With only a couple of days to spare until Google Reader shuts down, Digg has finally released their own alternative. Since I was among the people responding to their surveys about how the final product should look like, I got early access this morning. I’ll present some of my initial observations here; a more thorough presentation can be found on TechCrunch.
Digg Reader does a couple of things right, maybe better than the current competition. The design is clean and light, very similar to Google Reader, with lots of breathing space – maybe a little too much. There is a conspicuous white column on the right, but as soon as you move the mouse over there you see the space is reserved for the action buttons, which is much better than clipping article titles and moving things around all the time – the distracting way Feedly does things. The basic actions are found there: digg (like), save (star) – you can optionally configure a read-it-later service as well – and share, although sharing is currently limited to only Facebook and Twitter. If you digg or save a story, the button icon becomes permanent, so you can quickly scan the list and see which items you saved. On the left side of the date there is a smaller column, where Digg displays the popularity of the story with a couple of orange dots (from zero to three). If this Reader gains more users, the indicators should become more and more accurate and help users select popular articles in high-volume feeds. Digg also migrates up to 1000 starred items from Google Reader, which is better than most other services – Feedly only manages 250 from what I remember. I probably have a couple hundreds starred items, so this is an area where Digg clearly wins. But I’m still manually migrating them to delicious just to be sure.
So let’s get to the not-so-nice things…
- As expected, there is no search at this stage – and no way to migrate the read/unread status of individual items – but none of the alternatives offer those features, so there is no real differentiator here.
- After bragging about how they are going to build a better migration experience, I have to say I was disappointed. Importing feeds and tags went smooth enough, but when I first opened the site I immediately noticed the unread counts were all wrong. I mean, I can understand they can’t import that from Google Reader, but Digg seems to have marked items as read or unread at random. Some recently updated feeds show up as having no new items, while others, some as old as six months or more, are listed with 10-20 unread articles. This could be a problem with the early beta, maybe others don’t have it, but it’s really confusing!
- Speaking of unread counts, I think part of the problem is actually that Digg doesn’t show the same unread count from the article list in the sidebar – you can see in my screenshot that ‘Daring Fireball’ has unread posts on the right, but on the left the unread count is zero. Also, I don’t see a way to hide subscriptions with no unread items from the left sidebar. Since I have about 250, I don’t plan on scrolling through them every single day!
- The contrast between read and unread items is too low, the only difference is between bold and regular titles, making it hard to scan the list. The design could use some color here and there, especially on the sharing icons. Also the actual width of the article text is limited to about half the available space – you would think designers would have learned by now how to use flexible width instead of a fixed one…
- There are very few keyboard shortcuts, I only discovered j and k for navigation and v to open the original. There doesn’t seem to be one for ‘mark all as read’, which brings me to another annoyance: ‘mark all as read’ is a two-click action: clicking on the button opens a menu with a single item and you click on that to actually mark as read. The team probably built it with some other options in mind, but a menu with a single item is immensely stupid nevertheless.
- Being so new, expect mobile apps to arrive later – the official ones that is, third-party support will have even more to wait.
The bottom line? Digg Reader still has a lot a things to iron out before it can seriously compete and unfortunately the time is quickly running out. For me this can only be a distant third option behind Feedly and Feedbin.