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Instapaper, Digg, and the Social Reading Revolution

In the ensuing months after Google made the decision to unceremoniously discontinue Google Reader (which is,  in this journalist’s opinion, one of the best news-gathering methods around), panicked users have made the mad scramble to find a suitable replacement before the plug is pulled this July.

But perhaps our best option for a new reader isn’t even out yet — and it comes from a pretty unlikely place.

Well-known startup developer-turned-budding publishing company Betaworks is making a serious gambit to change social reading as we know it today. Last year, the company snapped up forlorn social news aggregator Digg, and gave it a new lease on life. Today marks the company’s follow-up acquisition of Instapaper, a stunningly simple article saving service that has been known and loved by journalists and the broader public for years. With both companies now under the same umbrella, it’s no surprise that Betaworks is planning on somehow revamping newsgathering on the web.

But how? Well, filling Google Reader’s shoes is a great start.

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4 Great Apps to Replace Google Reader

Last week, the world let out a collective sigh in exasperation when Google announced that it would be “winding down” its long-running RSS service, Google Reader. While it stands to be an inconvenience for some, it’s an earth-shattering one for journalists who rely on Google Reader’s services daily to pick up on beats and understand what competitors are running every day.

If you’re still concerned about how where to go after Google Reader shutters on July 1st of this year, then fear not: there are plenty of reasonable and free alternatives to port your sources. Here’s a roundup of a few apps that will fit your individual needs as a news-consuming journalist and also give you a great RSS experience without breaking your budget.

What’s your favorite RSS alternative? Let us know in the comments!

1. For Those Who Want the Old Google Back: The Old Reader

The Old Reader is exactly what it claims to be: a recreation of the Google Reader as it was in 2011, before the introduction of the new design and share features to align the product with Google+. The free service is still in beta, but is able to seamlessly import an existing RSS feed list. The design is minimal — like the classic Google Reader — and allows users to follow other people and share their stories easily on Facebook or via email.

The app has already gotten a flood of beta invite requests from users eager to port over as soon as possible, so the teeny startup behind the app is overwhelmed. However, with a new mobile app on the horizon, it’s easy to guess that The Old Reader will be the closest to a Google experience as possible. Read more

Quick! Pick Up These Helpful iPhone Apps Still On Sale

As a journalist, the only thing better than a piece of new equipment is a piece of new equipment for a rock-bottom price. Everyone is doing more with less these days, so it’s more important than ever to take advantage of sales that will boost your toolset without breaking the bank.

Luckily, those doldrum days between Christmas and New Years have become a boon for people who are looking for a good deal, and you can see that phenomenon no better than in the Apple app store. Whether you’re taking advantage of a new device or interested in updating your apps, these four products will become your go-to for on-the-fly reporting and task management — and might make you a better reporter in the process. Read more

Optimizing News Websites for Google TV

Google TV

In late 2010, Google developed their new smart TV platform entitled Google TV. The service is built on the Android operating system, and functions as a set-top box to allow users to watch on-demand video services, such as YouTube, Google Reader, and Google Chrome. This integration allows users to subscribe to your site and have regular updates pushed to their Google TV devices (similar to an RSS feed with an RSS aggregator). Mobile phones and tablet devices are changing the landscape of the web for organizations, and soon you may even ask “how does my site look on TV”? This is especially important since Google TV will soon be able to access the Android Market, according to recent news. Since Google TV lies somewhere between mobile devices and desktops/laptops in terms of functionality and user experience, here are a few helpful guidelines to make sure your site is ready for prime time on Google TV.

Design for the Big Screen

According to the Leichtman Research Group, as of 2010, 61% of US households own at least one HDTV, with 26% owning more than one. These high resolution displays mean that there is an increased distance between the user to the television, which means that elements on websites need to be large enough to be seen across the room at a glance. Larger elements also means increased white space between elements. Lets take a look at the New York Times on Google TV.

New York Times on Google TV

New York Times on Google TV

Along with this, websites need to make sure that the most important information is at the top of the page. Web designers call this property “above the fold”, meaning that you include information at the top of a page to prevent users from scrolling vertically to find more information. Since HDTVs will more than likely be widescreen displays (either 720p or 1080p), this means that organizations should rely on either horizontal or grid navigation to make it easier for users to go through your site.

Function over Form

Keep in mind that the processors for most Google TV devices will be somewhere between your mobile phone and your desktop or laptop in terms of processing power. Google has partnered with Intel, Sony, Logitech for current Google TV devices, and new partnerships with Samsung and Vizio ensure that new, faster devices will be coming to the market by the holiday season. Websites designed for Google TV will need to be able to load quickly without a lot of extra animations or Flash videos. Google TV can display Flash content, but it will not be at the same speed as a desktop or laptop, so keep that in mind. Let’s take a look at Al Jazeera on Google TV.

Al Jazeera on Google TV

Al Jazeera on Google TV

Make Navigation Big and Simple

One thing the Al Jazeera site illustrates is that you should also look to use access keys for navigation, such as arrow keys or letters on the keyboard. The mouse pointer on Google TV is small and hard to see, so enabling navigation by keyboard to access a menu or a section of the website creates a great user experience. The key is to simplify user navigation as much as possible. Primary actions for the user should be available in one click; don’t hide key features for your site in menus. You should also provide a legend to explain your keyboard-based navigation system. Don’t make your users think too much about how to navigate your website on Google TV, or else they may change the channel.

Zoom, Zoom, Zoom

The Chrome Browser in Google TV supports the non-standard CSS property called zoom. What does this do, you ask? According to Sitepoint, this property controls the magnification level for the current element. This means that text, videos, and other elements on your page can be enlarged to allow for viewing across large distances or for visually impaired users. Because zoom is a non-standard property, you would probably have to test this on Google TV for troubleshooting purposes.

KQED on Google TV

KQED on Google TV

Overall, these are just a few things developers can do to optimize news websites for Google TV. Other news organizations have already started developing for Google TV, including USA Today, Huffington Post, and KQED. Google has provided a full optimization guide, as well as a number of optimized templates. What news organizations have you seen on Google TV? Share your findings in the comments.

8 Creative ways to use RSS feeds

Create a book

If you have a blog created with WordPress, TypePad, or Blogger, you can use Blog2Print to create a book directly from your blog’s RSS feed. The book can include photos, comments, and be printed in black and white or color.

Create an interactive timeline

You can create an embeddable, interactive timeline in minutes using Dipity‘s RSS feature. To create one, copy the URL of the RSS feed and select RSS as your input source. The resulting timeline can be embedded in any website much like a YouTube video.

Catch up on the tweets you missed

You ever got the feeling that you’re missing important Twitter messages when you’re away from your computer? By adding the RSS feeds for individual Twitter users or lists to your RSS reader you can make sure you never miss a tweet. Just select the orange RSS icon on any Twitter page and add the feed address to your RSS reader of choice.

Catch only the best tweets

Even if you archive your favorite tweets using an RSS reader, you may quickly become inundated with the number of tweets coming in. The Twitter Tim.es has a solution. The online tool aggregates the most shared links among your Twitter friends and presents them as an online newspaper. Using the site’s RSS feature, you can make sure that the most interesting links being tweeted are sent directly to your reader.

Read your RSS feeds in your email

Sometimes a feed reader isn’t the most convenient way to stay on top of your RSS subscriptions. Feed My Inbox allows you to direct your RSS feeds to your email, which is especially convenient for those sites that don’t have an automatic email delivery option. The first five feeds are free.

Create a custom newspaper

The big word in digital news is customization: readers want to be able tailor their reading experience to just the content they are interested in. You can do the same by creating your own FeedJournal. Simply give the site the RSS feeds you want to read and it will output a printable newspaper that you can read either online or off.

Spruce up your reading experience

Some of the most popular RSS readers were built with functionality rather than aesthetics in mind. Helvetireader is an extension/plugin (depending on your browser of choice) that will turn Google Reader into a Helvetica-inspired reading environment.

Listen to your RSS subscriptions

The audiophiles out there will appreciate BlogRadio, a service that will collect your RSS feeds and read them to you in the natural-sounding voice you choose. BlogRadio is available as a downloadable desktop application or as an app on your mobile device.

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