Online feed readers have been steadily gaining a lot of popularity, as more and more users make the switch from desktop applications to the the web. Google Reader, in particular has become immensely popular among the majority of bloggers and tech enthusiasts. These early adopter are a rather influential bunch, and their preferences can give a clear indication of the rise or demise of a product. However, Google Reader isn't an innovative product by any means, and the reason for its popularity is simply because Google managed to go about building a feed manager the right way. They avoided adding any superfluous features that made the product unnecessarily complicated, this made it simple and easy to use. It is this simplicity, something which is lacking in competing products that has made Google Reader such a success.
Enter Newshutch. Its not exactly a new product, indeed it has been around for about a year now, but the early versions had a few too many kinks in it, causing users to abandon it early on. But after using it for the past few days I must say that it has improved a lot, in fact its solid enough to work as my default feed reader. First of all, its interface is very neat and clean, having only the most basic components of a feed reader, which makes it very fast.
All your subscriptions are listed on the left side, this list only feeds with unread new items but you can change the option to include feeds without unread items as well (like Google Reader's default view). They display the favicon of each feed, and the total no. of unread news items. There's also a rather large button that lets you mark all as read.
The actual news items are displayed on the right side and has a "river of news" view. By default Newshutch does not mark individual news items as read, when you scroll past them but you can set it to do so in the options. You can also mark each separate news item as read, which makes them move to the bottom of the page, or you can mark the entire feed as read at once. Each feed or news item can also be "flagged" which is like bookmarking them, which makes them easier to find later on, this is similar to Google Reader's "Starring" mechanism.
Managing feeds is also a straight forward affair. To add new feeds you simply click the appropriate link and type the site address in the field. Newshutch can also integrate with Firefox, so you can click on an RSS Feed icon/link on any site and have it added to your Newshutch reader instantly. Renaming a feed, or deleting a feed takes just a few clicks. Adding categories and sorting the fields into their own categories is also simple and effortless.
Newshutch is a great product but it lacks in a few departments. Firstly, it doesn't allow you to view multiple feeds at once, so you need to view each feed separately, letting users view all updated news item (at least for each category), would be a nice option. As I mentioned before the UI is very clear and uncluttered but its also a bit too dull, changing the colors would also be a welcome change, or perhaps supporting themes so that each user can customize its look to their liking. Sometimes the reader chokes on large OPML files, which is rather annoying since importing OPML files is probably the first thing many users do. Finally, they should improve the UI to be a bit more responsive and smooth, because sometimes it feels a bit shaky. Indeed Newshutch still has a beta vibe about it but don't let that stop you from trying it, you don't even have to sign up to use it, just head on over to newshutch.com and give it a shot.