Needly: A Mashup of Almost Every Web App Idea, Ever

Nearly all of the apps, platforms and services we write about on AppStorm are pretty specific in their purpose. Twitter sticks to restricted-length communications, YouTube focuses on video clip-based entertainment, and Evernote does nothing other than document filing. One app, one task. It works pretty good.

Given that we use many of these apps on a daily basis, you have to wonder why there haven’t been more attempts to combine some of these services. FriendFeed was, perhaps, the most prominent and successful entry into the mashup genre, although it fell by the wayside, despite a peak of 1.2m unique visitors per month.

The makers of Needly clearly feel that the fusion of web-apps is an idea worth revisiting. Billed as “Google Reader + Basecamp + WordPress,” it seems intent on providing a hub of browser-based services. Is this the plain madness it sounds like, or rather some kind of genius idea that should have been done already? Read on to find out.

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Getting Started

It would be understandable if the fusing of RSS feeds, group communication and website building into one, seamless Dashboard made for a lack of clarity, but Needly does a pretty good job of keeping things fairly organized.

The main Dashboard is split into three columns. On the left is your profile and a link to the website builder, in the middle is your feed — a timeline-like stream of group posts and RSS feeds — and on the right is a list of the groups to which you belong and the feeds to which you subscribe, as well as a Needly-wide search engine.

The interface of Needly is sparse but functional.

The interface of Needly is sparse but functional.

Feed Reading

Obviously, Needly is not a service which has one main feature, but it does seem to be geared towards the Dashboard’s central stream — so that is where I will begin.

RSS subscriptions can be accomplished one by one, or if you happen to have a OPML file lying around (which I suspect many of you will), you can upload that instead. Unlike some of the Google Reader alternatives I’ve tried recently, Needly does a good job of swiftly processing feeds and retrieving your stories.

With your feeds in place, there are two methods of display on offer, and both bear a striking resemblance to Google’s deceased RSS stalwart. The Posts layout, as you might imagine, provides full articles, and the Headlines option, as you would expect, restricts listings to their headings. Neither is notably pretty, but both function perfectly well, and both include the opportunity to share posts on five different social networks.

RSS reading in Needly is spectacular, but its perfectly usable and has two display options.

RSS reading in Needly is spectacular, but its perfectly usable and has two display options.

It should also be noted that Needly does keep track of new, incoming posts as they arrive — a nice touch.

Group Collaboration

It would be unfair to judge Needly’s feed reading on its own, though, given that it is meant to be used in conjunction with the team communication tools the platform provides.

Setting up a group is a hassle-free process, essentially only requiring you to choose the group’s name, url and privacy settings, although in my test, Needly was a little reluctant to display these settings, post group creation. The addition of fellow group members can be achieved simply, however, via the inbuilt email invitation system.

Groups are simple to set up.

Groups are simple to set up.

Group posts appear, in amongst your RSS feed items, in your Dashboard’s main, central stream. Should you wish to see only group messages, you can select each group from the drop-down which emanates from Needly’s omnipresent menu bar.

Posting to one of your groups feels rather like updating a Tumblr blog, thanks to the variety of post types which can be created. By default, you are offered a basic text-editing box and the associated controls, but you can also upload images and videos, publish quotes, share links, or embed online audio files.

A feature with which Basecamp users will be familiar is post notifications. As with the more established project management platform, Needly allows you to select who should be notified of your new post, although there isn’t any apparent way of selecting every group member.

Apart from these minor niggles, though, Needly’s groups provide an easy, if very unsophisticated, way of keeping in touch.

Website Construction

Normally speaking, I would expect to move on to this review’s conclusion here. But Needly has one extra feature stuck on — one which definitely feels peripheral — in the form of a website builder.

The basic setup of a Needly site involves the choosing of a site name, a .needly.com sub-domain, and a template from the myriad on offer. The templates are, to be brutally honest, rather antiquated in terms of their design, impersonating Blogger circa 2002. This is, in part, compensated for by the dizzying array of clickable design options with which you can control the design of nearly any website element.

The templates are...um...old. At least they're easily customizable.

The templates are…um…old. At least they’re easily customizable.

There are a dozen different widgets which can be dragged and dropped into your creation — stuff like a photo mosaic and a Twitter feed — each of which is also highly customizable. In essence, though, Needly sites are blog-focused, although multiple blogs, known as Stacks, can be hosted on the same site.

Widgets also come with numerous settings.

Widgets also come with numerous settings.

Posts are inputted in exactly the same way that group posts are, with the addition of an adjustable publishing date and the option to assign the post to a category.

My impression of Needly’s site-building environment is mostly a feeling of clunkiness, and were it a standalone product, I would be less than impressed. As just another branch on Needly’s tree, though, I’d have to say that the site editor is respectably competent, even if it is badly in need of a usability upgrade.

Conclusion

Undoubtedly, Needly is an oddball in the world of web-apps. Its ambition — to provide both the quality of a standalone app and the convenience of a single online account — is commendable, but it doesn’t yet feel like Needly is quite ready to reach its goal. The website maker is, at best, functional, the group communication element is not at all innovative, and there are certainly more accomplished RSS readers on the market.

There are plenty of positives, however. The combination of RSS and project management, if used carefully, works very well. In fact, the groups feature of Needly, on its own, is a fine, uncomplicated product, and the RSS reading environment in Needly is also proficient. Even the website maker, by no means a brilliant product, does do its job, and if you’re willing to spend the time, you can create a perfectly good basic website with it.

In summary, I’d have to say that Needly has clearly bitten off more than it can chew, but the service it offers is pleasantly un-fussy and perfectly competent.


Summary

Needly is not going to set the world alight any time soon, but as an uncomplicated way of accessing multiple web-app functions, it can't be faulted.

  • Needly 1.5.4  | 
  • From free to $99/month (extra website storage/bandwidth)  | 
  • Needly
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