June 16, 2008

Feedly Brings New Social Experience to Start Page, Leveraging RSS

In the last two years, there have been a number of attempts at taking what's been a solitary experience of reading one's RSS feeds in isolation, and adding new social elements, sharing feeds with friends, discovering new feeds, or adding comments and notes.

Following a lengthy incubation period, intended to get the product rock-solid with an army of features and a sharp interface, Feedly hits the Web today with their own take on the social start page - using your Google Reader subscriptions at its core, but layering on intelligence that learns from you, including your reading patterns, to personalize your information waterfall.

The Feedly Cover Page

Feedly was first known as Feeddo, but recently changed its name to eliminate confusion with other products on the market, and has been in private testing for several months. I first started talking with Edwin Khodabakchian back in mid-February, and even then, the project had been under scrutiny from more than 100 early testers for the better part of three months. The goal? To bring a new, graphical, view of feeds, via Google Reader, and add multiple social layers on top of what's already recognized as the world's most-popular online RSS engine.

Khodabakchian brings a strong resume to the project, once being a Chief Architect at Netscape, and later, the CTO of eCommerce at AOL, following that company's acquisition of Netscape, as well as four years as the co-founder and CEO of Collaxa, later acquired by Oracle. Khodabakchian also considers the team behind Yokway close friends and has been a visible early beta tester of that product.

The months and months of quiet effort appear to have paid off. If you have a FireFox browser, you'll want to see this new approach to taking in the day's news. In my own testing, I kept uncovering new features, and I'm sure I won't get them all here. But here are some of the main elements:

The Magazine Cover

Feedly looks at itself as a start page and magazine hybrid. The main cover page, noted by an icon that looks like a book, shows the latest new items from subscribed feeds, using your own learned reading activity, combined with your sharing history in Google Reader, to bring what's anticipated to be your most interesting stories to the very front. Feedly also, in the bottom right corner of the page, has an "Explore" option, where new stories from similar feeds you may not subscribe to, are available.

Like most feed readers, you can click on any of the articles' headlines, and view the full item. But Feedly isn't intended to be a passive experience. From the article, you can:

1. Save it for later reading.
2. Annotate it (more on this later)
3. Recommend it to friends
4. E-mail it.
5. Send a note about the article using your Twitter acount.
6. Preview it, giving a glimpse of how it looks from the source site.
7. Copy the link to your clipboard.

From that article, I can go back to the cover page, view other articles from that source, or make a new selection from my Feedly toolbar.

What's New

The What's New page combines the latest updates from your subscribed feeds with recommended articles from friends, and again, highlights those feeds and items you are most likely to read, based on your past behavior.

Due to Feedly's tight integration with Google Reader, the items in the What's New page are segmented by topic, gathered from your folders in Google Reader. Mine, for instance, include "Technology", "Web 2", "Apple News", "Mac Rumors" and "Misc" for all other blogs.

While viewing "What's New", I can not only see what the latest feed items are, but on the right, all sources of news are listed, with the number of available items at each source. If there's a new story from one site, it'll be bolded. If I've already read all the stories, they won't be.

As with the cover page, the lower right corner always offers me new feeds to add, should I find them interesting.

The Wall

The Wall can act as your social springboard to both shared items in Google Reader and Twitter updates. If you opt in to synching your Twitter account with Feedly, you can use the Feedly interface to get tweets from friends, as well as see items shared by friends within Google Reader.

This can become a two-way conversation as you annotate articles or send posts out to Twitter from Feedly.

Integrated Google Search

While some sites don't think about search until well after launch, Feedly has developed an extensive tie-in with Google Search and Google Reader on day one.

For example, if I search for the term "Caramilk", a word not often used, I not only found an article from Mark Evans called "What's the Caramilk Secret", but also related items, including WinExtra's Would you hammer a nail with a shovel? and Tris Hussey's response, FriendFeed explodes onto the scene, but it is still an information fire hose, both of which referenced Mark's article.

Feedly's Results for "Caramilk"

Searches for more frequent terms, like Apple and Yahoo!, had their expected 1000+ results, in reverse chronological order.

Annotation and Sharing

Similar to Google Reader shared notes, you can make notes on any item within Feedly and share it on "The Wall". But unlike Google Reader, you can highlight the portion you're commenting on, and make notes, as you are more accustomed to seeing in Microsoft Word's Track Changes option.

On any item, you can either click the "annotate" option, or select the desired text, and an option comes up to either "search related articles" or "highlight". If you chose to highlight, the selected text is in fact highlighted, and you can add a comment. As you can see in the below two examples, I was able to add comments next to articles from both Sarah Perez and Steven Hodson, and my own avatar was displayed next to each.

A Note on WinExtra's Item in Feedly

A Note on Sarah Perez' Item in Feedly

Tweeting an article is similarly easy. If I find an article I like, I just click "tweet" and a new box opens up with the headline, an automatically generated TinyURL, and a note on how many characters I have before running out of Twitter's 140 character limit.

Clicking e-mail opens another box with a simple "To:" field, and a "Note" field. As you start typing, Feedly automatically shows contacts you have in your GMail address book. Select one of those, or enter a new contact, and hit send.

Managing Feeds

Feedly is 100% synchronized with Google Reader. Add a subscription through Feedly, and it will show up in your Google Reader. Read an article in Feedly? It's marked read in Google Reader. Recommend it in Feedly? It's shared in Google Reader. Want to move a blog from one folder to another in Google Reader? You can do that through Feedly. Feedly essentially brings you all the aspects of Google Reader we've grown accustomed to, but displays them in a new, friendly, visual way, while extending the feed universe out to Twitter and e-mail, and adding social elements.

Feedly also takes things a step further, showing all your feeds in a single dashboard view, letting you toggle your favorites, or in a unique twist, offering what's called "Spring Cleaning", where, in theory, should you get bogged down with too many updates, feeds are flagged warm or cool based on your reading behavior and how often you mark them as favorites.

Other services, like Assetbar, got dinged for packing in too many features and not focusing on delivering a clean interface. Feedly has largely avoided this problem through strong segmentation between portions of the service, and through leveraging existing accounts, including your Google profile, existing friends in Google Reader and your GMail account.

If you're the type of RSS power user who wants to read hundreds of items through aggressive keyboard navigation, then Google Reader still can't be beat, but if you want to pick the very best from the many feeds you have, share items with friends and find new sources for news, Feedly is a compelling option. They've clearly done a lot of work to make their solution feature rich, with a flexible, clean, user interface, and options not found anywhere else.

Check out the new offering at www.feedly.com.