Essays on Technology and Culture

Switching to NewsBlur

Not long after the fiasco of the Google Reader shutdown announcement, I signed up for a premium account with Newsblur, and promptly went back to Reeder and Mr. Reader with their Google Reader sync. This was purely because of Newsblur’s growing pains from the waves of Google Reader exiles crossing the border. Now that the worst is over, and Newsblur is up and running at almost full-steam, I feel like I can give it a proper chance, and I like a lot of what I’ve seen so far.

In my brief time with the service, it’s very clear that Newsblur is not Google Reader. This is good, and this is bad, but it’s mostly neutral. Different services are different, and Newsblur doesn’t have the same UI, shortcuts, or third-party app “support” as Reader does. Did. It is, however, an easy jump from Google Reader to Newsblur. You don’t even need to use Google Takeout to get your subscriptions. Newsblur uses some API magic to pull not only your feeds, but even starred items. [1] This feature almost certainly won’t work after July 1st, so if NewsBlur is something you’re considering making the jump to, get on it quick.

The web app is a little homely, especially coming from apps like Reeder for Mac, or even the Google Reader web interface. Still, it works well enough, and has some intuitive keyboard shortcuts. There’s also a great feed checker tool built in to the app, and I was able to correct, or delete, broken feeds with only a couple of clicks. Feed management is a little less seamless—I expected to be able to drag and drop to move feeds around, but organizing everything is done it contextual menus, and you can’t create a folder from the move feeds menu. Small issues, both. The site itself is fast, though the user onslaught has forced Samuel to reduce the amount of times per day the service actually fetches new articles. I haven’t noticed this to be a problem, but if you want up-to-the-minute information, it’s something to be aware of.

The worst part is the iOS app. It’s perfectly serviceable, but in the age of Reeder, Mr. Reeder, and other gorgeous, easy-to-use RSS apps for iOS, NewsBlur’s feels like a step back to 2009. It works, but it’s neither as fun, or as pretty as the Google Reader based apps. NewsBlur does, however, have an API, and I hope that the developers of my preferred RSS apps will add support for NewsBlur soon. For now, I will make do. Any native app is better than none. Speaking of which, there’s also a helper app for the Mac to allow Safari to open RSS feeds directly in the NewsBlur web app, though with RSS settings removed in Safari 6, setting it up is a minor pain. [2]

The two best things about NewsBlur, however, are that it’s an independent, paid service, and actively developed. These fill me with the confidence that NewsBlur is not going to go away, and that I can use the site without having to surrender anything more than $24 a year. Truth is, if I didn’t have to leave Google Reader, I wouldn’t, but my forced exile from Google’s garden has ended up with me in a comfortable place with a benevolent caretaker. If you’re still looking for a place to go, give it a try.

  1. Which means, for me, that the two articles I starred in 2009 transferred over. A pleasant surprise.  ↩

  2. I had to download and install a 3rd party preference pane that allowed me to set the URL handler app to the Newsblur helper application. The hardest part was learning that the preference pane existed.  ↩