Exactly one week before Google Reader shuts down entirely, Digg has opened up access to the Digg Reader beta. To celebrate this momentous occasion, we sat down with General Manager Jake Levine and President Andrew McLaughlin to discuss the details of the product, as well as the long-term roadmap.
Digg now has two main products, which reach entirely different content consumers. Digg is a passive-consumption experience — you head over to Digg.com and check out 50-80 of the biggest stories of the day with no work required on your part. With Digg Reader, the company is going after power consumers who don’t mind putting in a little effort to build their feeds.
But Digg and Digg Reader are only pieces of a larger puzzle, McLaughlin explained to me. Eventually, the data sourced from Digg Reader will allow for a consumption experience with all the personalization and customization of a reader, but without all the work.
But before the middle ground can be found, the team is focused on perfecting the Digg Reader experience, and that involves speed. According to Levine, speed and reliability — “the invisible things that you don’t see” — were the biggest challenges in developing the product.
After all, Google had a massive, powerful infrastructure to power their Reader, and Digg wants users who are transitioning to have a similarly snappy experience.
But they don’t want to just be as good as Google. They want to be better. For now, that means tweaking and iterating the Popular Sort, which scores the last thousand or so items across a number of factors to determine what is the most popular content at that given time.
Eventually, that will extend into what’s popular within your social circles, or over a given period of time, or in a particular location.
However, Digg Reader is missing one thing that Google Reader has: Search. According to McLaughlin and Levine, it’s still undecided whether or not Search (which will be added to the service eventually) will be part of the premium product or the free version.
“Search isn’t something that the majority of people use, but those who use it find it to be very important,” said Levine. “We haven’t decided if we’ll make it part of the premium product, but it’s entirely possible since it’s one of the more expensive features we’ll be adding. We’re toying with the idea of having pricing line up with costs.”
Luckily, Digg Reader has the power of betaworks behind it, which includes a number of resources from other content-focused companies like bit.ly, Instapaper, and Tapestry. However, when integrating with other services, Digg Reader plans to stay neutral.
“We want to be neutral,” said McLaughlin. “We’ll treat Pocket and Readability and Flipboard all the same as we do Instapaper. We won’t play favorites with our API.”
With the death of Google Reader, Digg isn’t the only player stepping up to bat. According to the team, the biggest competitors to watch are Feedly, Reeder, and Flipboard. “Even though it’s different, it’s still trying to serve active consumption,” said McLaughlin.
One note taken out of the Flipboard playbook is the ability to sign in to your subscriptions (like with the NYT and WSJ) and see that content in full within the stream. That’s something the Digg Reader team is highly interested in, as well as keeping ad-based publishers happy. But in the end, they believe that the premium product will pay for itself.
Digg Reader beta is open now, but will roll out slowly to ensure a great experience for users. The team is also launching an iOS app alongside today’s desktop launch, and an Android app will be available in the next three to four weeks. You can sign up now here.
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