I've written about my reading habits before, using apps like Tweetbot and Pocket as a system for saving interesting content to read later. So when the Cronycle team got in touch to offer me a test drive of their beta product, I was interested enough to take a look and see if it could be part of the read it later solution I'm looking for.
In a nutshell, Cronycle organises your content streams, making it easy for you to find and enjoy the stories that matter to you. Like other feed readers like Feedly and the now-extinct Google Reader, Cronycle aims to take the content from your favourite sites and blogs and turn them into a more easily readable and discoverable format.
Here's how the Cronycle team describe it:
"Cronycle indexes the stories behind the links and pulls them into your Cronycle account. Using filters you tell Cronycle how you want your stories to be organised, and it does the rest. Every story is indexed and you can edit your filters and collections at any time. Once you create your collections please share them to the Public Directory so that others can view and follow you. Your own followers can create a free account and follow your curated collections easily too, just share the url of the collection."
With Feedly's domination of the market, other read it later apps like Pocket and Instapaper, Croncycle is entering a crowded market so needs to add some differentation. And that's not to mention the upcoming Google Stars, Google's new content bookmarking service.
The Croncycle team created a nice first version though, with a visual Pinterest-style dashboard to view content and an IOS app for those of you who prefer to catch up on digital content on your iPhone or iPad. No mention of an app for Android or Windows Phone just yet, but they're likely in the product roadmap if things go well with this initial version.
There's a basic version that's free, but also a Pro version where you can add your Twitter account to uncover, organise and read the content your sources are tweeting. The pro version also allows you to manage your content stream in one place and keep your content for longer and favourites forever, in a similar way to Pocket's premium version.
Upon signing in to the app for the first time, you're given a walk through of how the app works, broken down into 7 sections:
Organise your content the way you want it. Create as many as you like using the + button, and let Cronycle automatically organise the right content into each collection.
Create collections that are just as you need them. Enter the keywords, @users, websites or #hashtags you want to include and Cronycle will bring in any content that fits your criteria.
View content flexibly. In column view you can see multiple collections, full-screen focuses on one collection at a time. Click on any article to browse full previews, or any link to go to the article source.
Discover new content by browsing public collections. Find great collections, add collections to your Cronycle and share your own collections with the world.
Share your collections with friends and colleagues or publish to public collections using the controls in collection settings.
6. ADD RSS SOURCES
Enter the full URL, or simply type in the name of the feed and Cronycle will help you find it.
7. IOS APP
Our IOS app gives you the best Cronycle experience for your iPhone or iPad. Download it on the App Store and log in with your account details.
Once you've taken the Cronycle tour (you can also skip it if you like), there's two main ways you can start adding content: through adding RSS feeds manually, importing feeds via an OPML file, or by browsing public collections for other people's favourite feeds.
The first time I tried to add a feed manually, the feature was a little buggy, but refreshing the page and it worked perfectly. I was able to add RSS feeds for some digital marketing blogs I follow through Cronycle's simple search and suggestion feature.
That then populated my home screen with the latest posts from the feeds I had added in the previous step. It took a few seconds to load the feeds, so don't panic if the latest articles don't show up straight away!
Once I'd added a few RSS feeds, these were sorted into collections. You're meant to be able to then add more RSS feeds to those collections to build up a list of sources, but I found it a little buggy when trying to add more RSS feeds to existing sources. This is probably just a small bug though and expect it'll be fixed by the Cronycle team soon.
It would also be great to be able to add an RSS feed when you're within a collection. The only options I saw at time of writing were to filter the contents of a collection by keywords, hashtags or Twitter usernames.
The other way to build up your personal Cronycle dashboard is through the Discover feature, which has other user's public collections on display for you to browse and search through.
The default categories of collections are Tech, Business, Sport, Lifestyle, Design, Food & Drink and News - so just by browsing through those categories and adding a few feeds to your collection you can quite quickly build up the feeds you subscribe to.
However, again I found collections to be a bit confusing. When adding these feeds to "My Cronycle", I expected to be given the option to decide what collection they'd go into, not have the feeds be created as their own collections. I would then have to take those feeds out of their own individual collections and group them up in some way, but again, I couldn't find a way to do that.
When you click on an individual article, the reading panel presents the information in a very clear and digestible way, similar to Feedly's or Evernote's Clearly extension for Chrome.
The design of Cronycle overall is very visually appealing and renders well on mobile as soon as you login, so the team have clearly put a lot of the effort into this aspect.
I also played with the Cronycle iPhone app, which is probably more where Cronycle is suited for (think reading RSS feeds and content linked to on Twitter, on the move). The app works perfectly, syncing up with your collections and Twitter feed quickly and easily.
Content is presented really nicely as well, with nice legibility, images that fit the screen size and unobtrusive navigation links when viewing the content.
I wish I'd understood when first told about Cronycle that the iPhone app is the best way to consume the content you add to the app. As such, my first impressions about the app were tainted by having viewed the desktop app first, rather than the mobile app. Perhaps they'll emphasise the iPhone app more in the future?
Overall, there are a few user journeys around adding RSS feeds and sorting out collections that need to be refined, but the design and production values are very high. With a fantastic iPhone app, Cronycle really might be the next best content reader when you're on the move.
It will be interesting to see how Cronycle competes with the likes of existing apps like Feedly and with Google Stars when it's released, but for the moment it's a tool worth giving a try.
Cronycle hasn't made it to my bookmarks yet or the homescreen on my iPhone, but I'll give it a try for a few more weeks and see how we get on.