Bloglines has just launched a new beta version of its site. Bloglines has been an immensely popular Web-based RSS reader since its launch in 2003, so it's great to see that it is stepping up its game with this new release. It went in the obvious, but logical, direction of offering a customized start page, with the feeds you are the most interested in. I've talked before about how the personalized start page market is already very crowded, but Bloglines might have a loyal enough user base and a good enough reputation to make it work here.
First off, this new release allows you to easily create a customized start page by dragging and dropping feeds from your list in Bloglines. It's very smooth and "Ajax-y," and has all the makings of a successful service. It doesn't complicate the matter with various widgets to add to your page, which may be a good thing for some people. It's really easy to use and allows you to quickly reference news, at a glance, that you need to read first.
The addition of the new start page is great, but the real question is: How is Bloglines going to compete with Google Reader? Google Reader surpassed Bloglines as the most used Web-based RSS reader, with ease, when it appeared that Bloglines was not doing much to improve user experience.
Bloglines' latest release brings great new functionality to its core feed-reading experience. In addition to Bloglines' traditional view, which it is now calling "full view," it has two additional feed-reading views called "quick view" and "three-pane view." Quick view is essentially an e-mail-style view of the unread posts in any given feed. Only the titles of the posts and the time that they were posted are presented and you can click on individual posts to read them. The three-pane view is a mix of quick view and full view. The quick view element is on the top half of the page and the full view, on the bottom half, comes into play when you select a post to read.
It is great to see that Bloglines is innovating again. I personally switched over to Google Reader when Bloglines started getting a little stale, but this new release is making me rethink that decision. This could be a sign of good things to come for Bloglines in its quest to regain a position of power over Google. We'll have to wait and see, but this is certainly a step in the right direction.
You can also get Richard MacManus' take on this release over at Read/Write Web.