March 04, 2008

Shyftr Offers Social RSS Reading, Including Comments, Rankings

In the world of online RSS feed readers, there are the most popular options, like Google Reader, BlogLines and NewsGator, and just below the radar, there lies a group of new entrants to the market, who are looking to change the game through more interactive features - using innovation to potentially gain ground on the big brand names. One interesting entrant is Shyftr, which combines the ease of an online feed reader with the ability to find friends, make shared comments on feed items, and see which are the most popular feeds.

Most popular feeds, and how many have them "Shyfted".

In early beta now, Shyftr has only a few dozen users, and isn't yet overloaded with tech heads, showing a good mix of sports fans, offbeat news and a smattering of gadget lust. What it lacks so far in a thriving user community, it makes up for in potential, echoing some of the pleas I made almost a year ago in 10 Suggestions to Improve Google Reader, when I first asked for the ability to aggregate user statistics, and mirrors some of the work AssetBar has done in this space, through offering comments to RSS items, and shared comments that can be viewed by all the service's users, along with displaying the most frequently commented items or most popularly subscribed feeds.

Shyftr in action, reading posts in line, with feeds on the left.

Dave Stanley, the founder of Shyftr, came up with his concept for the site about a year and a half ago. As he wrote me in an e-mail last month, he wanted to see what feeds his friends were reading, "and have the ability to quickly add a feed of interest to the list of feeds that I read - a social rss reader." But six months after his idea didn't come to pass from anywhere else, he set out on his own, and with a small team, Dave has seen the service develop to where it is today, offering to give users a single place to read all feeds, share with friends, and discover new sites.

As I stated in December, "Reading one's RSS feeds today is a journey of isolation." Shyftr now breaks through that isolation booth, letting you add friends, make comments on their profiles, or even suggest feeds directly from Shyftr. In fact, Dave, now the proud father of a 5-month old daughter, saw my wife and I are expecting twins, and suggested I check out the feed for Babygadget. We'll see about that, but I liked his thinking. From within Shyftr, I too can suggest any subscribed feed to any friend.

The best way to get feeds into Shyftr is to export an OPML file from whatever feed reader you're using now, and copy/paste the best ones in one at a time, for now, or add sites' RSS feeds as you run into them. They're working on full OPML import, but it's not yet here, something I forgot more than once. :-)

When you've added a feed, clicking on the feed name with new items displays the items in line, with all new items from a specific feed in the viewing pane, much like AssetBar or Google Reader. If others have seen an item before you, it will show you're viewing from archive, and if you make a comment, future Shyftrs will see your note, as you would theirs if you weren't first to the game. Most frequently commented items rise to the top of Shyftr's "Popular" page, and if you find somebody who often comments on sites you read, you can add them as a friend, or view their own profile to see their friends or what feeds they read.

Interestingly, you can even choose to read the feeds your friends have added to Shyftr. All of them. As I had added Dave as a friend, I can walk through the blogs he has subscribed to, see which sports teams he is following, or catch up on his gossip sites. This is a feature called "Their Feeds". Clicking back to "My Feeds" takes me back to those I've added.

Shyftr also is very public about recent activity, displaying the most recent blogs added, or "Shyfted", and the most recent comments. The site also keeps a running tab on the most frequently subscribed feeds, which so far is led by CNN and the New York Times. And like AssetBar, Shyftr wants you to not feel overwhelmed by RSS feeds as they rack up. Offering more options than just a "read all" or "mark all as read", Shyftr lets you mark all items read that are older than a certain point, letting you reduce your feed glut down to a smaller time period. AssetBar said this makes you not a liar. Shyftr makes no claims to your morality, but it is a tidy way to clean up.

Choosing to mark some items makes sense if you're behind.

Can Shyftr gain traction in what's obviously becoming a crowded market? Sure, assuming more people know about their service, find the shared comment streams and popular items compelling. Given the site seems a bit overweighted, thus far, with sports fans, and not enough with the Twitter pushing, TechMeme worshipping digerati, there's significant room for growth from those who have been actively calling out for a more interactive way to consume the news and RSS. As the site grows, adding new features, like OPML importing, improved feed searches and additional social features, it could carve out a space for itself.

Feel free to join in. Shyftr is open for business now. No sign-up codes, and no waiting. You can find me at the ID of "louisgray".