Over the last 90 days, the Digg engineering team — all 5 of them — has been heads-down building an updated take on the RSS reader. For our first public release, in time to (just) beat the shutdown of Google Reader, our aim has been to nail the basics: a web and mobile reading experience that is clean, simple, functional, and fast. We’re also introducing a tool that allows users to elevate the most important stories to the top.

And so next week we will begin rolling out Digg Reader, version 1. We’re doing the launch in phases because, as you might have guessed, RSS aggregation is a hard thing to do at scale, and we want to make sure the experience is as fast and reliable as possible. Everyone will have access by June 26th. With all this in mind, we thought now would be a good moment to come up for air and share a little bit about the product you’ll see next week, and what else we’ll be adding over the next few months.

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Given the compressed time frame for this sprint, we decided early on that we needed to focus on one type of user. We asked ourselves who had most to lose from the shutdown of Google Reader, and the answer was fairly obvious: the power user, the people who depend on the availability, stability, and speed of Reader every day. The good news is that these users are also the most eager to contribute to the development process. (Over 18,000 people signed up to provide feedback on the product.)

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Here’s what we heard from them:

  • Make it fast.
  • Keep it simple.
  • Let me import my feeds and folders from Google Reader.

So with that in mind, this beta release centers on these core elements of the product:

  • Easy migration and onboarding from Google Reader.
  • A clean reading experience that gets out of the way and puts the focus squarely on the articles, posts, images, and videos themselves.
  • Useful mobile apps that sync with the web experience.
  • Support for key actions like subscribing, sharing, saving and organizing.

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Launch is always an exciting moment, but it’s what follows that will matter most to our users. In the 60 days following launch, our focus will be on:

  • Android app.
  • Speed.
  • Integration with additional third party services (like Buffer, Evernote, and IFTTT).
  • Better tools to sort, filter and rank your reading lists and feeds, based on your networks, interests, likes, and so on.
  • Collecting and responding to user feedback.

…and getting started on:

  • Search.
  • Notifications.
  • And of course, a button that, when pushed, automatically delivers a cronut to your desk. Uber for cronuts.

We mentioned in a prior post that Digg Reader will ultimately be a ‘freemium’ product. But we’re not going to bait-and-switch. All of the features introduced next week, as well as many others yet to come, will be part of the free experience.

While you’re at the beach and doing foliage cruises (or whatever people do in October), we’ll be spending the summer and fall building out a richer feature set, drawing heavily on users’ feedback, ideas, and requests. But first, we want to get the basics right, starting with a clean and uncluttered design and a powerful backend infrastructure than can operate well at scale.

Thanks for your patience and stay tuned for next week!

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Two weeks ago, we sent out a second survey to the over 18,000 people who signed up to help us work on our reader. In our first survey, we focused on core discovery and reading features. This time around we wanted to learn about the more ancillary features like read later and sharing. Here’s what we learned from over 8,600 responses:

 

Email Still Dominates Sharing

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While about 55% of users share news via Facebook or Twitter, over 75% share news via email. It almost goes without saying that our reader will include seamless sharing to all these services.

 

How People Read Things Later

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Though over 1/3 of respondents don’t use a “read it later” service, Pocket, Instapaper, Evernote and Readability are all popular options. Don’t worry! Our goal is to support all of them.

 

Social Features Aren’t A Top Priority

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Nearly half of all respondents said that they never used Google Reader’s social features (before they were rolled back in 2011), while just 17% said that they used them often. Though we may not have a robust social functionality in place for launch, ultimately we believe that social features which foster connections between readers will be an important part of the Digg experience.

 

People Will Pay

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Free products on the Internet don’t have a great track record. They tend to disappear, leaving users in a lurch. We need to build a product that people can rely on and trust will always be there for them. We’re not sure how pricing might work, but we do know that we’d like our users to be our customers, not our product. So when we asked survey participants whether or not they would be willing to pay, we were pleased to see that over 40% said yes.

Our beta release in June will be just the beginning, a product built with experimentation in mind by a team eager to work with you to build something you love.

As always, if you’re willing to lend a hand, including participating in surveys like this, please sign up at digg.com/reader!

Last week we sent out a survey to the over 17,000 people who signed up to help us work on our reader. Amazingly, we’ve gotten more than 8,000 responses so far, and they keep trickling in. Here’s what we’ve learned:

 

Users read a lot, a lot of the time

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80%(!) of respondents check Google Reader many times a day. And 40% of users follow more than 100 feeds. There is no doubt about it — this is a product for power users, and we’ll need to make sure we have some serious infrastructure in place to support that kind of usage for launch.

 

Google Reader isn’t for work, and it isn’t for play – it’s for both

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Over 75% of respondents indicated that they use Google Reader for both work and play. This type of dual usage is an impressive testament to the product’s flexibility.

 

People are eager to try and find a product that can replace Reader

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The survey suggests that people are trying a lot of different types of RSS products, but have yet to settle on one or another en masse.

 

Don’t give short shrift to shortcuts

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67% reported that they use keyboard shortcuts at least some of the time. Don’t worry, this one’s definitely on the list.

 

Search is more of a hobby

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This was an interesting data point. While 25% reported never using search, over just over half said that they sometimes do. Search is a huge investment in terms of development time and infrastructure costs. We don’t yet know if we’ll have the necessary infrastructure up and running in time for our initial beta launch, but it’s definitely on the roadmap.

If there’s one thing you could remove from Google Reader what would it be?

At the end of the survey, we asked a few open ended questions. Thousands of responses were left, and we looked through every single one. Mike made a word cloud of a few of the response sets.

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We have a ton of work to do in the next few months, and we need your help. If you’re willing to lend a hand, including participating in surveys like this, please sign up at digg.com/reader!

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A few days ago we announced that we were re-prioritizing our product roadmap for 2013 in order to build an RSS reader from scratch. While we had long planned to build something like this, we had no idea we’d be attempting to do it so soon, or within such a tight timeframe. But after Google’s announcement last week, and Reader’s imminent shutdown, we think it’s the right thing to do.  It’s certainly the self-interested thing to do, given how much we all relied on Google Reader. 

Over 800 comments were left on last week’s blog post. That’s more than we received when we told the world we were rebuilding Digg itself. It’s also proof that Google Reader users (and RSS devotees in general) are rabid information addicts with strong opinions.  We’re truly grateful for the input.

The comments are rife with practical, creative, and smart insights that we will do our level best not to squander. Over the next few months, our goal is to spend as much time as possible with devoted users of Google Reader and other reading applications.

After combing through all 800 comments, here are 4 points that seemed to recur, and loudly:

  1. Keep it simple, stupid*

  2. Make it fast (like, really fast)

  3. Synchronize across devices

  4. Make it easy to import from existing Google Reader accounts

Google did a lot of things right with its Reader, but based on what we’re hearing from users, there is room for meaningful improvement. We want to build a product that’s clean and flexible, that bends easily and intuitively to the needs of different users. We want to experiment with and add value to the sources of information that are increasingly important, but difficult to surface and organize in most reader applications — like Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Reddit, LinkedIn, or Hacker News. We likely won’t get everything we want into v1, but we believe it’s worth exploring.

We’re a small team, and while we tend to work best under tight time constraints, building a Google Reader replacement in a few months is a massive undertaking that will consume our days and nights. We’re confident we can ship a product that meets the principles above, but if a feature is missing on Day 1 that you were really looking forward to, we ask that you 1) tell us and 2) be patient.

With that in mind, we’re going to continue to gather input from Reader junkies, casual users, and even the original developers themselves. If you’re at all interested in being a part of the development process (or just keeping up with our progress), please join our email list. We’ll use that list to keep in touch with you and the thousands of others who have already signed up.

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P.S. We’re also eager to work with any developers that want to lend a hand, so get in touch if you’re interested in being a part of this (mildly insane) sprint.

Like many of you, we were dismayed to learn that Google will be shutting down its much-loved, if under-appreciated, Google Reader on July 1st. Through its many incarnations, Google Reader has remained a solid and reliable tool for those who want to ensure they are getting the best from their favorite sections of the Internet. And though they were not wholly appreciated at the time, Reader’s early social features were forward-thinking and hugely useful.

We’ve heard people say that RSS is a thing of the past, and perhaps in its current incarnation it is, but as daily (hourly) users of Google Reader, we’re convinced that it’s a product worth saving. So we’re going to give it our best shot. We’ve been planning to build a reader in the second half of 2013, one that, like Digg, makes the Internet a more approachable and digestible place. After Google’s announcement, we’re moving the project to the top of our priority list. We’re going to build a reader, starting today.

Since 2010, when we started working on News.me at betaworks, we’ve been obsessed with building tools that surface the most interesting things on the Internet, in real-time. That’s what has guided our approach to rebuilding Digg, and it’s with that experience behind us (including a whole load of mistakes), that we will build the new reader.

We hope to identify and rebuild the best of Google Reader’s features (including its API), but also advance them to fit the Internet of 2013, where networks and communities like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit and Hacker News offer powerful but often overwhelming signals as to what’s interesting. Don’t get us wrong: we don’t expect this to be a trivial undertaking. But we’re confident we can cook up a worthy successor.

In order to pull this off in such a small window, we’re going to need your help. We need your input on what you want to see in a reader. What problems should it solve for you? What’s useful? What isn’t? What do you wish it could do that it can’t today?

If you want to pitch in your thoughts – or just want to notified when it’s ready – please click here. If you have zero interest in any of this, don’t worry, the Digg you know and love isn’t going away.

Andrew

PS - If you love making beautiful things and want to help us build the new reader, please let us know!

We’re proud of what the new Digg team has accomplished since we took over the site in August. We released an iPhone app, an iPad app (both featured by Apple), an email product called The Daily Digg, and a site redesign. We doubled our users, publishers are starting to notice "the Digg effect" once again, and most importantly, users think we’re on the right track. As we look forward to 2013, we wanted to take a moment and talk a little bit about our approach to monetization.

Read More

It has now been over 100 days since we launched the new Digg. In the last couple of months, we launched an iPad app, redesigned the iPhone app, nearly doubled the number of stories on the homepage, and upgraded many of the features we had to skimp on during the six week sprint (Twitter login, for example). We doubled our monthly active users from June (the last full month of Old Digg) to October, and people are starting to notice.

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We’re happy to report that Digg for iPad, and an update to Digg for iPhone 5 is now live in the app store!

Free Download — go get it!

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Today we launched the Digg Archive, a tool to help users of the old Digg (before July 2012) retrieve a history of their Diggs, Submissions, Saved Articles, and Comments.

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We rolled out a cool new feature this morning. Find a story on Digg that looks awesome but don’t have time to read it? Click “Save” under any story to save it to your Reading List on Digg.com and to the Digg iPhone app.

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