Slack Isn’t New, It’s New

New tech tools show up daily. You’ve probably heard about Slack already as it’s being talked about a lot, but just in case you haven’t I’ll give you the tl;dr: Slack integrates your development and infrastructure notifications, chat and documents from different providers into one chat like interface. It’s pretty much the same as Hipchat. All in all slack is a pretty cool and sleek system which allows for easy chatting within a group. But as I tested the service I kept having a feeling of deja vu. This cool new service feels familiar to me. Then it hit me, I have seen this before, haven’t I?

For a long time many engineers, especially in the Free/open arena, have utilized IRC as a way of communication while working. It’s efficient, simple, client agnostic and supports chat rooms as well as private messages. Slack’s main chat interface is very similar to IRC. It’s a chat room with a list of people present and the ability to send private messages. Just like IRC people post messages to the chat room and everyone in the room is able to read them. In a way it’s a little funny to think about chat rooms being “new” but, then again, people have been using instant messaging and SMS style message systems for so long that the concept of the chat room may seem fresh. So the chat interface is similar to IRC, but what about the integration? Aren’t they new?

With Slack the integrations are set up via the web interface. Each integration can send information to a channel with an icon and message. Obviously IRC does not have this functionality directly, but IRC bots do! Many developers set up bots like Supybot with integration with their external development tools. Announcements of new builds, code pushes, deployments, support requests, etc.. show up in channel from the bot. While it’s not as flashy as Slack the same basic integration idea occurs.

Don’t get me wrong, the point of this post isn’t to say that Slack is dumb or simply a copy of something “better”. The point of this post is that, while Slack isn’t really something brand new, it is quite cool. There is a reason developers and ops folks have been setting up things similar to Slack in their own chat rooms for years! The ability to see the development process actually flow can be pretty exciting and empowering. Those who have or will not be able to set up their own integrations have an option to use Slack as a pre-baked set up which, depending on team/company may be more user friendly for the less technical minded. And letting the non-technical see how much is happening day to day can open their eyes to just how much a team is getting done. Probably way more than they realize.

Why I Chose NewsBlur

Not all that long ago Google Reader closed it doors pushing millions of users off the platform. Many users were frustrated to lose their long time place to get their news not all that different from someone in yesteryear losing their favorite newspaper.  The whole thing was far from ideal but did go to teach users that you can’t expect cloud services to last forever (which is a good wake up call). But in the fall of Google Reader came many possible replacements which added their own spins on how one reads news. Feedly, The Old Reader and NetVibes were a few of the popular replacements. But I settled on NewsBlur and eventually became a paid user.

NewsBlur is mainly written by Samuel Clay (more on why I say mainly later).  He seems like a friendly, hard working fellow. He responds to bug reports and is active in his products community.  While this may seem like common sense just take a few minutes to look at random SaaS products on the Internet. You’ll find many of the developers are hidden behind customer service groups who, at worst, are outsourced and are more of a dead end than a way to get things fixed. Long story short, it seems like Samuel really cares about his product.

It is possible to have a Free account on NewsBlur. While you are limited to a specific amount of feeds many people will find the limits are higher than the feed counts they had in Google Reader. At the time of writing the limit is 64 sites.

There are some social features provided by NewsBlur yet these features are not required nor forced into general workflow. For instance, there is a concept of the BlurBlog which looks like it could be fun. But I tend to read the news and share elsewhere. If I ever decide to use the BlurBlog functionality it’s there. Otherwise I can just use NewsBlur as a fantastic reader.

NewsBlur is Open Source under the MIT license (also known as the Expat License). This gives me peace of mind knowing if Samuel ever decided that he was done with NewsBlur I could export my feeds, setup my own instance, and continue using the product on my own infrastructure. Yeah, it’s not trivial but it’s possible which is a huge advantage given the last reader I used shut down.

No software is without it’s bugs but Samuel does a good job bug squashing. And if you are developer who wants to give a hand you can patch the issue yourself and submit the fix (another win for Open Source). At the time of writing there are 43 development contributors to NewsBlur. This is a much better solution than waiting for a customer service representative to reinterpret your bug submission to a developer so that the fix may be done someday in the future.

If you are still looking for a replacement for Google Reader give NewsBlur a chance even if it’s a second chance as the application seems to be enhanced weekly. If you like it, consider becoming a paid user. Can you can’t say no to Shiloh: