Microsoft recently released a new update for the Bing News app on Windows 8, adding support for custom RSS feed aggregation and other features. My first thought, of course, turned to the impending demise of Google Reader (which is a terrible mistake). Could Bing News eventually take the place of Google Reader? It’s certainly likely. I was going to write about why the News app isn’t quite ready to replace Google Reader, but my friend Kip over at LiveSide beat me to the punch. So here’s what Microsoft needs to do if it wants to turn Bing News into a full-fledged Reader replacement.
Improve the reading experience for custom feeds
The Bing News interface provides a beautiful reading experience for official news sources, but custom RSS feeds are restricted to a simple summaries. Actually selecting a story loads the source webpage, rather than the fantastic multi-column reading experience much like you’d find in a newspaper. This makes sense for feeds which only provide summaries of the content, but it would be nice if you could enable the in-app reading experience for feeds which have the full content. This would likely introduce a number of complexities surrounding formatting, but it’s not an insurmountable challenge. Other RSS apps do it all the time.
Add read/unread states, ability to save items for reading later
The current Bing News app is great for browsing news, but it isn’t ideal if you don’t want to miss a single story. Adding read/unread states would ensure that users can always stay on top of news. The ability to save items for reading later is just as important, especially when you have a lot of feeds and not enough time to read the longer pieces in one sitting.
Let users customize the feed’s category
Bing News breaks up the news into multiple categories such as top stories, politics, world, technology & science, etc. Unfortunately, custom RSS feeds are siloed under the “sources” category. While you can move the position of this category to the front of the app, there’s no way to have the content show up in other categories or view multiple feeds at the same time. As a result, it’s impossible to read items without diving into each and every source. This could quickly become time consuming if you have a few hundred custom feeds. Allowing category customization would likely make ranking the top stories more complex, but it too isn’t an insurmountable challenge.
Release apps on other platforms – and not just Windows Phone
Right now, Bing News is available exclusively on Windows 8 and Windows RT. Custom feeds are synced between devices, but you’re still restricted to tablets, laptops, and PCs. If Bing News wants to be a Google Replacement, it needs to support other platforms – and not just those created by Microsoft. Windows Phone, Android, and iOS apps are a must, as is the ability to read news in your browser. Microsoft already has Bing.com/news, so it wouldn’t be too hard to have your custom feeds show up there as well.
I have a few hundred RSS feeds, so this feature is extremely important and would save people like me countless hours of importing feeds. Even if you don’t have that many feeds, being able to import or export your list of feeds is very important this day in age, allowing you to easily back up or switch services.
Show latest news on Live Tiles for pinned sites
Out of all the changes, this one is the least important. While Bing News will display the top story on the app’s Live Tile, deep-linked Live Tiles for custom feeds do not. It would be nice if these Live Tiles were actually, well, live.
Of course, all of this assumes that Microsoft even wants to turn Bing News into a Google Reader replacement. Right now, the app is designed to provide a newspaper-like experience for a selection of curated sources, and there’s no indication that Microsoft is going after the RSS market. However, the inclusion of support for custom RSS feeds in the most recent update makes it clear that Bing News could eventually take the place of Google Reader – as long as a number of changes are made first. Right now, it isn’t useful for more than a handful of custom RSS feeds.