eruthros: llamas! (llamas)
[personal profile] eruthros
I kept meaning to make this post when I see people talk about RSS reader alternatives, because NewsBlur changed my blog reading for the better and I love it! And I think maybe some of y'all would love it too. The basic reason: tag screening and story training means I can follow just some tags and screen out other tags from any RSS feed (including tumblr or AO3 feeds).

So I went through a bunch of RSS readers when google reader first started talking about their shutdown; I ruled some of them out for irritating layouts or too much animation, but mostly they seemed pretty comparable. I included NewsBlur in this list at first - its basic layout is a lot like Google Reader's layout, with stories in a center pane and a list of blogs down the side, and it didn't update feeds as frequently as some alternatives. Here's a screencap:

A view of NewsBlur, showing a bunch of folders down the side (one is expanded to show the contents), a story about female leathersmiths in NYC in the main pane, and a bunch of story titles in the bottom pane

That's my subscriptions down the left hand side (I use folders because I like hierarchical navigation, but it's not required), the story in the main pane, and then down at the bottom a bunch of stories various NewsBlur users have shared/recced - I'm looking at the global shared stories right now, which is an optional way to check out new blogs. You can also view stories in the full right-hand pane, without the list of stories below.

Fine, but not impressive, I thought.

Then I learned about NewsBlur's story training.

Story training is amazing. I love it. It lets me pick and choose what I want to see from different feeds, which means I can subscribe to high-volume blogs and only look at the stuff I want to see. It means I can skip open threads and not even be notified about them. It means I can follow a shared blog and never see anything by that one blogger whose posts annoy me. It means I can follow an AO3 tag and screen out authors who spam the tag. (Now if only the AO3 would set their feeds to include all the freeform tags! Then I could screen out anything I wanted. It would be glorious.) ETA: It means I can follow a tumblr fanartist's art tag but not their gifs. Here's what it looks like:

A screencap of a NewsBlur training pop-up for the AO3 'Bruce Banner/Natasha Romanov' tag, including thumbs up and down options for the story title, story author, and feed as a whole

And for feeds that are better than the AO3 at including tags, I have a whole bunch of terms that I can rate to train the feed:

A screencap of a NewsBlur training pop-up for 'Space Invaders', including thumbs up and down options for the story title, story author, story categories and tags, and feed as a whole

So if I wanted to flag information about Italy as more interesting, I could do that, or if I never wanted to see anything tagged Italy, I could do that too. The training system makes three categories of stories: green liked stories, grey unrated stories, and red disliked stories. I can read just green, or green and grey, or I can take a look at red stories in case NewsBlur filtered anything I actually care about (but only on a per-feed basis, which is a bit annoying).

And it also lets me indicate that certain authors / story topics / tags are more interesting - so I can mark Tom and Lorenzo posts about RuPaul's Drag Race as "stories I like," their fashion posts as "unrated," and their posts about The Walking Dead as "stories I don't like." I usually look at unrated + liked stories at the same time, but if I'm really pressed for time I can focus just on the green "liked" stories - and then I won't miss the RPDR post when I'm hastily skimming past their seventy bazillion fashion posts on my phone.

This has made a huge difference in terms of blogs I subscribe to. There are many blogs where I'm interested in some, but not all, of the content. Or, well, more commonly I'm interested in all of the content and zero of the open threads or daily questions. And there are blogs that post way too much for me - where I don't have time to read everything but it's hard to skim to find the things I'm interested in. And it also lets me subscribe more readily or happily to blogs that post content that makes me anxious - thumbs-down a tag, suddenly I can subscribe to that blog instead of checking it occasionally and cautiously.

There are a bunch of other little things that NewsBlur does that make a difference for me as a user - I can pick serif or sans-serif fonts. I can turn off animations. I can view a story in the originating blog's style or in the newsblur style and I can make that decision for every individual feed. I can stick everything in folders and then read or mark read specific folders at a time. Plus, like pinboard and dreamwidth, it's run entirely on site fees and not on ad money / venture capital / monetization of content.

But for me the biggest difference by far is the site training. I tried out a new RSS reader a while ago and I was astonished by how much crap I was paging through - I'd honestly forgotten what it was like to see everything on some of the busy feeds.

The downside: because it's run on fees on not on ad money, the free account level (though great) only lets you pull feeds from 64 blogs; if you want to subscribe to more blogs, you need a paid account ($24/year). I ended up filtering down to just 64 blogs, because I like the NewsBlur features so much - they save the complete list of things I'd like to subscribe to, so they can all be enabled if I pay for an account. I'm broke right now, but it's totally something I'm going to pay for when I have the money, because it's such a great service.

Date: 2013-12-18 02:58 pm (UTC)
anatsuno: a women reads, skeptically (drawing by Kate Beaton) (Default)
From: [personal profile] anatsuno
This post makes me happy! I've had an eye on NewsBlur for ages and was always curious about the story training, but ever enough to get an account and start training it. so this is mana from heaven, kind of. I'm thinking of maybe creating an account to read tumblr blogs *not* on tumblr, so I can filter / train the system to avoid things I don't care about and still actively follow the people I like - that would work if they tag well, wouldn't it? (I know I could use xkit, I just -- have many issues with being on tumblr right now).

Date: 2013-12-19 12:57 am (UTC)
jesse_the_k: Cartoon of white male drowning in storm, right hand reaching out desperately, with text "Someone tweeted" (death by tweet)
From: [personal profile] jesse_the_k
Thank you for an exceptionally helpful review. I've wavered on a newsreader for years, and newsblur's training seems like a feature worth having.

Can one download content and read offline?p

Date: 2013-12-19 02:28 am (UTC)
jesse_the_k: Bitmapped "dogcow" was subject of Apple's Knowledge Base 13, and appeared in many OS9 print dialogs (dogcow)
From: [personal profile] jesse_the_k
Thanks for checking. I peeked at their support discussion, and a beta of this feature has been discussed for almost a year
https://getsatisfaction.com/newsblur/topics/plans_for_offline_mode_in_iphone_app

I love the free trial limit is high enough one can truly use it!


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