Replace Google Reader with NewsBlur — I Did!

For a long time, Google Reader served as the hub of my online life. It’s how I kept up with a certain segment of friends from college, a number of colleagues, and the news more generally. Then, in late 2011, Google announced it would be “updating” Reader, and getting rid of all of the social / sharing features. I was pretty upset, and began looking for a replacement, when one of my friends pointed me to NewsBlur. Long story short, I’ve been hooked ever since.

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Now that Google Reader will be “powered down” as of July 2013, a whole new wave of web denizens are left to look for a replacement. Here are just a few of reasons why I love, and hope you’ll consider, using NewsBlur.

A (local!) labor of love

NewsBlur isn’t owned by a large company, or a conglomerate looking to use your personal data for their financial gain. It’s developed by a single person: Samuel Clay, who lives in Cole Valley, just a short walk from UCSF’s campus. After Google gutted Reader’s social components, he gave up his job to work full-time on making NewsBlur the RSS reader of his own dreams. Despite running a one-man show, he does a fantastic job of handling user requests and bug reports. Case in point: when the recent and unexpectedly ginormous wave of Reader evacuees exceeded NewsBlur’s capacity for a couple of days, he worked overtime to get the service back to stability, and to update the site’s structure to prevent it from happening in the future.

Import directly from Google Reader

If you’re moving directly from Reader, you can import your feeds directly into NewsBlur. No need to re-curate. Easy as pie. The (small) catch? If you have more than 64 feeds, you’ll need to purchase a premium account, at $24 / year. Speaking of which …

Sustainable business model

Back when NewsBlur was still pretty new, Sam was considering moving away from the then-new yearly premium model, and instead offering lifetime subscriptions, as the best way to get NewsBlur off the ground as a self-sustaining business at a fair price to the users. Fortunately, Sam’s user base at the time helped him realize that the lifetime subscription model would be disastrous for everyone. As a result, NewsBlur has a free account that is good, but somewhat limited, and a premium account which provides full access to the service for a relatively inexpensive yearly fee. In short: NewsBlur is financially solvent, and not dependent upon the charity of its creator to keep it around.

Feed organization and reading

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If you follow as many feeds as I do, you’ll probably want to group similar sites together to make the list easier to navigate. NewsBlur makes it easy to organize feeds into folders, and you can see at a glance how many new stories are available in each folder or in an individual feed. You can then choose to read stories just from one feed, from a particular folder, or all stories from all feeds at once. If you are on the bus and don’t have the time to finish a story, you can save it for later review, and if you’re looking for new content, you can view stories shared by the people you follow, or all stories shared by NewsBlurians.

Cross-platform availability

If you want your RSS reader to be available to you anytime and anywhere, NewsBlur is a great choice. Its iOS and Android apps are free, well-supported, and mirror the interface of the web-based client both in interface and in function. The status of your feeds and posts are automatically synchronized across devices, so you can move seamlessly from iPad to laptop to Android phone without losing your place.

Privacy and sharing

NewsBlur's privacy settings

If you want your RSS reader to serve as a walled garden, NewsBlur is a good choice. You can set up a free account and simply forgo sharing, or pay for a premium account and use the Privacy options to choose who gets to see your shared items.

If you want to keep your reading activity private not only from other people you know, but from companies who stand to gain from selling you advertising, you can host your own version of NewsBlur — it’s free (as in no cost, and also as in open-source) and available for download on GitHub. You’ll be in complete charge of your stories, your data, your shared items. (The downside is your personal installation will likely be a good deal slower than the centralized servers.)

If you want to share your stories with others, however, and have others share their stories with you, NewsBlur is the best choice on the market. Whether you know them in person or only on the internet, whether they are talking about why my grits are terrible, when Janelle Monae’s new album is coming out, how urban cycling is like the internet, or the potential for solar panels to destroy the utility business model as we know it, NewsBlurians will provide you with direct and easy access to hundreds of the most entertaining, thoughtful, informative stories available online.

I’m not a shill. No, really.

In the interest of full disclosure: I’m not getting kickbacks or free service for trumpeting Sam’s product. So why am I being so persistent on Twitter and elsewhere about getting people to join? What I want is more connections and conversations based not on geography or career field, but around shared ideas. Selfishly, I want a bigger community, with more people sharing and getting into conversations around stories I wouldn’t know about otherwise. UCSF is full of smart, creative, fun, interesting people that would bring a lot to, and I think get a lot from, the NewsBlur community.

Give it a try!

I could write about NewsBlur for another 1000 words … but hopefully by now I’ve provided you with at least one reason to give it a try. Just go to the NewsBlur homepage, check out the interface by clicking “Try out NewsBlur,” or sign up for your own account — free or premium — by clicking “Sign up or Log in.”

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Have you tried NewsBlur? Did you like it, or find it lacking? Want to share a link to your Blurblog (i.e. your curated list of shared stories — mine is here)? Leave a note in the comments!

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