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Is Digg's very beta RSS reader enough to woo Google Reader users? (hands-on)

Is Digg's very beta RSS reader enough to woo Google Reader users? (hands-on)


The company has less than a week to put the finishing touches on its new product before Google's shuts down

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digg reader screencap
digg reader screencap

The design for the new Digg Reader.

On July 1st, Google sunsets its popular RSS reader and millions of users will migrate elsewhere. Digg wants its new RSS reader to be ready when they do. The company had just three months to build Digg Reader, which explains why the first version has minimal features, missing graphics, and a number of bugs. It's nowhere near parity with Google Reader or some of the other competitors already on the market such as Feedly, Newsblur, and NetNewsWire. However, with Digg's access to a wealth of data about what people are reading, the potential is there for this to be a great tool.

For the first iteration, Digg has basically copied Google Reader: subscriptions on the left, headlines on the right, with keyboard shortcuts to save, Digg, and scroll through articles. The import of subscriptions and folders from Google Reader was smooth and speedy, although Digg is not providing a raw data import yet — users have to sign in with a Google account.

Orange dots appear beside headlines that are popular with Digg readers, so you can skim through your feed quickly and prioritize what to read. You can Digg, save, and share stories to Facebook and Twitter from the reader. In addition to your subscriptions, Digg provides a feed of the most popular stories across its network. The team has also curated a list of suggested feeds organized into categories for RSS users who want to find more sources to follow.

Digg is sending out invites for the highly anticipated RSS reader to more than 17,000 beta testers on Monday, and then will open to the public on June 26th. The iPhone app will also become available then. Both products are free for now, although Digg is planning some premium features in the future.

There's a long list of bugs that Digg needs to work out before its public launch, as well as very basic tweaks like importing favicons for feeds and adding the word "Reader" to the logo at the top of the page. It also looks much better on Mac OS than on Windows. We noticed intermittent slowness, especially for actions such as unsubscribing from feeds. (We also had to use up two invite codes in order to test it in different browsers because the login page was not working.) However, many of these bugs and other issues should be fixed by the time Digg Reader goes fully public.

The June 26th deadline does not mean work will stop

Furthermore, the June 26th deadline does not mean work will stop. Digg made major changes to the homepage after it launched last summer, and that's likely to happen with Digg Reader as well. A few missing features, such as not being able to search for feeds, may be a bit painful in the interim. And at the end of the month, Google Reader users will be looking for an RSS tool they can use immediately; Digg Reader may not be fully featured enough yet for the true power user.

In a survey conducted by Digg, users said they wanted a reader that was fast, did not look like a magazine, and synced with mobile. We couldn't test that last criterion, but it looks like Digg Reader delivers on its basic promise. It is functional as a reader, but its pitch to Google Reader refugees relies on minimalist design and the promise of future features.