What should the next RSS reader look like?
The savviest response so far to the news that Google will shut down Google Reader on July 1 comes from Digg. "We’ve been planning to build a reader in the second half of 2013, one that, like Digg, makes the Internet a more approachable and digestible place," the revived reading platform's people said in a blog post today. "After Google’s announcement, we’re moving the project to the top of our priority list."
Digg called for ideas on what a next-generation RSS reader should look like. The overwhelming majority of commenters said they just wanted Digg to copy Google Reader and call it a day, reinforcing that famous Henry Ford quote about the wisdom of the consumer: “If I had asked people what they wanted," Ford said, "they would have said faster horses.”
Save for later: Readers have become accustomed to using services like Readability, Pocket, and Instapaper to save stories for reading later, particularly when offline. They'd like to ability to do so directly from their RSS reader.
A full suite of sharing options: One of the things that people love about Android over iOS is that it natively allows sharing of any Web content to not just Facebook and Twitter, but also a range of other services, such as LinkedIn, Messenger, Flipboard, Gmail, Yammer, Reddit, Skype, and Evernote. Lots of commenters want the same in their RSS reader.
The ability to block certain authors: One reader asked that he be allowed to filter out content from a site's firehouse feed by author. So, for instance, if someone wanted to keep track with every story on PandoDaily except articles written by that wretched Hamish McKenzie, they could merely choose to block anything he had written from ever appearing in the feed.
Likes, comments, and recommendations: No surprise, many commenters wanted to see a return of the basic social features that made Google Reader into a cult social network. Some people love the ability to comment on a story shared from someone else's feed, "Like" it, or re-share it for people in their network. Digg has an opportunity to bring that back.
Ifttt.com integration: For the unacquainted, the anagram refers to the command "if this, then that," which allows people to set up rules for automating actions related to Web content. For instance, you might want to set up a system in which you get an SMS alert when your PandoDaily subscription hits 10 unread items in your RSS reader.
Recommendations by machine learning: Kind of like Twitter's "Discover" tab, the new Reader could make smart suggestions based on a reader's interests and social graph. However, unlike that Discover tab, it could also improve its recommendations by learning from what you have shown interest in in the past and by analyzing what people like you are reading, along the lines of what Futureful and Thirst are doing.
Play podcasts within the reader: That would be nice, wouldn't it?
Export options: One commenter said he'd like the ability to export a group of tagged items and to be able to email them in a variety of formats, such as plain text, PDF, or in a spreadsheet. This feature would be particularly useful for people who want to send out bundles of content sorted by subject or time to other people.
Natural language processing: The Reader, suggested one commenter, could analyze your feeds and automatically sort stories into themed groups based on the posts that you save for later.
Tablet-friendly UI: This is my suggestion. I would do most of my feed-reading on tablet if the interface were up to scratch. At the moment, Google Reader's line-by-line format works great for mouse-clicks, but not so well for finger taps. I would like to see a responsive design whereby the browser resizes for tablets and lays out the article snippets (headlines and extracts) in a grid-like form with lots of little squares rather than lines. That would allow me to scan headlines quickly and tap to expand the stories that most interest me.
When building a service that is heavily inspired by a much-loved product – especially one built by Google – one has to be careful not to pack it with too many features. The best approach in this case would be to follow the advice of most of the commenters on that Digg post: keep it simple. But it is certainly true that Google Reader is a product that was built wholly for the desktop era. It deserves to be re-built, even if by a competitor. Digg has been on a roll as it stages its recovery, and this Reader project at first seems to be a great opportunity. Google might just have presented it with another shot at relevance.