Digg: Introducing Digg Reader

I’m sure most of you have heard the saying, “everyone loves a comeback story.” They often take place in the realm of athletics, but are also common in the world of tech. Many individuals believe that Yahoo! is trending upwards after a long and painful downward spiral. AOL can also be considered a comeback story. After losing the majority of its subscribers once DSL and broadband Internet became more readily available, AOL changed gears by running many well to-do news properties, including Engadget, The Huffington Post, Joystiq and TechCrunch.

Digg is attempting to become another successful comeback story, after losing many of its users in 2010 after the release of Digg version 4. Just over a year ago Digg was bought by Betaworks, and the site went through a new redesign, bringing with it a much cleaner and friendlier interface. With the announcement of Google Reader’s eventual demise earlier this year, Digg jumped at the opportunity to add their own reader functionality — dubbed Digg Reader. After toying around with Digg Reader in the Digg app, I’m ready to share my experience.

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The Digg Experience

While most of my review will focus on the new Digg Reader features, it’s certainly worth noting that the app is first and foremost a true Digg experience. When you initially open Digg, you’ll find yourself in the Top Stories view, where you can scroll through the most popular stories Digg has to offer, and search for specific topic points. However, you can’t vote up (i.e. “digg”) or bookmark an article until you’ve signed in.

Digg's core features are still at the forefront of the app.

Digg’s core features are still at the forefront of the app.

If you’re new to Digg, you have the option of signing in with your Facebook, Twitter or Google account. I can’t tell you how often I run into a service that forces your hand into using a social network to gain access, and each time it leaves me shaking my head a little. I don’t have an issue using my personal accounts in most instances, but it just seems unnecessary at times. In the instance of Digg, an option to sign up with an email address should be available.

Adding & Managing Feeds

With Google Reader dead and gone, the convenience of logging in with your Google account and importing your feeds is non-existent, which is unfortunate. If you remembered to export an OPML file of your Google Reader feeds, however, you can import it via the Digg website — this functionality isn’t available in the app.

Visit the Digg website to import your OPML file.

Visit the Digg website to import your OPML file.

If you’re starting from scratch, or find a new site that interests you, adding a new feed is as simple as tapping the +Add button at the bottom of the sidebar, entering the name of the site and tapping your desired option. Feed management, on the other hand, is non-existent in Digg. There are zero options available for deleting or sorting feeds via the app, meaning you’ll need to visit the website each time a need to perform either task arises.

You may run into multiple instances of the same feed, which requires you to guess a bit.

You may run into multiple instances of the same feed, which requires you to guess a bit.

Feeds are displayed in one of three manners: individually, in folders or a combination of the two. I never used folders with Google Reader, but find they work well in Digg. Tapping a folder group will display stories for all contained feeds, and tapping the folder itself will cascade the feeds, which allows you to select them individually (my preferred method). One of my favorite aspects of Digg is that feeds are displayed in an arrangement set by you, not in alphabetical order with no other option like in Feedly.

You'll need to visit the Digg website to arrange your feeds.

You’ll need to visit the Digg website to arrange your feeds.

The Feed View

The feed view is another limited area in Digg. While the website offers two view options — list and expanded — the Digg app opts for a modified list view with an image preview located on the right. Personally, I love default view, but options are always nice to have. Located in the upper-right is a checkbox icon, which allows you to mark all items as read.

Flick left on an item to open a quick menu.

Flick left on an item to open a quick menu.

Viewing Articles

Tapping an article transitions you to the full story (or preview version, depending on the feed) in the reader view. Much like competing apps, the reader view strips out all the distracting elements of a website and leaves you with the content you’re after. Digg offers a few customization options, such as a light/dark mode and text size, but font options are nowhere to be found. While minor, you’ll have to travel back to the settings to make any adjustments of this nature, which is in contrast to apps like Pocket and Readability that make them instantly accessible. Regardless, having any options is better than having none, like in Reeder.

Flick left on an item to open a quick menu.

Flick left on an item to open a quick menu.

Along the top navigation bar you’ll find options to digg and bookmark an article, or access the Share menu, which allows you to post a link to Twitter and Facebook, mail or text a link to friends, copy the article’s link, open in Safari, and save the article to Pocket or Instapaper.

Quickly share an article via the share menu.

Quickly share an article via the share menu.

If the full article is not displayed, or you wish to view it in its native format, you can tap an articles header, or the “View on” option located at the bottom, to transition to the website view. From a user experience standpoint, I’m not a fan of how the top navigation bar doesn’t change during this transition. If the view simply reloaded (as it does in Pocket), as opposed to physically transitioning, the interaction would make far more sense. Gestures is another issue with this setup. You can flick right from the reader view to transition to the feed view, but the same can’t be said while you’re in the website view.

The website view may be visited frequently based on your feeds.

The website view may be visited frequently based on your feeds.

Marked As Read Issues

In terms of performance, my experience was mostly positive. The unread counts did not appear in the app or website for some time after Digg Reader’s release, but any issues have since been resolved. One area that I continue to encounter issues though, is marking all items as read. After reading through a feed I always initiate the mark as read feature, but often return to the feed a bit later to find previously read articles marked as unread. Likewise, when I individually marked all feeds as read and go to the All view, the same articles are marked as unread.

The mark all as read functionality tends to be a bit spotty.

The mark all as read functionality tends to be a bit spotty.

The Bottom Line

It’s been over a month since Google Reader shut is figurative doors, and I’m sure many of you have already found a suitable replacement. I used Digg Reader for just over a week after Google Reader closed, and ultimately enjoyed the experience, as limited as it was in some areas. The lack of feed management is annoying, at best, but it’s a problem that exists in other popular reader apps like Feedly and Reeder.

If accessibility is important to you, Digg is a fantastic option. While going through the app with VoiceOver activated, I found buttons to be clearly labeled, which allowed for easy navigation. In contrast, Feedly and Reeder are impossible to navigate while using VoiceOver.

Digg Reader is still a very young service with a considerable amount of promise. While features like the ability to view only unread stories is currently not available in the Digg app, it should be in next update, according to Digg’s blog. The overall experience offered by Digg is smooth and uncomplicated, and I especially love the minimal design (as I tend to do). As such, I recommend anyone looking for a straightforward and simplified reader service to give Digg a trial run.


Summary

Manage your RSS feeds on top of the core Digg experience.

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