News

Digg Killing Off Digg Reader, I Go Back to NewsBlur

Well, I DID have plans to write a DIFFERENT article this week but APPARENTLY they have been PRE-EMPTED. As you might be able to tell by the OCCASIONAL CAPS I am just a LITTLE BIT STEAMED.

I got home, went through Nuzzel, and refreshed Digg Reader to catch it up as I’d been gone all day. And this little bit popped up:

screenshot from 2018 03 14 19 06 40

So almost five years to the day after Google Reader announced its shut down, Digg Reader is shutting down.

I’m really upset. I know on the scale of human problems this barely moves the needle, but for keeping up, I need an RSS feed reader. And I need a cloud-based reader; I follow so many RSS feeds that desktop RSS feed readers tend to crash.

Happily in this case I knew immediately where I was going to be transferring my RSS feeds. So in this article I’ll walk through exporting my RSS feeds from Digg Reader and importing them into my new choice for RSS feeds — NewsBlur, at newsblur.com.

Oh NewsBlur, I Betrayed You. Please Forgive Me.

When Google Reader first went belly-up, I split my time between trying Digg Reader and another RSS reader I quite liked called NewsBlur. But apparently at the time NewsBlur could not handle the ridiculous number of RSS feeds I had, and I ended up sticking with Digg Reader. For 2013-2016, though, I kept paying for a NewsBlur account, because I liked it and I wanted to support it. Now I’m back and paying up again. NewsBlur appears to have one developer, it’s open source, it’s been adding features and growing for years, and it’s a good product. This is the kind of Internet I want to support. And I should have tried to stick with it in the first place. Sorry, NewsBlur.

That doesn’t mean that this switchover won’t have its difficulties. First of all I’ve got to export my RSS feeds from Digg. Second, NewsBlur does not appear to be as integrated with Pocket as Digg Reader was, so I’ll have to address that.  Finally, I’ll have to import my feeds to NewsBlur and do that first big sweep.

First things first: let’s get my RSS feeds out.

Exporting from Digg

When you export RSS feeds, you’re not taking them out one at a time. Instead you’re using a file format called OPML (Outline Processor Markup Language) which exports feeds in one big collection.

To export feeds from Digg Reader, you open the settings page at https://digg.com/settings and head down to the bottom of the page, where Digg makes it real clear that you need to get your feeds out:

screenshot from 2018 03 14 21 09 19

Once you click the Download button you’ll get a file called digg_reader_subscriptions.xml . How large the file is depends on how many feeds you have; mine was about 500K. Once you’ve got that, you can head over to NewsBlur.

Importing to NewsBlur

NewsBlur’s home page, once you’ve logged in, has an Import Sites link. I clicked on that and discovered I still had some sites saved since I was last using NewsBlur regularly.

screenshot from 2018 03 14 21 13 19

I clicked Upload OPML File and uploaded the OPML export file I’d gotten from Digg, after which this screen looked slightly different. See if you can spot it.

screenshot from 2018 03 14 21 14 12

Now you know why desktop-based RSS feed readers don’t work that well for me.

As you’ll note in the screenshot above that it’s going to take NewsBlur a little while to digest the ridiculous number of RSS feeds I subscribe to. While it’s getting on with that, I’ll proceed with step 2 of my RSS feed reader switchover: making sure that saved stories go to Pocket.

Making NewsBlur Pocket-Ready With IFTTT

I poked around in NewsBlur for a while and couldn’t find a way to easily save stories to Pocket, a read-later service. I have to have Pocket functionality; if I can’t save stories for later it messes up my work flow. My solution to this is to connect NewsBlur to IFTTT ( https://ifttt.com/ ) and use that to save interesting stories to Pocket.

IFTTT, which stands for “If This, Then That,” is a service which allows you to take data from one service and have it trigger an action with another service – for example, to take a picture you’re posting on Instagram and also post it on Twitter. (You can get an idea of how to use IFTTT from an article I wrote last year.) In this case I’m going to connect NewsBlur and Pocket so when I save an item in NewsBlur, it automatically saves to my Pocket account.

IFTTT makes this really easy. I already have Pocket connected to IFTTT, and IFTTT already has a “recipe” for doing this so I don’t have to make one.

screenshot from 2018 03 14 21 59 28

All I had to do was click the Turn on switch. I had not yet given IFTTT permission to access NewsBlur, but that was simple:

screenshot from 2018 03 14 21 59 14

… and now I have Pocket functionality. Whenever I save an item when reading NewsBlur, I’ll be able to find it later in Pocket. More about that a little later when we’re looking at NewsBlur.

Oh heck. Let’s just look at NewsBlur now.

Getting Used to a New Interface

In the time it took to get IFTTT and Pocket hooked together with NewsBlur, NewsBlur was able to finish digesting my big list of RSS feeds, so let’s take a look at the Import Sites section again to see if it’s been able to import all my feeds yet.

screenshot from 2018 03 14 22 14 40

Yup, looks like NewsBlur has imported all my feeds, no problem. But things in NewsBlur look a bit different from the way they looked in Digg Reader.

If you’ve ever used an RSS feed reader, either Web-based or on a desktop/laptop, you’ll remember that it looks a lot like an old email reader — a list of sources on one side, and content on the other side. In that Digg Reader and NewsBlur are a lot alike. It’s the features they offer beyond that that are a bit different.

Here’s what my NewsBlur setup looks like:

screenshot from 2018 03 14 22 26 01

That screenshot mixes up feeds with new content and feeds without new content; there is a switch at the very bottom of the screen to show feeds with content only, but I’m leaving that turned off for now because a) NewsBlur isn’t done fetching new feed content and how can you blame it and b) I’ll need to go through all my feeds and remove/alter the ones NewsBlur marks as problematic (it does this with a giant, unmissable orange exclamation point.)

Now that I’ve got the RSS feeds in, let’s take a look at an individual entry from an RSS feed.

screenshot from 2018 03 15 06 03 21

The title and the body of the feed entry aren’t that surprising (how much is in the body depends on the RSS feed). Your tools for managing a particular entry are on the right. You can email a story, train a story, save a story (this normally saves it to NewsBlur, but since I’m using IFTTT, will save an item both to NewsBlur and Pocket) and/or share a story to Facebook or Twitter.

All of those are fairly self-explanatory except for the “Train Story” option. NewsBlur addresses this in its FAQ; when you’re training a story that means you’re telling NewsBlur what you like and don’t like about it, so that NewsBlur can be more intelligent about the stories it offers you. Unfortunately my interests are broad enough that I don’t think this will work for me and I probably won’t be using it much. NewsBlur notes that you don’t have to train stories to find it useful.

Really, there’s a lot in NewsBlur that I haven’t gone into here: the sharing community, the followers, the stats, the site organization. That’s because the focus on this article is getting out of Digg Reader before its death and getting your RSS feeds into something else. (I can do a deeper dive later if there’s interest.) But the fact is that it’s an extensive reader and offers a lot for power users.

… but if you don’t pay for it you’re going to find it limited. The free version of NewsBlur is restricted in a number of ways, including RSS feeds limited to 64, you can’t tag saved stories, you can’t share content privately, search is extremely curtailed, and you’re not helping feed the developer’s dog. The premium version of the site is $36 a year, and I’m happy to support him.

RSS Isn’t Flashy, But It’s Reliable

Periodically, I’ll read a take that RSS feeds are done, nobody uses them, all RSS readers are going to die, etc. Then I read that WordPress powers 30% of the Web (not 30% of all sites using CMS, 30% of the Web.) And guess what? WordPress offers RSS feeds by default. That means that there’s a huge number of feeds out there whether a site wrangler is deliberately adding them or not.

If you’re trying to do any amount of site or information monitoring on the Internet, RSS feeds are critical, and therefore so are RSS feed readers. I’m not happy about my solution for the last five years, Digg Reader, going away. But I think NewsBlur will make a fine replacement — as long as my huge number of RSS feeds doesn’t make it too creaky to use.

13 replies »

  1. It looks like you’ve already made your choice, but I would also highly recommend Inoreader, which has 3 paid levels, search, filters, rules, highlighted terms, and can handle social media feeds.

  2. Lol! I’ve been beaten. I ran into the same thing and found Inoreader which works beautifully with Pocket, if you have the app installed, and also has some sweet IFTT and Zapier scripts.

    I’ve been dependent upon feeds for ideas and content curation for almost two decades. Losing Google Feed Reader was devastating, and Feedly became too expensive. Inoreader puts the heart back in the process. I’ve played with Newsblur on and off, but it doesn’t seem to grow with my needs, though it is much improved.

    What really hurts is the growing number of poorly designed websites that ignores or purposely remove default feed links and processes, unable to be tracked with feeds, thus lose coverage and attention. Thanks for spreading the word on how critical feeds are to all of us and the web in general.

    I recommend you encourage your fans and community to check their own sites to see if feeds are enabled. Thanks.

  3. Check BazQux Reader (https://bazqux.com). It has Pocket integration (and could work with IFTTT too if you use feed for starred/tagged articles), very clean UI, easily handles lots of feeds and updates them quickly (it’s paid reader and it doesn’t need to fetch millions of feeds of free users), has filters, various view modes (and can mix them), support Twitter/FB/Instagram/G+ feeds, fetching full article text and many more.

    • Thank you! I am always happy to learn about new (new to me, anyway) resources in the RSS space. I must say, however, that the fact that the BazQux blog has not been updated in over two years might make me a little hesitant.

      • Don’t worry. I’m developer and can assure you that I’m working very hard on it and planning to release a lot of new features this year 😉

      • Sure. You could subscribe to blog.bazqux.com to not miss the announcements. And you could check reader now. It has 30 days free trial (and a little secret — you could delete your account and start new free trial again anytime)

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