April 24, 2008

Profy Rolls Out Combined RSS Reader, Blogging Platform

Profy wasn't satisfied by simply rolling out a brand-new online RSS feed reader to challenge the established leaders, including Google Reader, NewsGator and Bloglines. With one massive update, the new service, launched in beta yesterday, not only gives Web users a new option for RSS feed consumption, but also, a new blogging platform, with interesting features that integrate the two, as well as linking in to other Web services, including Blogger.

While the world isn't lacking for RSS readers, Profy's combined offering is very interesting. With some fine-tuning as the company moves out of the beta process, the service could be very compelling to both established bloggers and new ones looking for a simplified platform to get started.

There are a few facets to Profy to focus on, including the "Feed Reader", the "Blog", the "Dashboard" and their messaging system or "Inbox".

The Feed Reader operates much like others out there. I imported my 260 or so feeds from Google Reader, and Profy recognized the folder structure. The Feed Reader is laid out cleanly with multiple tabs, enabling me to select from "Posts", reading the available items, "Feeds", showing me the name of the feed, its URL, and giving me the option to make edits, and "Folders", matching those I had in my OPML file.

I can read posts in list view, showing the source, feed name and author, or I can select expanded view, showing the entire post in the reader. Those are the basics. And aside from adding keyboard shortcuts, like Google Reader and AssetBar, there's not too much to demand before the company hits 1.0.

In the Feed Reader, I can "Add Star" to highlight a post, E-mail it to a friend, add tags, or most interestingly, I can hit "Blog It!", which pre-populates a post in my complementing Profy blog, including the full text and links of the post. Profy essentially copies the full text and headline of the post in my own blog, with me as the author, leaving the deleting to me. It's a cool tool, but one I could see abused by spam bloggers, should they ever get into the system. In my testing, it was easy to use, and I could simply post a Facebook story as my own (See the below screenshot). Profy does give credit to the source in the bottom right corner of your own post, but I expect it'd be a bit better to tweak "Blog It!" to instead focus on the headline and URL.

The Feed Reader also offers some strong flexibility. I can search my feeds for keywords, and I can look at the "Subscribers" link on any feed to see if other Profy readers are subscribed to that same blog. From those results, I can even "Add to friends" to get connected to similar Profy users who like reading what I do.

The Blog operates like those in TypePad and Blogger. There are a wide array of blogging templates provided by Profy, and you're given a Profy URL, like TypePad, with your own username: (For example: louisgray.profy.com)

Once you've selected a blog template, you can edit the layout of your blog, make new posts, or further down the road, read or moderate comments on the site.

Posting to Profy is simple for any TypePad or Blogger user. There's the option to post in either WYSIWYG or HTML, and you can use helpful buttons for styling or for adding images and YouTube video.

But most interesting to me is the ability to cross-post to Blogger or other platforms from Profy. If I were to move to Profy as my RSS reader or blogging platform, I wouldn't have to change a thing on louisgray.com. I wouldn't have to move files from the FTP site, or tweak Blogger in any way, as Profy could cross-populate both the Profy.com hosted blog and my own, just by linking the two. In testing, it was transparent to me that both posts from my Profy blog hit the louisgray.com site. To be honest, I was hoping to make it less transparent, so I could "push" individual posts to louisgray.com or Techaiku, instead of it happening automatically, but I expect either I was missing a step, or they'll make that option in the future by the 1.0 release.

Once the Feed Reader and Blog are up and running, you can manage all activity via Profy's Dashboard. From the Dashboard, I can view blog posts, read feeds, see comments made on my blog, or exchange messages with other Profy users. And any friends I've found through Profy automatically populate my Network, which assuming service growth, would expand over time.

Click for larger Dashboard image

For a beta product, Profy has done a solid job in introducing a lot of good functionality not usually found even in some of the more established feed readers, or blogging platforms. The idea of linking the feed reader and blog, while not abandoning existing services, is a good one. Obstacles in their way, aside from the usual efforts of growing awareness, and keeping up with user expectations, would be to follow the lead of Fav.or.it or others to enable commenting from RSS feed readers to the original blog, integration of Disqus in either area, and the ultra-important area of keyboard feed navigation.

The question is, can Profy rise up, in 2008, to challenge the established leadership of TypePad, WordPress and Blogger? The big three hold a commanding mindshare and user base, which is formidable. But so long as Profy makes it transparent and easy to move data into their service from others, and continues on the path of innovating and linking their disparate services, they have as good a chance as any.

If you're interested in getting your hands on Profy, it is in limited invite-only beta. I believe I have five available, but with any luck, I can get more. Let me know if you're interested!