AOL’s answer to Google Reader launched into a public beta this morning, and it looks like they made a huge mistake in letting everyone in right away.
I signed up for an account with AOL Reader first thing this morning, and I have yet to actually be able to do anything with it. I cannot import my feeds nor can I subscribe to any new feeds. (At least the site hasn’t crashed; that’s something.)
All I have managed to do is look at the screen shots posted elsewhere, play with the settings menu, and marvel at the pretty gray theme that AOL designed. Or at least I would like to marvel at the theme; AOL Reader doesn’t actually work in all browsers. While this service is supposedly designed to scale to virtually any web browser (including mobile), it doesn’t work in Internet Explorer (luckily for me it does work in Firefox). Chrome and Firefox have larger market shares, so IE isn’t that important any more, but it’s still worth noting that this service flubbed one of its basic requirements. It needs to work in all desktop browsers or it might as well go home.
Update: AOL Reader suddenly started working for me, and I have to say Yech. the only color theme is a barely readable gray text on a white background. And now that I can import my RSS feeds I have discovered that AOL Reader has an upper limit on the number of feeds you can follow. This service is also sluggish and slows down my web browser to the point that I have to close the tab.
Speaking of the screenshots, it looks like AOL is planning to make this new reader a real option. AOL Reader offers the list view that many GR users want, as well as a magazine style view similar to Flipboard, Zite, and the like:
There is also mention of an API which will enable developers to build apps that integrate with AOL Reader, obligatory sharing options, and the ability to save articles to be read later.
But none of that really matters.
It’s nice to see all of the work that AOL has put into this, but the most important detail today is that the service can’t function under the strain. I am still unable to actually use AOL Reader to do anything, and in fact just a couple minutes ago I was kicked out and forced to sign in again. If AOL Reader isn’t stable enough to keep users logged in then it’s not ready for prime time.
I can understand why AOL felt they had to rush things; the Readerpocalypse is only 7 days away and that doesn’t leave them much time to if they want to get any traction in this niche. That’s why Digg is making sure to get Digg Reader out this week, but one important difference between Digg and AOL is that the latter rushed things.
AOL really should have limited the number of new users allowed to join each day. That would have allowed them to scale the service with the growing userbase and keep it running under the strain. As it stands, it looks like AOL’s third attempt at a news reader is going to be about as successful as their previous attempts.
AOL was actually one of the first into the RSS feed reader niche in 2005 with My AOL, a service which probably died after Google Reader came to dominate the niche. AOL Propeller, a Digg-like aggregator which was acquired when AOL bought Netscape, was also launched in 2006-ish but it too .
Have you used AOL Reader? What do you think?