• Text view comes to the NewsBlur iOS app

    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.

  • Read NewsBlur on your Mac with the new ReadKit

    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.

  • Keyboard Shortcuts Manager

    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.

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    • 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.

  • The NewsBlur Redesign

    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:

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    Reading before & after:

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    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.

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    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.

    Biggest unanticipated consequence of the Reader shutdown – I no longer have to wear a jacket in SF because my core temperature has risen.

    — Samuel Clay (@samuelclay)

    March 28, 2013

    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.

  • Three Months to Scale NewsBlur

    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.

    Paypal’s fraud department just called, asked me what’s going on. Asked the rep from Omaha if she’s heard of Reader, and then a big Ohhh.

    — NewsBlur (@NewsBlur) March 17, 2013

    • 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).

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    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.

  • A blurblog of one's own: new privacy controls

    Here at NewsBlur HQ, we love greeting each new day by seeing what everyone posts on their blurblogs, but we understand that not everyone might want to have their reading preferences broadcast to the public (or have the public broadcast its opinions on said preferences). So we’re introducing a special new service for premium account holders that allows you to protect your posts from prying eyes.

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    Just click the little sprocket in the bottom left of your dashboard and select “Profile & Blurblog,” where you’ll be given one of three options:

    • Public (default): The good old-fashioned oversharing you’ve come to know and love.
    • Protected: Everyone can see your stories, but only approved NewsBlur followers can reply or comment to your shares. Continue to drop knowledge for a grateful public, minus the peanut gallery.
    • Private: Only your approved followers can see your shares and comment. The outside world will never know about your love of bunny photos and animated GIFs. If you choose one of the latter two options, you’ll receive an e-mail every time someone requests to follow you, allowing you to carefully curate your inner circle. Want to remove any of your existing followers? Just visit their profile to boot them from blurblog access.

    Go forth and privatize! It’ll be our little secret, at least until we discover that one of you is having an affair with your biographer.

  • The sharing bookmarklet: bringing your online explorations to NewsBlur

    There are lots of reasons not to post a cool article you’ve seen to your blurblog. Maybe you already follow too many blogs, and don’t have room to add any more to your feed (in which case, may we humbly recommend a Premium account?) Maybe you don’t want everyone to know just how crazy you’ve gotten about jai-alai or aerotrekking or My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. Or maybe you found a cool article on Facebook or Twitter or through an e-mail from a friend, and don’t want to go through the hassle of adding the site’s whole feed to your NewsBlur dashboard just to post one piece.

    That’s what the NewsBlur bookmarklet tool is for. Whether it’s a great article from a site that you don’t like enough to follow regularly, or a first glimpse at an intriguing new site, the bookmarklet makes it easy to post anything you find around the Web to your blurblog.

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    Setting up the bookmarklet tool is easy: Click on the little sprocket in the bottom left of your dashboard, and choose “Goodies & Extras” from the menu. You’ll see “Add Site & Share Story Bookmarklet,” and next to that, a button that says “Share on NewsBlur.” Drag the button to the Bookmarks Bar in your browser, and you’re in business.

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    The next time you see an article that strikes your fancy, just click the bookmarklet and the NewsBlur window will open. (If you click it by accident or decide you don’t want to share, just click anywhere outside of the box, and you’ll be back where you started.) The bookmarklet automatically selects all text on a page by default, but if you only want to blog a certain chunk of a story, just highlight it beforehand, and it’ll appear solo in the box.

    You can also type within the box to edit the headline and text or delete any extraneous junk that may have wandered in. Add a comment of your own, click “Share This Story,” and you’re on your way. It’s frankly almost too easy, so be sure you’re in the right browser tab when you launch it– Allie once accidentally posted the contents of her Gmail inbox to her blurblog when she wasn’t paying attention. If any of you happened to be on there in those two minutes, she hopes you enjoyed the sneak peek into her darkest secrets, like all the books she has on hold at the library.

    Using the bookmarklet is awesome and makes NewsBlur’s content (and by extension, the Popular blog) far more interesting and diverse, so get out there and drag back the best of the Web to share with your fellow users. As Richard Marx would put it: Wherever you go, whatever you do (on the Internet, at least), the NewsBlur bookmarklet will be right here waiting for you.

  • Time for some free NewsBlur swag!

    That’s right, t-shirts, stickers, buttons, and magnets. I’ve got a whole lot of good stuff to send out, so give me some critical info and I’ll get you hooked up with the latest in startup love.

    The t-shirt entry form has been taken down as of Thursday, November 29th. Hopefully you’ve ordered your t-shirt by now.

  • Extreme makeover: NewsBlur iOS app edition

    Now that NewsBlur has joined the wonderful world of Android, we’re turning our attention back to the iOS app, with a full-scale feature parity push for the new iPhone 5 and iOS 6. It’s perfect for catching up on your reading when you realize that Apple Maps has sent you to the wrong address. Again.

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    We’ve tried to incorporate as many of your suggestions as possible, and here are some of the new features you’ll find:

    • Collapsible folders: Check out folders one at a time (and save your scrolling fingers some work)
    • Saved stories: Access all your saved stories from the Web or other devices, and save other stories for later
    • Mark stories as unread: For that fresh new-story feeling
    • Send stories to Instapaper for reading later, or e-mail them to your friends/enemies
    • Share stories on Twitter and Facebook, and crush social-media naysayers who think you’re just telling people what you ate for breakfast
    • New app-wide menus: An interface almost as stylish as your new device, and far less vulnerable to breakage and theft
    • Bug fixes, improvements, speed-ups, fine-tuning, and other things that aren’t particularly noticeable (but done because we love you)

    Check out the update, and be sure to let us know if anything isn’t working the way it should. And Android folks, don’t feel left out; an update with bug fixes is in the pipeline, so stay tuned (and thanks for the feedback!).

  • Do the robot: the official NewsBlur Android app is here

    You’ve been bugging us for two years about it, and now it’s finally here: NewsBlur’s expansion to mobile is complete, with our first-ever official Android app ready and waiting for your device. Thanks to the gifts of money and time from Y Combinator and the programming prowess of Papermill creator Ryan Bateman (otherwise known as @secretsquirrel), you can now join your iOS brethren on the couch with your daily dose of RSS goodness. Level of accompanying smugness is up to you.

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    The Android app has all the features of the iOS app, including:

    • All your sites, folders, and friends’ blurblogs
    • Speedy downloading of sites and general alacrity of use
    • The ability to share and comment on stories on your blurblog
    • Direct imports from Google Reader: download the app without ever having to hit the Web to set up an account
    • Follow new people, read their shares, and generally expand your knowledge, worldview, and personal magnetism

    Plus, it has that delicious Android flavor, with half the calories.

    Download the official NewsBlur Android app. Tell your friends! Tip your waitstaff. Try the veal. Floss twice a day. Call your mom, she misses you.

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