RSS Winner: Looks Like It’s Feedly

I’ve been largely in denial about the pending implosion of Google Reader (aka how I read news several times a day instead of doing actual work). Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you undoubtedly know that on July 1st, Google Reader sails off into the dark night and meets its less useful brethren (I’m looking at you Google Wave) in the Google Graveyard.

I don’t love Google Reader, I need Google Reader. Like a hapless junky addicted to heroin, I obsessively turn to Google Reader many times a day. To those of you that stopped using Google Reader to use Twitter as your sole news source, you’re welcome. I’m one of the people that distill the web for you on Twitter. That shit doesn’t tweet itself.

So continuing the junky metaphor, my dealer is “retiring” and I’ve been reeling around looking for someone to deliver my RSS fix. Here are the features I need in an RSS reader:

Fast
Google Reader is the fastest RSS reader out there whether you are using a big boy browser or on a mobile device (including native applications). Part of this is superhumanly optimized javascript and part of this is design (I’ll talk about this later). It needs to be fast because RSS is filling the spaces in my day and I have no time for inefficiency while goofing off.

Syncing
My primary use case for syncing is between desktop and my iPhone. Google Reader doesn’t need to sync in this case because the website doesn’t need to sync with itself.

iPad is my secondary use case and this is one area where Google Reader is pretty terrible. You have to decide between a touch optimized version (READ:small device) that just looks stupid on the iPad or a non-touch optimized version that is basically broken on the iPad.

River of News
If the feed contains a full article, it should show the whole article, rather than just the headline. Google Reader breaks this on mobile, but my swiping thumb probably thanks them for this. When I’m consuming news on a desktop app, the space bar and j/k buttons are my best friends as they enable me to whip through tons of articles very, very quickly.

The iPad gets a pass here and this is one place I use a native application, Reeder (which is also dead on July 1st, but theoretically will be resurrected “soon” in July)

Third Party Integration
There are many third party tools integrated into Google Reader, but honestly, they don’t matter as much as “Read It Later” services like Instapaper. Sometimes I don’t have enough time to read your Zapruder-like dissection of How Steve Jobs Kicked Amazon in the Nuts, but I know I want to save it in a place where I can read it later.

Other Stuff
Here’s my my junk drawer of nice to have features for a reader:

  • Folder Support (or tags) where you can read the entire contents of the folder in a “river of news” view.
  • Easy importing from Google Reader or the XML file from Google Takeout
  • Search feed contents (especially stuff I’ve already read)

Which brings us to Feedly.

Feedly Wins
Feedly has most of the above features and they are implemented in a “I don’t have to thinkright. When it started, Feedly was basically a pretty version of Google Reader – I mean, it looked nice, but wasn’t substantially better than Google Reader in any other way than looks. Feedly though, has been hard at work cloning features of Google Reader (thank you, oh, thank you for the river of news) and has won my heart.

Feedly’s mobile app offers a river of news view (after a little digging in the preferences), it can more or less operate with the speed and efficiency that Google Reader on the web does, it syncs with the web site and integrates beautifully with Instapaper.

Other Readers To Watch
For the iPhone, I really like the Digg Reader. They’ve most successfully cloned Google, but the desktop site hasn’t opened to me yet, so I can’t really make a determination there. Theoretically, they’ll also have the best integration into Instapaper as it’s now part of the BetaWorks Empire.

AOL Reader looks great on the desktop and has a super speedy mobile site, but lacks sharing and “read it later” capabilities on mobile. And I hate to say it, but I probably have a prejudice against AOL that stems from AOL being the butt of every joke during the dot com era.

It’s also worth mentioning that I haven’t tried any of the paid services (Feedbin, FeedWrangler, Fever) and while I kinda feel bad (good software & services costs money, people), I’m also really cheap and don’t mind being someone’s product.

I’ll keep watching those other services, but for now, I’m sticking with Feedly.

Other stories about Google Reader replacements:

Android Users Aren’t Cheap (but cheap people use Android)

This is a follow on from Wednesday’s post Mobile Market Share vs Usage .

I’ve been thinking a lot about why web usage numbers for Android devices (and app purchasing/usage) is so much lower than iOS. Specifically, it seems that the majority of Android users don’t use the “pocket computer” capabilities of their smart phones like iPhone users do. I think the answer is really quite simple: Android phones are “selling” so well because they are the easiest & best phones to get for free.

So who uses Android?

Most of the Android users I know are hardcore geeks and many of them are developers and from the very beginning, I’ve understood why these guys were Android users. You can customize anything and everything on an Android phone. Don’t want the phone to ring when an ex-girlfriend calls? There’s an app for that. Don’t have the latest OS because your carrier sucks? Easy-peasy, just root the phone and update the OS yourself. Wrote your own app and want to give it to your friends? Yay! No stupid Apple hoops to jump through to get it working.

“I Just Want a Phone”

The other set of Android users I know are people that are far from geek. These non-geeks seem to use their phone a lot differently than the hard core geeks I know. They actually use them mainly as phones. Weird, right? And where, 5 years ago, I bought a pocket computer that occasionally rings, this group of people only need a mobile phone to make and receive calls.

Jitterbug

NOTE: Not actual Android users

They don’t really care that you can check Facebook on the go. They don’t want to capture, edit and share a movie trailer they made with their kids. The don’t need see LOLcats while waiting in line for the grocery. And they certainly don’t want to play Words with Zombies.

They want to make and receive phone calls. They might want to take pictures. They might want to send and receive text messages (or they feel compelled to by others). Most importantly, they don’t want to spend anything on a mobile phone. And based on usage data, I suspect that is this group of users make up the majority of the Android base.

Free is powerful

I have a hypothesis that many people who would have normally bought a feature phone (or “basic” phone in telco parlance) are now buying smartphones and while I think there might be a lot of reasons for this, I think the biggest reason is that it’s hard to not buy a smartphone. More specifically, it’s hard to get a feature phone for free.

To illustrate this, let’s go on a walk down the virtual aisles of the major US mobile carriers and see what they have available for free (as of May 30, 2013):

  • AT&T – 2 basic and 21 smartphones
  • Verizon – 6 basic & 6 smartphones
  • Sprint – 9 basic and 28 smartphones
  • T-Mobile – 2 basic and 4 smartphones

Free feature phone selection is pretty slim at most carriers and many of the “basic” phones look a great deal like smartphones further confusing customers who might be looking for “just a phone.” If a customer comes in looking for a free phone, it’s not hard to imagine a Verizon salesperson pushing last year’s excellent (and free) Samsung Galaxy S III over Apple’s (free) 3 year old iPhone 4. I love my iPhone and if you asked me which free phone to buy, I’d be hard pressed to recommend the iPhone 4.

So basically, a person who wants “just a phone” and doesn’t want to pay anything for it, is now getting a smartphone and that smartphone is undoubtedly an Android device. And that brings us back to where we started – I’ve never thought that all Android users are cheap, but the cheap users are definitely using Android.

Mobile Market Share vs Usage

When I started developing a mobile strategy for Cheezburger, I dug into the data to discover which devices were most popular and what platform(s) my company should devote our limited money, time & developers to and quickly came to two conclusions: there were more Android devices on the market, but iOS users were more active.

Android is winning?

It felt like every month there was a new report regarding the ever increasing number of Android phones being sold and how Apple was losing the mobile OS war 1 just like they lost the PC wars. Most recently, Gartner reported first quarter 2013 sales of Android phones were four times greater than iOS. Given the sheer numbers of Android users, why would anyone develop for iOS first or at all?

Usage matters more

As an app developer, number of phones shipped or activated is interesting, but somewhat irrelevant. 2 Usage is what really matters and looking at that data is pretty convincing. Given that app usage number for (at the time) a non-existent product are hard to come by, I used our mobile web traffic as a proxy for demand by platform. iOS web traffic for our sites was roughly 2 to 1 over Android and according to Netmarket, worldwide mobile Safari (iOS) had a 59% market share vs the default Android browser’s 23%. Most other browsers are pretty much a rounding error.

Mobile browser data q2 2013 4

(Source: Netmarketshare)

Pocket computers vs phones

So there are 4x the number of Android phones sold in a quarter, but 2 to 3 times as many iOS users actively using web sites, what’s wrong with this picture? I’ll get into theories about that in a future post, but currently, iOS users are using their phones more as pocket computers than Android users are. Given that, I know that I wanted to devote most of our efforts into iOS.

At last night’s kickoff to the All Things D Conference, Tim Cook laid it out a bit more succinctly – “What the numbers suggest over and over again is that people are using our products more.” If you are developing mobile products, you have to ask yourself, do you want to be exposed to the largest number of users or the largest number of possible devices?

Should you ignore Android? Well, no. Android’s usage numbers are growing and I think perhaps before long Google’s strategy may overtake Apple. That said, I think it’s safe to adopt the strategy that many have and to develop for Android second depending on the product you are developing.

How did it work out?

We released both apps around the beginning of December and when I left at the beginning of May, Cheezburger’s Android app usage trailed iOS by a larger margin than the web stats, but my hypothesis that web stats would be an indicator of app usage was correct and the bet was a good one to make.

Notes:

  1. I’m not going to talk about profit share vs market share. Go read Daring Fireball for that.
  2. I say “somewhat” here as a hedge for a possible future when people start to use their Android devices as pocket computers instead of just a big screen phone

Thoughts on SXSWi 2013

I got back late last Wednesday night from this year’s South by Southwest Interactive Festival (aka “spring break for nerds”) with my head full of new ideas and my body sore from abuse. This was inspired by Scott Porad’s list of learnings and when I read his, I realized that mine were completely different, illustrating how different an experience SXSW can be for different people.

– Tiny cheap computers (Raspberry Pi), 3d printing (MakerBot), practically free sensors & low power connectivity (Fitbit) are an amazing marriage that will create a future I can’t predict (but it’s happening now). The Raspberry Pi is about the size of Altoids tin, how small can this go? What other applications can a connected, low powered sensor drive? I think the key to this future is thinking about what we can (or should) do with all this power. No one wants SkyNet, but I think there are other more pleasant possible outcomes.

Peter Thiel has a depressing outlook on the United States, but in some ways, it’s hard not to agree with him. I guess I should move to China if I want happy times?

John Biehler reminded me that hobbies can lead to interesting new things to work on. Everything I’ve been successful in life doing has started off as a hobby.

– Most product people wrestle not having enough capacity to do all the things they want to do. Capacity to build still outweighs deciding what to build.

Canadians are awesome.

– Creating a social/mobile/local marketplace is super difficult, but if you nail it, you can own it. The trick is identifying the market and starting VERY specifically (a neighborhood or a demographic in a city). Some examples include Zaarly & Lyft.

– There are lots of hosting companies that offer hosting for free for a limited amount of time. Img.ur used 3 providers before moving into AWS. Bootstrapping means a level of frugality that might be tough for people who are accustomed to having the “best” or “easiest”

– Having a team of crack networkers working together and understanding each other’s agenda’s is a great way to divide and conquer (even if we were the “Grumpy Old Men” of the Internet).

Brisket at Stubb’s is really, really good.

Abusing My Body at SXSW

This past week, I was in Austin, Texas for this year’s SXSWi Festival. This is my sixth time at SXSW and I always return a little rougher than when I left. This year, I have stats!

Fitbit SXSW

I took roughly ~15,000 steps or put another way, walked about 7 miles a day, including two travel days, which reduce the averages a bit. While there are lots of ways to get around without walking (cabs, petticabs, HootSuite buses), walking is usually your fastest way to get short distances. ProTip: always bring 2 pairs of shoes.

A little less measurable was the undesired side effect of talking loudly at parties as my voice is still a little scratchy. RAWR.

Theme Hacked

Sad MacSo, a little while back my WordPress theme was hacked to serve up all sorts of awesomely terrible, hidden links to a number of sites that I normally wouldn’t link to. It took a little while to track down the source of the issue and once I did, it seemed the easiest thing to do was to remove the theme and start from scratch.

The blog looked the same for a really long time, so even going with the theme you see today, Twenty Twelve, (aka default) it feels fresh to me. I’ve made a deal with myself that I won’t poke around in the CSS or change the theme (ok, I set Helvetica as the default font) until I’ve posted at least 10 more posts. Maybe its fresh, new, uninspiring look will inspire me to spend a little more time blogging.