Bloglines is launching a new design at beta.bloglines.com, which includes a new personalizable Start Page, more views, and drag and drop Ajax functionality. I spoke to new Bloglines GM Eric Engleman about the makeover and tested the Beta Bloglines myself. My judgement below, plus I re-cap the history of Bloglines and how they dropped the ball after being acquired by Ask.com. Finally it looks like Bloglines is back on track, under Engleman. But first, let's review the new features.Tonight
Bloglines Beta is the first stage of "a complete redesign of the Bloglines service". The new features include a new personalizeable Start Page (featuring drag and drop functionality to add feeds); 3 feed reading views (Quick View with headlines only, 3-Pane View for an email-like interface, and Full View for "the classic Bloglines page layout, updated"); Drag-and-drop feed management using Ajax; and a new Unread System to manage what to keep and what to ignore. Also upgraded are the 'Add Feeds' process and the 'Full View' option.
There are more features to come, as Beta Bloglines is iterated on - including new options for saving, sending and sharing posts, as well as building link blogs, managing blog rolls, etc. Also coming soon is upgraded developer APIs. One of the more exciting future features from my point of view will be Personalization Preferences, allowing users to edit a feed or settings.
The Bloglines team wants to get their community involved in the Beta, using the Bloglines Forum and encouraging users to blog their feedback. Another point to note is that Bloglines will run two separate sites: "Classic" Bloglines (the old UI, at bloglines.com) and "Beta" Bloglines (the new one described in this post, at beta.bloglines.com). You can use both sites to access your Bloglines subscriptions. The company says that changes that you make to your Bloglines subscriptions in one version (e.g. add or delete a feed) will be automatically updated in the other - so your Bloglines subscriptions will always be in synch.
The Start Page is a great additon, because it allows you to check your favorite feeds before delving into your full feed "library". Beta Bloglines enables you to drag and drop feeds into your Start page.
Beta Bloglines Start Page
The new Bloglines beta has a lot of Ajax functionality, allowing you to drag and drop feeds, get pop-over previews, and more. Overall it provides a much slicker user interface than the old Bloglines.
Bloglines Beta has 3 viewing options:
1) Quick View - allowing you to just scan the headlines.
2) Full view - so you can read all the content in one place. This is the traditional Bloglines view, given a slight UI makeover (rounded corners, Ajax, etc).
3) 3-Pane view - using the email UI favored by many desktop RSS Readers and also My Yahoo.
A Short Bloglines History
Bloglines is one of the oldest browser-based RSS Readers on the Web - and up until Google Reader came along, it was the dominant one too. I was a very early user of Bloglines (I signed up in 2003 when it first came out) and for a good couple of years it was my RSS Reader of choice. Under the helm of founder Mark Fletcher, Bloglines kept ahead of its competition - even the more functional and richer desktop RSS Readers - and continued to grow its market lead.
Then Bloglines got acquired by Ask.com in February 2005 and the innovation ground to a halt. Bloglines did add some search elements in March 2005 and the service showed no signs of slowing its user growth - in May 2005 Bloglines dominated the RSS Reader market. But despite that, the rot had begun to set in. In October 2005 I lamented that Bloglines was no longer innovating. Fletcher left Ask.com in June 2006 and for many more months Bloglines languished, with seemingly little interest within Ask.com to improve the service - despite the regular protests by loyal users such as myself. So many of its early adopter users moved onto something else - in my case Google Reader, which was innovating in a big way during 2006.
Fast forward to August 2007 and finally we're seeing a makeover of Bloglines, under the guidance of new Bloglines GM Eric Engleman. As I noted to Eric during our conversation, many early adopters loved Bloglines when it first came out. It was something totally new and to many of us it represented the best of this thing called web 2.0. So to see it being virtually ignored by its new owner over the past two years (mid-2005 till now) was a real shame.
Pros and Cons
Can Bloglines regain the support of the early adopter crowd and the thousands of other fans it used to have (and perhaps still does)? My first impressions are of a slick new RSS Reader interface - and it actually seems faster than Google Reader, which does have its quirks. The Bloglines Start Page is fantastic and will allow me to keep tabs on the feeds that are most important to me. The drag and drop touches are excellent, and the Ajax is very smooth and relevant.
To the cons -- at this point I'm not sure about the way Beta Bloglines shows folders. With Google Reader, it lists out the entire content of the folder (e.g. 15 feeds) as a list of post titles. But with Beta Bloglines, you get the Start Page interface showing each feed separately (see below). I prefer the big list a la Google Reader. Likewise the Beta Bloglines 3-pane view is a little awkward when dealing with folders.
I'll continue to test it out, but for now: Bloglines has me back as a fan! I'm sure they'll be thrilled to hear that :-) I'll be doing lots of comparisions in the coming weeks - but not to the Classic Bloglines... I'll be comparing it to Google Reader!
Check it out and let us know what you think of Beta Bloglines.