I’ve said countless times that if a site doesn’t a working RSS feed it’s basically invisible to me. Not since 2005 when I was introduced to RSS and Bloglines – my first RSS reader – have I had a list of sites bookmarked in a browser that I go through to check for updates. Instead I use RSS to have all those updates brought to me in a way that allows me to see exactly what I want to at a time that’s convenient for me. First there was Bloglines, then I switched to Newsgator and then to Google Reader, where I stayed until mid-2013 when it was shut down. For a number of years I had two Google Reader setups going, one for “personal” reading and one for “work” reading so I could keep client-related news separate. Since its untimely death I’ve get that split going, using Digg Reader for personal news and Feedly for work monitoring.
10 years, five different options and I’ve yet to find an RSS reader that works like I want it to. But I have seen some of the features I want in my ideal RSS environment. And I think Automattic, the company that maintains WordPress (the software this site uses) is just the company to do it.
There’s a “Reader” attached to WordPress that I’ve tried out on a few different occasions but which is missing not only some of the core functionality but also some of the bonus features that I REALLY want in an RSS experience. It’s precisely this blank-slate state that makes me think it’s the perfect one to really blow out its offerings and create a product that brings in the best of the current web along with features that are nowhere to be found in the existing ecosystem.
Here’s what I’m looking for:
Unread Counts – Everyone else has this and has for the last decade. It’s a small thing but it’s important to see how far from the end you are. Hitting the “0” mark brings with it a lot of emotional satisfaction (at least for me) and is an essential element.
Folders – Again, everyone else allows you to organize your feeds in the manner you see fit, so adding this to WP Reader is a no-brainer, just bringing it to being competitive with other products.
Sharing – Digg just offers Twitter and Facebook (as well as Buffer) while Feedly adds on LinkedIn, Google+ and some other options. But I want this taken to the next level and have the ability to not just share but schedule those shares. So it’s not just “Post now” I want but “Post at X time” or, ideally, “queue for posting” at regular intervals automatically like you can on Tumblr. Speaking of which…
Publishing – I don’t just want to post to social networks, I want to publish to my blog, either WordPress or Tumblr, all within the RSS reader environment. In my mind this works be opening a drafting window with some sort of keyboard shortcut like SHIFT+P that lets me take the link from the post and begin drafting a post, share a quote or other action.
Link Blog – These used to be core features of RSS readers but now they seem to be a remnant of the time before Facebook or Twitter. Bur ask anyone who was a Google Reader user and they’ll say subscribing to someone’s Shared Items feed was one of the best features there. It surfaced all sorts of interesting things that wouldn’t normally appear in your feed and created a real sense of community. While I understand that usage might not be high, offering this would allow people to get those random serendipitous posts from others outside of Twitter or Facebook where they’re too often missed. It would be amazing if this were not only folded into a WordPress site’s main RSS feed (meaning no additional subscription is needed) but also tacked on to the site. So, for instance, if all the items I pushed to a link were available at christhilk.wordpress.com/linkblog or some such. Bonus points if there’s the ability to comment on someone’s shared item like you used to be able to do in Google Reader. Because that was awesome.
That’s my feature wish list. So why do I think Automattic is the right company to take RSS into the future? Because there’s nothing about the company that makes me think its priorities don’t lie with the community. Not that Digg or Feedly aren’t doing great things by offering good products, but by creating a Reader that’s open-source and maintained by the community regardless of corporate whims it can ensure those of us for whom RSS serves as the core of our functionality will have it around for as long as we’re tied to it.