A few small new features to get your first full week of the new year started off right.

Syntax highlight for source code

A common feature request has been automatic syntax highlighting in blog posts. This feature uses auto-detection to highlight code. For short snippets of code, this means that they could have inaccurate highlighting, although in testing it’s not so bad to have a few words in various colors. But for any substantial amount of code, you’ll have an easier time following along with syntax highlighting.

Video fitting

Videos from Youtube and Vimeo (and a few others) are now stretched to fit the window, resulting in bigger video previews.

Footnotes

Previously, if you clicked the little footnote reference1, you would be taken to a new window. The Feed view now smoothly scrolls you to the footnote, where you can then return back to the footnote. Easy!


  1. Like this. 

The single biggest criticism I’ve heard of the Android app is that it can be slow when loading feeds and then loading stories. That changes today with the release of version 3.5 of the NewsBlur Android app.

Here’s what’s new:

  • Completely rewritten parallel network stack
  • All network requests are now much, much faster
  • Bugs fixed when marking as read and saved

And remember that only a month and a half ago, version 3.0 hit the Play Store and the Kindle Store with these great features:

  • New story traversal buttons make it easy to flip between stories.
  • New text view fetches and parses the story from the original site.
  • New logo.
  • Public comments are now be hidden in preferences.
  • Ability to unsave stories.

There’s more coming to the NewsBlur Android app, now that it’s reached speed parity with the iOS app. Look forward to lots of updates, improvements, and new features.

This week brings us a minor, but major, update for the NewsBlur iOS app. Several new features, some due to new APIs in iOS 7, have made it into the app.

Here’s what’s new:

  • Background updates so NewsBlur can download stories while you sleep
  • Custom text sizes for feeds and stories
  • Dynamic text sizes based on your system preferences
  • The story title is now linked to the original story
  • New preference to use either the in-app browser, Safari, or Chrome
  • Major iPad fixes include better transitions, bugs squashed, and improved performance

Coming up I have a big ticket feature that is just about ready to launch. Stay tuned for saved story tagging, which will also make its way into the Android and iOS app soon.

Download the latest and free NewsBlur iOS app.

Hot on the heels of version 3.0 of the NewsBlur iOS app comes the next version of the Android app. A bunch of new features have made it into this release, including the new story navigation pane and the text view.

Here’s what you can see today in the Android app:

  • New story traversal buttons make it easy to flip between stories.
  • New text view fetches and parses the story from the original site.
  • New logo.
  • Public comments are now be hidden in preferences.
  • Ability to unsave stories.
  • Numerous bugs squashed and crashes fixed.

Thanks to our Android developer Daniel, the next version is already starting development, so shout out to @newsblur with your feedback and ideas for new features.

Apple’s latest operating system for iOS is a departure from their old aesthetic. So I’ve decided to give the NewsBlur iOS app a slightly new look. But even more than how the app looks is how the app works. Tons of new features made it into this mega-release.

  • Entire interface has been redesigned for iOS 7.
  • Gestures galore: mark stories as read/unread, save stories, mark feeds as read, train feeds.
  • Long press a feed or folder to choose a mark as read date: 1 day, 3 days, 7 days, 14 days. Works offline, too!
  • Long press a story title to send it to a third-party read later service.
  • New view layout for iPad: move story titles to the bottom in portrait.
  • Significantly improved scrolling speeds on the feed list and story list.
  • You can now unread stories that were read while offline.
  • Faster marking of folders as read.
  • Fixed numerous bugs related to reading stories while offline.

The iPad app also has a new view for extra-wide reading while in portrait orientation.

I hope you enjoy this latest update. And stay tuned for the next update coming soon which will include even more iOS 7 features: Dynamic Text Size and Background Updates. The NewsBlur iOS app is and will always be free.

Today I’m launching version 3.0 of the iPhone and iPad app for NewsBlur. This major update brings loads of big features that combine to make the world’s best iOS news reader with the fastest sync in town.

  • Offline support - stories and images are downloaded quickly and in parallel.
  • Syncing - read stories offline or with little connectivity.
  • Preferences - override global order/read filter settings, configure offline, and other options.
  • Send to - rewritten to include single-tap Instapaper/Readability/Pocket integration.
  • Saved and shared stories now show the proper icon.
  • Activities/interactions have been rewritten to be easier on the eyes.
  • A major performance improvement when returning to the app and when initially syncing.

The biggest feature since this Spring’s redesign is finally here. As always, the iOS app is a free download.

While I love shipping new features and fixing bugs, the single largest user request was neither a feature nor a bug. NewsBlur allows for two weeks of unread stories. Once a story is more than 14 days old, it would no longer show up as unread. The justification for this was simple: you have a week to read a story, and have a second week as a grace period.

But after scaling out to tens of thousands of users, a new pattern emerged. Some users would go on vacation for two weeks at a time and then want to catch up on everything they missed. Some users only check RSS once a month. Some users just want to leave lightly updated feeds alone until they have free time to read them, and that can take a few weeks to get to.

Starting today, all premium users are automatically upgraded to 30 days of unread stories. Free standard users will remain at 14 days. I wish I could have offered the full 30 days to everybody, but after testing that out, my server and performance graphs all made a very scary movement up.

With the new 30 day unread interval in place, NewsBlur has a great track record in listening to user feedback and working out a solution, however large the task may be.

Here’s a few big improvements for the NewsBlur website.

  • The site title bar is now mounted to the bottom of the screen. This will allow you to mark a site/folder as read at any time.
  • Marking as read can go back a configurable amount: 1, 3, 7, and 14 days back.

  • If you’re reading in newest-first order, when you mark a site as read, any newer stories that have come in since you’ve loaded the site will no longer be marked as read.
  • When you add, move, or delete a site or folder, all of your open web browsers will reload to correctly show the change. This allows you to have NewsBlur open at home and at work, knowing they will be synced when you change or add sites.

You may be thinking to yourself, 1, 3, and 7 days back makes sense, but why 14 if the unread limit is at 14 days? Why, having 14 days as an option would only make sense if the full limit was… (stay tuned).

Search, which can easily be considered one of the most important features of a world-class news reader, is also one of the most difficult features to build.

While working on the feature, I came across a great method that allows searching through story titles, authors, and tags on a per-feed basis. It’s not perfect and it’s not the full feature, but this will get us 80% of the way there.

Also comes with a handy keyboard shortcut (and a refactored keyboard shortcut dialog).

You can also search your saved stories and shared stories. This feature will soon find it’s way to both Android and iOS, and is available today to all premium users.

Last year I was proud to be able to send a free t-shirt and handwritten note to every single user who requested one. It took a few days of writing, stuffing, and mailing to send out a couple hundred t-shirts.

I’m pleased to announce that this year’s t-shirt is a puzzle with every single letter being part of a 4+ letter word. I’m using Teespring for fulfillment and order processing. While it’s not free, I am making absolutely zilch profit, so I can keep the t-shirt price to the absolute minimum.

Impress your friends with your esoteric yet exquisite taste in t-shirts. But you’d better move quickly, you only have until July 31st, one week from now, to order the t-shirt. Order the 2013 NewsBlur t-shirt on Teespring.

The iOS apps are finding themselves host to a whole slew of additions and enhancements. Today I get to tell you about the iOS app’s newest feature: the Text view.

You can already use the Text view on the web. It’s great for extracting the story’s content on demand and helps you stay on a single tab to do all of your reading.

If you have an iPad or iPhone, you can now use the Text view by hitting the Text/Story button on the bottom left of the story detail pane.

On Android? Don’t you worry, major updates are finishing up as we speak, and soon the Android app will reach full feature parity with the iOS app. It’s just a matter of time.

ReadKit, a native Mac app for reading Instapaper, Pocket, and NewsBlur on your desktop, completes the RSS reading trifecta. NewsBlur has a web app, native iOS app, and now a native Mac app.

While this is not an official app, it’s certainly the best desktop app for NewsBlur. In time more NewsBlur-specific features will be added, such as shared stories (blurblogs), training and separate unread counts in focus mode, and saved stories.

If you’re a developer and want to make your own NewsBlur app, use the free NewsBlur API. You can charge for your app and enjoy all of the benefits of the NewsBlur backend.

Download ReadKit to enjoy offline reading on your Mac.

Hot on the heels of the redesign launch, I’m already putting out new features. There are a number of post-redesign priorities on my list, but one of the most requested features is to customize the keyboard shortcuts.

After looking into the common refrain of customizable keyboard shortcuts, I identified the five keys that folks are talking about 99% of the time: the four arrow keys and the space bar. These keys can now be configured well beyond what you would expect.

image

  • By default, the horizontal arrow keys control the view in which you are reading a site or folder. But there are a few keyboard shortcuts that allow you to temporarily read a story in the Text view (shift+enter) or the Story view (enter). So having other dedicated keys may not be necessary. And navigating between sites requires a two-key combination (shift+up and shift+down or shift+j and shift+k). You can now choose to make the left and right arrow keys navigate between sites.
  • The vertical arrow keys navigates between stories, but some users want them to scroll up and down by a small amount. You can customize exactly how much of a scroll distance you want to use.
  • The space bar, like the new up and down arrow keys, scrolls the page, but it does so by screen-load. So instead of scrolling by a set amount like the arrow keys, it works on a percentage of the screen. It’s a subtle difference that will allow you to more easily navigate the longer stories and the shorter stories with ease.

These features are only available to premium subscribers and I hope you like them. If you have additional customization suggestions, hop on the support forum and let me know.

Not to say that NewsBlur was ugly before today, but it certainly didn’t have the loving embrace of a talented designer. So without waiting another moment (or month) I proudly present the NewsBlur redesign.

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It’s a full scale redesign, too. And not just one of those redesigns where the icons get glossier and fonts, bolder. Every moving piece of machinery got more than a coat of paint. A number of new crucial reading features have been added. Some features were merged, some were repaired, and some were scrapped.

Dashboard before & after:

imageimage

Reading before & after:

imageimage

In no particular order, here’s what’s new:

  • Unified interactions/activities popover. Gets out of your way and gives the dashboard more room to breath.
  • Rewritten feed loader, offering incredible performance, even at the 20x scale of today vs 2 months ago before the Google Reader announcement.
  • Custom vector graphics, retina-fying the entire site.
  • Increased transparency of sites by showing more detail in feed fetching/statistics.
  • A new List view to complement the Split view for stories.

And that’s just for the website. The iOS app, Android app, and blurblogs all got the update goodness that has graced the web app.

image

As for what’s happening these days, post-Reader:

  • Took some extra time to scale out my backend, now completed.
  • Running on 48 servers, serving 20x traffic
  • Because I had the foresight to charge users for premium service, I’m now confident that NewsBlur will be standing tall a few years from now.
  • Working on the next few big ticket features: saved story search and tagging, batch editing organizer, keyboard shortcut manager, and more.

And if you’re new to NewsBlur, here’s the six core benefits to using the one with the Sun:

  1. Training - hide the stories you don’t like and highlight the stories you do. Make mincemeat out of heavy feeds and make sure to never miss stories from the feeds you love.
  2. Original site - read a publisher’s stories the way they wanted you to read it - on the original website. NewsBlur embeds the publisher’s site in an iframe, and marks what you read as read as you scroll.
  3. Text view - conveniently extracts the story text from articles, necessary for reading truncated rss feeds.
  4. Blurblogs / sharing - a social community where you can share and discuss stories with friends.
  5. Speed - A dedication to fast load times, graphed on your dashboard.
  6. Mobile - native, first-class iOS and Android apps, with all of the functionality of the website.

Now that the redesign has launched, I plan to blog about how to best use the intelligence trainer efficiently, all new [future] features, and how I was able to successfully scale out the four databases (count ‘em: postgresql, mongodb, redis, elasticsearch) to handle more than 10,000 users and 4 million site updates a day. It’s no Tumblr, but it’s still way more traffic than you can fit on a single machine.

Thanks for using NewsBlur and turning my passion project (four years running) into a full-time dream.

At 4:16pm last Wednesday I got a short and to-the-point email from Nilay Patel at The Verge with only a link that started with the host “googlereader.blogspot.com”. The sudden spike in NewsBlur’s visitors immediately confirmed — Google was shutting down Reader.

Late night at the office

I had been preparing for a black swan event like this for the last four years since I began NewsBlur. With the deprecation of their social features a year ago I knew it was only a matter of time before Google stopped supporting Reader entirely. I did not expect it to come this soon.

As the Storify history of the Reader-o-calypse, NewsBlur suffered a number of hurdles with the onslaught of new subscribers.

A few of my challenges and solutions

I was able to handle the 1,500 users who were using the service everyday, but when 50,000 users hit an uncachable and resource intensive backend, unless you’ve done your homework and load tested the living crap out of your entire stack, there’s going to be trouble brewing. Here’s just a few of the immediate challenges I faced over the past four days:

  • My hosting provider, Reliable Hosting Services, was neither reliable, able to host my increasing demands, or a service I could count on. I switched to Digital Ocean and immediately got to writing new Fabric scripts so I could deploy a new app/task server by issuing a single command and having it serve requests automatically within 10 minutes of bootstrapping.
  • It didn’t take long to max out my Amazon Simple Email Service (SES) account’s quota of 10,000 emails a day. So a few hours into the melee I switched to Mailgun, which unfortunately resulted in emailing myself 250,000 error reports. If you tried to email me and couldn’t get through, it’s because 50,000 emails about lost database connections made their way ahead of you in line.
  • Eventually, I was just plain blacklisted on SES for sending too many emails.
  • Fortunately, when the PayPal fraud department called because of an unprecedented spike in payments, I was prepared.
  • HAProxy would serve errors (site is down, maintenance, timeouts, etc) with a 200 OK status code instead of the proper 500 Exception status code because of a ridiculous undocumented requirement to include HTTP Headers at the top of the error template. When your webapp uses status codes to determine errors, you get extremely strange behavior when it loads utter crap into your DOM.
  • The inevitable file descriptor limits on Linux means that for every database connection you make, you use up one of the 1,024 file descriptors that are allocated to your process by default. Changing these limits is not only non-trivial, but they don’t tend to stick. This is responsible for bringing down Mongo, PostgreSQL, and the real-time Node servers, all at different times of the night.
  • The support queue is enormous and I’ve had to spend big chunks of my 16 hour days reassuring paying customers that eventually Stripe will forgive me and my unresponsive servers and will send the payment notification that is responsible for automatically upgrading their accounts to premium.

The sad extent of my St. Patrick’s Day

As a one-man-shop it has been humbling to receive the benefit of the doubt from many who have withheld their judgment despite the admittedly slow loadtimes and downtime NewsBlur experienced. Having the support of the amazing NewsBlur community is more than a guy could ask for. The tweets of encouragement, voting NewsBlur up on replacereader.com (If you haven’t yet, please tweet a vote for "#newsblur to #replacereader"), and the many positive comments and blog posts from people who have tried NewsBlur is great.

It has also been a dream come true to receive accolades from the many who are trying NewsBlur for the first time and loving it. Since the announcement, NewsBlur has welcomed 5,000 new premium subscribers and 60,000 new users (from 50,000 users originally).

NewsBlur users are intelligent, kind, and good looking!

The next three months

Over the next three months I’ll be working on:

For those of you who are still trying to decide where to go now that you’re a Reader refugee let me tell you a few of the unique things NewsBlur has to offer:

  1. Radical transparency. NewsBlur is totally open source and will remain that way.
  2. It still feels like RSS, just with a few more bells and whistles. NewsBlur provides actual list of posts, as opposed to the more curated magazine format of some of the other popular replacements. This clean interface makes it easy to see the stories you want. One innovation however is the four different view options you have. NewsBlur can show you the original site, feed, text or story view.
  3. It has training. NewsBlur hides stories you don’t want to read based on tags, keywords, authors, etc. It also highlights stories you want to read, based on the same criteria. This allows you to find the stories you care about, not just the stories that the hive cares about. And best of all, NewsBlur will show you why stories are either highlighted or hidden by showing the criteria in green or red.
  4. NewsBlur has rebuilt the social community that Google had stripped out of Reader. Users can share stories through their Blurblog and discover new content by following friends’ Blurblogs. The People Have Spoken is the blurblog of popular stories.
  5. Because NewsBlur is entirely open-source, if you don’t want to pay you can host your own server. Instructions are on GitHub, where you can also find the source code for the NewsBlur iPhone + iPad app and Android app.
  6. Most importantly, NewsBlur is not entirely a free app. The immediate benefits of revenue have been very clear over the past few days. Not only are NewsBlur’s interests aligned with its users, but as more users join NewsBlur, it makes more revenue that can be used to directly support the new users. Not convinced that paid is better than free? Read Pinboard’s Maciej Ceglowski’s essay Don’t Be a Free User.

Shiloh during better times. Your premium subscription goes to both server costs and feeding her

With NewsBlur’s native iOS app and Android app, you can read your news and share it with your friends anywhere. And with the coming improvements over the next three months, you bet NewsBlur will be the #1 choice for Google Reader refugees.

Join NewsBlur for $24/year and discover what RSS should have been.