues than the hardware in my opinion. Share the audio with the editor over Dropbox. Nice and easy.
  • If you’ve got a Mac then use Garageband for editing, at least to get started. Audacity is another option.
  • Editing should focus on getting everyone’s levels even and also cutting out mistakes, drop outs, phone calls – whatever gets in the way of the listener enjoying your Podcast.
  • You can also edit to remove silence, mmmm’s, eh’s and all the other little annoyances. I’ve done this a few times but must admit that I find it a bit of a chore to do so don’t often bother. It’s not a show stopper but it will be for the better if you remove them.
  • Put chapters into your podcasts. I wish more podcasters would do this so you can skip a topic that isn’t interesting you but very few do. A shame.
  • You don’t need to spend loads on hosting your podcasts if you are doing audio only. I use Dreamhost and the speeds are good enough for our podcast and there are no limits on bandwidth.
  • A 30-40 minute audio podcast will take around 2-4 hours each week to record, edit and publish not including any research time you need. A video podcast will require a lot more. Do not underestimate the step up in bandwidth, production and hosting a video podcast requires.
  • Something I’ve not done too much off is room treatment but you do want a quiet room and ideally with not too many hard surfaces around. The better the audio quality the less you need to to edit so try and make sure you don’t pick up phones, clocks and other voices while you are recording.
  • Enjoy it.

Dan Benjamin, founder of the 5by5 network has put together a great site on podcast hardware and software recommendations at The Podcast Method. Well worth a read. He also has published a really useful video on mic technique which features some great tips.

The main thing to remember is not to let the gear or the software become a barrier to entry. Give it a go and if you enjoy it you can invest at a later date once you know if it’s for you.

Now…about podcasts making money. Any tips?

Windows 10

Microsoft surprised everyone by announcing a new version of Windows and calling it Windows 10. There were lots of rumours of a new version but none predicted that name. Why 10? To get away from 8, to make it sound really different, to align with Mac OS X? One rumour yesterday linked it to Windows 95 and 98.

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Windows 10 won’t be out until late 2015 but there is a technical preview available and credit to Microsoft as they’ve made it available as a downloadable iso image so it’s easy to install as a virtual machine via VirtualBox.

Windows 10
Windows 10

On first run Windows 10 shows you a desktop that looks familiar to all Windows users that bizarrely was missing from Windows 8. A desktop with a start menu that you can launch app’s from, search from and easily power down your Windows device. In fact it looks like Windows 7 with a new theme apart from one thing – tiles in the start menu. There’s a few other tweaks here and there but when you see it running you’ve got to wonder why Microsoft just didn’t update Windows 8 to have this view. That’s another year for Windows 8 users to suffer from some fundamental usability issues. But don’t worry, Windows 10 will fix it.

Task switcher in WIndows 10. Expose?
Task switcher in WIndows 10. Expose?

A couple of other changes. Firstly there’s a task switcher that brings up a view not unlike Mac’s Exposé and is pretty useful when you have lot’s of app’s and windows active. The other is search. This feels like Mac’s Spotlight or tools like Alfred or Launchbar in that when you search for something it will search against app’s, documents and internet sites. Handy and seemed to work well when testing this morning.

Search in Windows 10
Search in Windows 10

That’s about it so far from my brief play. I had to launch a command prompt just so I could confirm that cut, copy and paste finally work. Such a small change yet it got mention at the Windows 10 soft launch this week. Weird. Microsoft have a lot more to show over the coming months but the emphasis so far on enterprise is almost a plea. Don’t leave us, we know where we went wrong. Windows 10 is ambitious in that it’s planned to be one platform across all of Microsofts devices – mobile, servers, desktops, laptops, tablets, large surface devices and Xbox One. I fear compromise again which is at the root of many of the problems in Windows 8 but Windows 10 looks to be a good start on desktops and laptops at least.

NomadKey Review

Charging cables aren’t usually the most interesting of topics and not something I think much about apart from ensuring I have cables for my devices at work, home and when I travel. That basically means a lightning cable and a micro USB cable to cover the many devices that I use day to day.

I was contacted by Nomad and asked if I was interested in trying a NomadKey and passing on my thoughts via this site. A few weeks ago I received a Lightning and micro-USB NomadKey and since then I’ve been using them to charge my iOS devices and my work phone and mifi device.

Lightning NomadKey
Lightning NomadKey

The NomadKey is a reworked version of the Nomad ChargeKey that launched last year. The main feature of the NomadKey is it’s size and flexibility. Slightly larger than a standard house key it’s designed to live on your key ring so no matter where you are, if you have your keys you can charge your device…well, as long as there is a USB socket nearby.

The NomadKey features a slim USB connector at one end and a lightning or micro-USB connector at the other. Both ends are made of a hard plastic and the middle is a flexible rubber which covers the cable connecting both ends. This allows the NomadKey to twist and allow you to charge your device in some pretty awkward places. While fine for phones and small devices it’s not practical for things like an iPad. The chargers are really light, so much so you won’t notice any additional weight on your key ring or if you decide to carry them in a travel or office bag.

In use I’ve found the NomadKey to be fast and reliable. For iOS devices it’s not only a charge cable but sync’s as well and is certified by Apple. I’ve seen no difference in charge or sync times between an official Apple cable and the NomadKey. It also carries enough current to charge an iPad.

Flexible NomadKey
Flexible NomadKey

Although reliable over the last three weeks I do have a couple of niggles. Firstly the USB and lightning connectors are uncovered. As the premise of the NomadKey is for the charger to live alongside your keys I do worry that over time the connectors will pick up dings and scratches. The more durable plastic that hooks onto your key ring does look robust but again, over time will it become chewed up?

Finally is the question of value. The NomadKey costs $29 with free shipping to the UK which feels a little steep. A 1m lightning cable from Apple is £15 and I think the NomadKey would be more appealing to users if they managed to undercut Apple even slightly.

Despite the niggles I loved the NomadKey cables and would recommend them to anyone looking at picking up a new charge cable or who tend to misplace or forget their current chargers. It’s an excellent day to day charger and especially useful for the frequent traveller. Nomad are also bringing out a new product called the NomadClip which is a portable charging cable in the shape of a carabiner and something I’m far more interested in.

If you like the look of the NomadKey or any of their other products then you can pre-order them now and for a limited time you get 25% off if you use the code “LIVESIMPLE”.

Goodbye Three, Hello EE

A month ago I finally switched away from Three after a couple of years dealing with a number of issues with them. Mostly due to price and unlimited data I stuck by Three but at work I invariably would have limited data or no data connection at all.

The final straw was at the end of March when I couldn’t even make or receive calls at work. I’d leave the office and get a text saying I had a voice message. No missed call, no text or call at the time…hours after a call I’d get notified that I’d got a message. This wasn’t just one day and went on for a couple of weeks. As per the last couple of times I contacted Three’s engineers, no faults in the area and it must be my phone despite others in the office on Three having the same problems. I’d also call voicemail and get disconnected after 20 seconds – constantly. So frustrating.

So after waiting and getting 4G in Glasgow on Three it was time to move on and I went for EE as they had tweaked there prices to make it slightly more competitive and their speeds at my workplace were excellent. Monthly contract, 4GB of 4G data for £23. Unlimited everything else so not too bad.

The initial on boarding with EE was dreadful. I phoned up to see if there were any deals and got a price higher than the website. Mentioned the website price and was told to sign up there then. Charming. The signup on the website was awful. Multiple attempts to try and complete the form which kept resetting back to the start of the process. After 30 mins I’d finally got the application submitted to be told that I’d get a phone call from EE so they can check the order before it can be accepted – whats the point of that?

The phone call was quick and a couple of days later I had my new sim. 4G speeds in Glasgow are excellent and I’ve had no issues at all with connectivity over the last month.

4G speeds at work
4G speeds at work

One issue I did have was the initial transfer of the mobile number. It took three days instead of one and I kept getting text messages welcoming me to EE, then T-Mobile then finally to EE. Hey ho, it all worked in the end.

The last niggle was how much data would I use? The first month saw me use 3.2GB out of 4GB. So not too bad, under my limit although that included a week off work which saw me using less data as I was at home more.

One unexpected positive was a sharp increase in battery life. I’d typically come home from work with around 10-30% battery life and I’d put that down to iOS 7 and my usage of apps during the day. However the shift to EE has seen battery life of 40-70% when I get home. I’m assuming that the iPhone is wasting a lot of battery hunting for data while I was with Three that it isn’t now doing with EE.

So far, so good. Great 4G speeds, a reliable data connection, app’s are snappy on 4G compared to 3G and I can even make phone calls too. Bonus. I really do wish I’d moved from Three months ago but stubbornly I expected the issues to be resolved. They weren’t. If you are with a mobile company and having issues then change providers. Life’s too short.

Todoist

I lasted 4 months. Omnifocus was too rich for my needs and Wunderlist not enough. I switched to Reminders as it synced between iOS and Mac and app’s like Fantastical displayed the todo’s alongside my calendar. It was working well apart from one thing – iCloud. Last weekend saw my Reminders yet again get out of sync. iPhone different to iPad and different to the Mac. So frustrating and coupled with some annoying usability issues it was time to look elsewhere again. After looking at the usual options I plumped for Todoist and one week later it’s working out well.

Todoist - Karma
Todoist – Karma
The most attractive feature of Todoist is that they have clients on every platform. Every doesn’t just mean iOS, Android and Mac. Web, Windows, Outlook – in total there are 13 different platforms and devices from where you can manage your to-do’s. Thankfully the sync works quickly and I’ve had no issues with entering, updating and closing off to-do’s across all platforms.

Unlike so many applications at work, Todoist works well on Windows so I can keep on top of things no matter where I am and what device I’m using. On all platforms Todoist provides a clean interface and a quick way of entering to-do’s. Date support is great and also understands plain english so entering a recurring task is as easy as writing ‘every 7 days starting next wed’. You can also write ‘due date after 6 months starting 15 March’ which means the to-do will recur not every 6 months from the March 15th but 6 months from when you completed the task that was scheduled on the 15th. A small detail but one I really like.

Karma is Todoist’s way of showing how productive you are being. A bit gimmicky but coupled with colours against projects it provides a nice overview of what you complete and when. Labels and filters across all platforms also allows you to implement a fairly comprehensive GTD workflow if you are that way inclined. Projects can be nested as well as tasks so you can break down a to-do into as fine a detail as you want.

Todoist on iOS
Todoist on iOS

I particularly like the iOS interface. Easy to add/edit a to-do with quick access to labels, priorities and reminders. Making a change to the date brings up some common options too – switch to tomorrow, next week or pick another date. Very nice and Android is much the same, just not as pretty.

While Todoist is free and allows you to sync across all clients there is a paid element which add’s Reminders, Notes and Labels & Filters for $29 a year. After a couple of days use I paid for the year to get the three features and it does take the flexibility of Todoist to another level. Reminders can be received via e-mail, SMS or push notifications and have worked flawlessly over the last few days. As mentioned, Labels and Filters allows you to build a sophisticated GTD workflow if you want to…or just add more relevant filtering. Again the filters are available across all platforms making it easy to stay on top of tasks. Multiple Notes can be stored against a to-do which is nice for tracking progress on a task and you can also attach files to the to-do.

One aspect I won’t use is collaboration with others on projects and to-do’s but overall I couldn’t be happier with Todoist. I’ve finally found a to-do manager that has flexibility coupled with speed without being overly complex.

2013 was a lost year for tech

As I read this from Christopher Mims I kept thinking that somehow he has lost out on an exclusive over the last 12 months. Or someone stole his toys. To say:

All in, 2013 was an embarrassment for the entire tech industry and the engine that powers it—Silicon Valley.

is just crazy talk. Read John Gruber’s or Om Malik’s response for a more balanced view of what the last 12 months has meant.

2013 was a lost year for tech journalism would be far more accurate.

Adverts

The last couple of weeks have seen some interesting adverts being released by three big tech companies.

Nokia – what were you thinking? So your tablet works for both work and home life and you think a mullet is an effective way of highlighting this? Reminds me of the weird ad’s that Sony used for the PS3. The only play seems to be let’s do something different to let people know we are still around. Worst tech advert of the year? No.

What the fuck? Buy a Galaxy Gear and you too can be a stalker? Were the actors paid to be deliberately wooden? I know Samsung spend a lot on adverts, but where is the quality control?

Finally, Apple.

Cheesy video but sets the right tone for Christmas. After watching these three ad’s which product would you rather own?

Note 3’s benchmarking “adjustments” inflate scores by up to 20%

I shouldn’t be surprised as they have form in this area but after reading that Ars Technica have found that Samsung are cheating on benchmarks it makes you wonder just how low they will go? I mean, would you trust a proposed industry standard benchmark created by Samsung? Yeah.

Samsung copies much of what Apple does, right down to the S4 being released in Gold, but in so many ways I’m glad they are polar opposite of everything that Apple does.

Sleazy.

Stop Start Nexus

The original Google Nexus 7 is now 12 months old and has been replaced by a new version that has upgraded much of the tablet – retina screen, faster CPU, more RAM and a camera. Considering it will be only £20 more than last years model that’s quite an upgrade for an affordable tablet. I’ve had my Nexus 7 for just over 9 months and while it’s been a good device the overall experience makes it hard to really recommend an Android tablet.

Performance
One of the big selling points of Android 4.2 was Project Butter. Finally Google had addressed underlying performance issues so that there would be no stutter, scrolling everywhere would be smooth and Android could finally be viewed as an equal to iOS from a performance perspective. 9 months on and I have to say that there is still a considerable performance difference between Android and iOS.

On the Nexus 7 the performance issues have been exaggerated by an overall slowdown over time. This has been well documented and I was seeing it too. I’d launch Chrome and it would sometimes take 20 seconds just to launch and show the 2 or 3 tabs I had open. I tried many of the cleaner tools that are in the Google Play store and while they had an impact for a week or two the system would eventually fall back to it’s usual slow self. Thankfully Android 4.3 has enabled trim support and this has certainly had an impact over the last week but there is still a noticeable lack of smoothness throughout Android as a whole and I’ve got no faith that the stuttering won’t get worse again over time.

Can Google keep the new Nexus 7 from the same fate? At the moment, it’s very fast. Powered by a hefty 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 Pro processor and 2GB of RAM, it flits around the OS with ease, and I rarely encountered stutters, jitters, or problems of any kind. (Except scrolling. Cool job Google.) – Google Nexus 7 2013 review

Even one of the most glowing reviews of the 2013 Nexus 7 acknowledges that it still has performance issues at a fundamental level. Well played Android.

When things go wrong
Android’s flexibility is fantastic, especially when compared to iOS. However when things go wrong it feels like you are dumped back a decade when trying to fix it. Just this week after applying Android 4.3 I hit a major issue – I couldn’t update any applications from the Google Play store. Worse, the error message was gibberish.

Google Play Error

I tried switching off and on but it made no difference. To the internets, where it was clear that lots of people suffered the same problem and were stumbling through various fixes to try and solve the problem. I first tried the following fix:

  • Open system settings
  • Go to Applications (or Apps) >> All
  • From all apps select Google Play Store >> Clear Cache and Uninstall updates
  • Again, from All>>Download Manager >> Clear Cache and Data
  • Finally, All >> Google Services Framework >> Clear Cache and Data
  • Now, rerun Google play store.

No dice. All applications would fail to update. So then it was onto the next fix all the while thinking that this felt like trying to fix an issue on Windows 95.

Things aren't going well if you are having to use this screen
Things aren’t going well if you are having to use this screen
  • Go to system settings>> Accounts>>Google>>remove your Gmail account
  • Now from settings>>Apps>>All> Force stop, Clear data and cache for Google Play Store, Google Service Framework and Download Manager (like in method 1)
  • Now again go to settings>> Accounts>>Google>>Add your gmail account
  • Restart your android and then accept all the Google terms and setup Google settings
  • Rerun Google Play Store and update or install your app.

That almost fixed the problem except I couldn’t update Google Maps as it failed with the same error. Sigh. I tried again this morning and still had the same problem. So I wiped all accounts from the Nexus, wiped data on the Google Play Store and Google Services Framework applications, rebooted the Nexus and then added my primary Google account. Finally I could update Google Maps. What a farce. This isn’t the first time I’ve had issues that forced me to clear caches from applications to get them back running properly again and it’s one of the reasons I don’t recommend Android tablets to friends and family as the support time is far higher than with iOS.

Ecosystem
Application availability, especially for tablets, is still stronger on iOS than it is on Android. 99% of the time app’s will release first for iOS and generally be the better version. This hasn’t really improved over the last 10 months. I’m sure for phones it’s different but I can only compare what I use which is iOS and Android tablets. The exclusives are to be found on iOS and there is still a richer ecosystem on iOS when compared to Android.

Should I buy a Nexus?
That depends on who you are and what you want to do. Want to customise your device, root it, make it your own and happy to mess around when things go wrong – the Nexus 7 is great and the new hardware looks superb for the price. For everyone else I’d recommend iOS without any hesitation. Superior experience, great performance and devices that in general just work. I still fire up the Nexus from time to time but I’m really back on the iPad even for reading despite the size and weight. Speed wins.

Farewell Google Reader

So tomorrow Google will shut down Google Reader. I’m sure for many this is a non event but for me it’s been an essential tool for years that I will really miss. However this isn’t the end for RSS feeds as has been reported. Instead there’s been a surge in new services and app’s taking advantage of Google leaving the market.

Farewell Google Reader
Farewell Google Reader

Before looking at alternatives the first thing to do is back up your subscriptions via Google Takeout. With that step complete you can then try out the many alternatives that have sprung up oner the last few months. Here’s my thoughts on the few I’ve tried over the last few weeks.

Feed Wrangler
Feed Wrangler takes a different approach than the many other Google Reader clones. Feed Wrangler is a website where you can import and view your feeds and the developer has also released app’s for iOS and also an API so that app’s like ReadKit and Mr Reader can be used to sync your feeds. Once your feeds have imported you will notice that there are is no folder or tag support. Your reach your articles by visiting Unread, All Feeds or Starred. I found this quite disorientating as I’m used to browsing the many feeds I subscribe to via folders/tags.

Feed Wrangler Smart Streams
Feed Wrangler Smart Streams

Feed Wrangler’s most powerful feature is Smart Streams and that did allow me to create a folder structure that I’m used to. Create a new Smart Stream and once it is named you can select from all feeds or a select few to display in a Stream. The trick with Streams is that a search term can also be applied, so you could have a stream based on all your feeds that pulls out posts on Glastonbury or E3. While only search terms are supported right now, it would be great to see date ranges or authors supported so you can pull out articles easily from the past – Olympics from August 2012 for example. It’s also easy to add a Stream that pulls out your essential reads – those feeds that you don’t want to miss but when you’ve had a busy few days and faced with 2000 articles to read you want to quickly read those important ones only. Smart Streams is great for that.

News article within Feed Wrangler
News article within Feed Wrangler

Feed Wranglers presentation of articles is nice and clean. The UI doesn’t get in the way and the articles are presented well. Speed on the web app is good enough and there is similar keyboard shortcuts for Google Reader refugee’s. The iOS app’s are fairly basic right now but do enough although I’ve been mainly using other clients with Feed Wrangler so I don’t think this is reason alone to move to Feed Wrangler. Pocket, Pinboard and Instapaper are also supported as Read Later services.

Feed Wrangler costs $19 a year bought from the website or as an in-app iOS purchase.

Feedbin
Feedbin provides an almost straightforward clone of Google Reader. It’s a paid service ($2 a month or $19 a year) and once your feeds have imported you will be immediately familiar with the web app and it’s layout.

Feedbin Layout
Feedbin Layout

It supports keyboard shortcuts so you can easily navigate through folders and feeds. You can view articles in a couple of different ways but out of all the new services I tried I found Feedbin’s rendering of articles the worst by quite a margin.

Feedbin Sharing

Sharing is very flexible as you can set up sharing to the service of your choice via URL’s. While this allows for great flexibility (and there’s a good list of URL’s on Github) in many cases it is no better than bookmarklets so it feels less integrated.

With Feedbin’s API in place app’s like Mr Reader and Readkit give you a far better reading experience than the web app but I found the overall performance of Feedbin slow compared to other services.

Feedly
Feedly has been around for a while and was always an alternative to Google Reader but only if you wanted to use Feedly’s website or mobile applications. It also chased the magazine market in presenting feeds in a far more visual manner like Flipboard than what users in Google Reader are used to. However with the demise of Google reader they stepped up their offerings, focussing on features that Google Reader users will really appreciate and also providing a sync service for other applications to rely on.

Article view in Feedly
Article view in Feedly

Getting your feeds into Feedly is really easy. Sign in with your Google credentials and feeds are sucked into Feedly as well as your Reader Favourites. Folders are respected so you will instantly feel at home in the web application. Keyboard shortcuts are mostly the same as in Reader but a few are different and annoyingly so.

In the web app there are a variety of views for your feeds and nicely they can be set differently for each folder. The views are Magazine, Cards (like Pinboard), Full and finally ‘Title Only View (Google Reader)’. Yes, thats what it’s called just in case you are in any doubt on the inspiration for that view. Presentation of articles is nice and clean and there is some minor customisation options allowing you to change link colours and overall theme colour.

Feedly does show adverts on it’s home page called Today but I’ve found the display of content on that page hit and miss however you can change your default page so you never need to see Today.

Feedly’s maturity as a service is best seen when it comes to adding and managing feeds as it’s all done via drag and drop and works really well – far better than any of the other new services.

Feedly iOS

The Feedly app’s on iOS are OK. They work well enough but I just don’t like the styling of the app’s. They’ve went their own route when it comes to displaying of feeds within a folder and it just feels wrong. The overall app isn’t smooth either. However with the addition of Feedly API there are now many alternatives for viewing Feedly on iOS or Android including Press, Reeder and Mr Reader.

The advantage Feedly has is size and hence scope. It supports almost all of the large sharing services, has great flexibility via IFTTT support and has developed tremendously over the last three or four months. It’s a free service and for many has become the easy alternative to Google reader.

Newsblur
Newsblur like Feed Wrangler is trying to offer more than a traditional RSS reader normally would. It’s been around for over two years now and while initial versions were slow and the design wasn’t the best, the developer of the service has really stepped on the accelerator over the last few months to support the influx of users from Google Reader.

Newsblur Web App
Newsblur Web App

Importing from Google was easy and it supports folders so already familiar to Google Reader users. Keyboard shortcuts feel familiar and the web app has lots of shortcuts to mark content as read and also easily see how many articles are unread etc. Newsblur really offers a lot more than other RSS readers. On importing from Google Reader feeds that are no longer available or cannot be reached currently are marked with a yellow exclamation mark, with Newsblur offering options for dealing with the problem.

Newsblur presents options to fix unreachable feeds
Newsblur presents options to fix unreachable feeds

I found articles were presented really well in Newsblur and also it works really quickly. Content is prefetched so I found articles were displayed quickly and accurately when moving through my feed list.

Article edits can be displayed in Newsblur
Article edits can be displayed in Newsblur

One feature not seen elsewhere is that article edits can be displayed to allow you to see how a site edits articles over time. Techcrunch has an amazing amount of edits for example – getting content out first still seems to count the most for some of these sites. Against each feed Newsblur can show a number of stats – tag counts, post frequency, subscribers etc. Not entirely necessary but nice to see.

Feed stats
Feed stats

You can also configure how each feed should be presented, so you could view a site in it’s original view if it’s been nicely designed and for those that are less visually appealing you can view just the story only in a simple text view. You can tweak fonts and font sizes and also configure Newsblur to open sites in new tabs. There’s also great support for sharing services with all the favourites nicely integrated and Newsblur also has it’s own social sharing service – Blurblogs.

Signing up to Newsblur will give you a site on the web that you can share stories to. People can comment on your shared stories and share on from that site. You can also follow other Newsblur users and follow their shares and you can see all your own activity in an activity list in Newsblur.

Train feeds to focus on only certain content
Train feeds to focus on only certain content

Newsblur differentiates from other services again by offering Intelligence Training. This feature allows you to select an author, tag or word from an article or feed and give it a thumbs up or down. Once this is done any article that matches a thumbs down will be hidden from view. You can still toggle the feed to view the hidden content but it’s another great way of weeding out good content from bad, especially for noisy sites like Techcrunch, Engadget or The Verge.

Newsblur subscribers can make use of iPhone and iPad apps which support all the features of the web app. There’s also an Android app too. The only feature I missed was offline syncing but that is coming in a future release. About the only other feature I can see that is missing is search but it took Google Reader a while to add that so that’s something I can pass on.

One final point is that Readkit on the Mac now supports syncing with Newsblur. Currently it doesn’t support training or much of the focus mode features but that is promised in future updates.

Newsblur is free for up to 64 feeds and is $24 for a year for unlimited feeds. I think it’s a great service and well worth consideration.

Digg Reader
Digg Reader is probably the newest RSS service and in many ways it shows. Launched just a few days ago you pull in your Google Reader feeds by logging in with your Google credentials. It took a while to import and display properly but I’m putting that down to the service being hammered as Digg is still a big name and there’s not long now until Google shutter Reader.

Digg

Digg supports folders and so the presentation is very similar to Google Reader. Although articles are displayed cleanly I found it difficult to see what was new, what was unread etc. The site though was fast and considering it’s only been three months since the Google announcement it’s impressive to see what has been built.

Sharing options are limited though which is not a great surprise as Digg will want to build out their Reader around Digg and Instapaper which they now own.

Digg’s iOS app’s are fast and present articles cleanly. However there are no Android options at the moment and no third party support. If you like the Digg app’s you are in luck but if not there are really no options at the moment.

Digg Reader is free and although it’s early days I can’t really recommend it.

Wither Reeder

Readkit on the Mac
Readkit on the Mac
One surprise of the impending closure of Google Reader is how it’s affected the applications I use day to day. I never used the Google Reader website instead doing all my feed reading through Reeder for iOS and Mac and Press on Android. Press has been updated with Feedly support but surprisingly Reeder is falling behind the competition. iPad and Mac versions will be withdrawn from sale tomorrow while the iPhone version has went free with added sync support for Feed Wrangler, Feedbin, Feedly and Fever. The developer has decided to focus on new versions rather than update old app’s. While understandably the Google Reader change and subsequent lack of one standard replacement causes extra work it’s left a rather large gap in my feed reading process. Step in Readkit. This Mac only app was previously good for catching up on Instapaper and Pocket articles but version 2 brought in RSS support for Newsblur and Feedly with an update just a few days ago to include Feed Wrangler and Feedbin.

This has replace Reeder on the Mac and while it doesn’t have all of Reeder’s features and isn’t as fast as Reeder when syncing, it’s a far better experience than using the web apps of most of the services mentioned above. It’s only £2.99 from the App Store which really is a bargain.

On iOS I’m now using Mr Reader and Newsblur’s own app.

Conclusion
So which service replaces Google Reader? For most Feedly is the strongest option and it’s free so it’s a no brainer to move to that service. For me I much prefer Newsblur so that will be my RSS service of choice although I will keep an eye on Feed Wrangler as improvements to Smart Streams could be really big.

While it’s disappointing to see a service I use daily being shutdown it’s great to see some true innovation now that firms are competing on a more level playing field. Farewell Google Reader.