A reader of my blog asked me to update my thoughts on what I'd like to see in a news reader today. I've taken several days of thinking about the topic and reflecting on my current reading habits (and desires) to put this least of desired features and capabilities together. Feel free to write your own thoughts or comment on what you would see as being valuable. Below the list, I think some more about the nature of blogging now vs. the mid-2000's.
- First requirement: It has to work and work consistently. We've been spoiled in the modern era with mobile apps that seem to just work, and I want that of everything else I use on my devices.
- Navigation. Easy navigation within the application. Google Reader and Feedly use a similar set of keyboard shortcuts on computers. My fingers have gotten very comfortable with these keystrokes, and several of them match the GMail keystrokes as well. (Mobile navigation has a different set of conventions, but it should be easy there too.)
- Offline capability. Make it easy to read both online and offline. (Yes, people are still disconnected from time to time. It would be nice to have EASY ways to dip into my backlog.)
- Save for later. Develop an easy way to mark articles for later reading that archives the article and related media (graphics, videos, etc). Maybe a connection to Instapaper or Evernote that I could sync with mobile devices?
- Blogging and sharing. Make it easy to take the current post and write about it on my blog or one of the social media platforms. Along with the link to the piece, I often need to grab a quote to stick into my comments, if the platform accommodate such a thing.
- Importance of post. I think this is difficult due to the nature of blog posts and the way people read them. The idea is to give some clue as to how much other people have said about a given blog post. How many comments? How many other bloggers have written about it? How many times has it been mentioned and discussed on Twitter / Google+ / Facebook / etc. etc? Provide links to the mentions.
- Threading. An extension of the above: Beyond giving me links to individual mentions, display the thread of conversation associated with a given blog post. Show me a set of references to / from this blog post in some kind of threading structure. Show me how this particular article fits into the conversation that spawns across blogs, articles, and social media. I've talked about this before in the context of blogs that reference one another. I assume this becomes much harder now that social media carry a lot of the referral traffic. And places like Google+ make it far easier to have a conversation than most blog comment sections.
- Cross platform (maybe). Feedly is nice in that it uses the same subscriptions to make blogs available on any browser and on mobile apps.
- Basics. There are a lot of basics that don't rate much of a mention: easy (un)subscribe; import / export; sorting / categorizing; read individual blogs or categories of blogs; river-of-news or reading-pane style; ...
I have gone through many news readers (aggregators) over my years of reading blogs (since ~2002). This has been greatly facilitated by the news readers making it easy to import and export my feed lists. (I recall not bothering with readers that didn't allow me to export my reading list.) But in the last few years, my behavior around blog reading has changed. For one, I am fairly happy with Feedly, which sits on top of my Google Reader subscriptions. Google Reader also allows other reader apps to use the subscription data and maintain the same status and organization across all the readers. This is nice because I can read on Google Reader or in Feedly or Flipboard or any other interface that can consume the same sources. Feedly sits in the browser on Windows or MacOS, and I can use it on my smartphone (iOS and Android), so long as I am connected to the 'net.
Another reason that my blog reading habits have changed is that people are not blogging nearly as much as they used to do. (Me too for that matter.) There doesn't seem to be as much interaction across blogs, which used to be part of the fun for me in my reading and writing. People are writing in many more places and in different forms. The news reader format isn't the appropriate way to deal with these. Specifically, I think of blog posts as being longer and more reflective than Twitter, and as such I give them more prominence and time, even if I am just scanning. (Interestingly, many of the social services publish as RSS - it's just that today's aggregators aren't the right way to consume.) We are using Twitter for short notes and quick reading. People are playing with Pinterest and finding friends with Facebook. A few bloggers have shifted a lot of their long-form writing to Google+. People are also using various social tools as replacements for their aggregators. If it shows up on Twitter, and I notice it, then it might just be worthwhile for me to investigate. Attention is divided, and news readers can't (or haven't) keep up with all of the options.
I have written on the topic before, but it has been several years. I wrote up an extensive list of features back in 2005, Ideal feed reader features. And there was Waiting for Aggie in 2004 and Smartening the Aggregator in 2006. And in the end of 2006, I had a discussion of information overload as connected to news readers, Feed overload and your tools.