Newsgator Online Beta: Better Than Before – Still Not Good Enough

The long awaited next version of Newsgator Online is being shown to some bloggers tonight and will be announced next week. It’s pretty good; click that first link in this post and you can try it yourself.

The truth is, it’s much less awful than previous versions. I love Newsgator but their web based feedreader has been so choked and slow that it’s been unusable. Not so any more. That’s great. The new version reduces the number of pageloads required by performing a number of functions with an Ajax pop-up box. The remaining page loads happen much faster than before – even with 500 feeds. They’ve also added a “loading” image with progress bar, which makes any wait much more tolerable (at least you know the darned thing is working.) There are a number of other small changes as well but none seem super important. The new version is so far still much less pleasing to use than Google Reader or a desktop reader. It still feels like something that was broken has now been covered up with a new layer on top.

Other issues. Embedded video is stripped out of the feeds – there’s not even any indication when a YouTube video should appear. Bloglines and Google Reader let you view Flash video players without leaving your feed reader. Google Reader provides a number of Flash video and audio consumption capabilities inline – that should be expanded on. Also, there’s still no hope of using Newsgator Online on my Nokia phone. I would have kissed someone if that had worked. If I had a different phone, they do have software for that.

Windows users can grab a Newsgator browser plug-in that provides an autodetect and subscribe button – though your browser already supports this itself (click the RSS icon in your address bar.)

Why should you use Newsgator Online? Well, you may already be using one of the company’s desktop feed readers – NetNewsWire or FeedDemon. Those are the best feed readers on the market (except perhaps Google Reader, if you insist) and they sync automatically with your Newsgator Online account. So if you’re a person who uses more than one computer you can log in to your list of feeds from anywhere, be synced up and have a much more pleasant experience than Newsgator Online provided before.

The best thing about Newsgator Online is that it allows me to view things in “river of news” format – what’s most recent no matter which of all my subscribed feeds it came in on. Google Reader lets you do that too, as does NetNewsWire.

I can’t remember if Newsgator’s enterprise product uses this same interface as Newsgator Online. If so, that’s good news for those users. Otherwise, this new upgrade isn’t going to win any new users – Google Reader has set the standard for web based feed readers and no one else has met that standard yet. Google Reader still isn’t as fast as a desktop reader, but it’s getting close. As web based readers go, though – I put this new version of Newsgator Online in second place behind Google Reader and ahead of the too-inflexible Bloglines. I haven’t used a web based feed reader in months, anyway. NetNewsWire on the desktop, NetVibes for a start page and various RSS alert systems work together best for me.