Earlier this year, we listed several services and apps that'll potentially replace Google Reader. Now that the Reader shut down is imminent, we are taking a second look at some of these services (and a few new ones) to see which companies have scaled up enough to become a true Google Reader replacement. In this first post in our series, we will look at a new entrant in the world of RSS readers, Digg.
Initial Setup and Impressions
Digg Reader is designed to be a no-frills replacement for Google Reader. Like Google Reader, it's web-based and has a straight-forward UI with a left-side navigation column for your feeds and a center column for content. Digg Reader includes both an iPhone and iPad app for mobile syncing. The layout and font choice are pleasing in the web version, but there are only two views -- a list view and an expanded view that shows the article and its images. The columns fill the browser window and are not adjustable. It's a clean UI with easy access to a very helpful FAQ, settings for the Reader service and settings for each RSS Feed.
Setup was quick and painless. You can import your Google Reader feeds automatically by signing into your Google Reader account using Digg Reader. Digg also imports 1,000 items per tag and puts 1,000 of your most recently starred items into the Saved folder. A manual option allows you to add RSS feeds one at a time using a URL or the name of the site. You can also browse 25 categories of RSS feeds from publishers that are recommended by Digg's editors. Digg does not import OPML files, so you will have to use Google Reader or the manual option to add RSS feeds. OPML export is also not available, but on the roadmap for future features.
Digg Reader supports folders and lets you both create new ones and delete existing ones, even those that were imported from Google Reader. Just a note that when you delete a folder, you delete the folder and all the subscriptions within them. You can organize feeds by dragging them and dropping them into a folder. Performance was smooth and responsive across the board.
Here's a rundown of the major features of your average RSS reader and information on which ones are supported by Digg Reader.
Google Reader Import: Yes, automatic by logging into Reader using your Google account. Does not support OPML import or export, yet.
Folder Support: Yes, imported from Google and create your own.
Authenticated RSS feeds: No.
Keyboard shortcuts: Yes.
Tags: Digg imports 1,000 items per tag. You can't add your own tags within Digg Reader, yet. Slated for a future release.
Resizable elements like fonts, columns: Not on the desktop, but mobile does have three text sizes and different display modes that change based on your environment.
Mark all read/unread: You can mark all items in an RSS feed and all items in a folder as read. There is no mark unread option yet.
Search/Sort: No search or sorting available yet. There is a "Popular" link that compiles the most popular unread items in your feeds, however.
Star/Favorite: Yes, you can mark items and set them aside. The "Save" feature has the option to be private or public. It's an all or none option right now, so you share all your saved items or you share none. It's not applied to individual articles.
Read Later: Supports Pocket, Readability and Instapaper on the the web. Instapaper, Pocket and Bit.ly on mobile.
Social networks: You can share articles on Facebook and Twitter.
API/Third-Party: Future integration with Integration with additional third party services (like Buffer, Evernote, and IFTTT).
Other features: Ability to Digg an item. Paperboy feature on mobile that downloads recent articles when you leave a location.
Pricing: This version is available for free, with plans to offer a premium version with advanced features in the coming months. Premium pricing not yet revealed.
Besides its web app, Digg also updated its mobile apps with support for Digg Reader. The mobile app has a clean, easy-to-use UI that mirrors the web version. On the iPhone, the two-column layout is collapsible with the content area being able to slide out of the way. It is available in portrait-view only. The larger screen of the iPad lends itself well to reading so you get a mixture of the iPhone and web version. You get the two-column layout similar to the web app when you are browsing through all your feeds and a single column view when you are viewing all the articles in a feed. The iPad version also allows you to browse in portrait or landscape.
The mobile version has a built-in feature that lets you tap on an article title and switch between a text-only view and full web view with images. It's convenient to be able to get rid of the fluff and show only the text, especially on the iPhone which has limited space for reading. Social networking support is present in the mobile app with the ability to share an article via iMessage, email, Twitter and Facebook.
Syncing was immediate with changes reflected in the web app as soon as I closed out the mobile app and opened up my Mac. The same can be said about going from a Mac to mobile. Marked items, saved items and more were updated almost immediately.
Digg repeatedly said this is a beta version, so don't expect to have your cake and eat it too at this point. The company wanted to "build a simple, clean, fast, uncluttered reading experience," which it did and did well. The tradeoff is that Digg Reader is missing a few key features like search and the option to mark an item as unread. That's ok in my book as I would rather have the stable, responsive infrastructure that I saw in Digg Reader, than a feature-rich package that is slow and buggy. One other drawback that affects switchers is the lack of OPML import, so try to import your feeds before Google Reader goes offline.
If you use Digg or want a nimble, lightweight RSS Reader with mobile support, then I would definitely take a look at Digg. If these missing features are a deal breaker, then look elsewhere for now, but keep Digg in the back of your mind. The developers behind Digg Reader have a proven track record with News.me and will likely improve the platform quickly.