RSS Feed Reader Shootout

You could say that I was shocked and horrified when Google announced that they’re going to take Google Reader out behind the barn and give it the Old Yeller treatment. It’s not an exaggeration to say that with the possible exception of whatever editor I’m using to write code these days, Google Reader has been the piece of software that I use most on a daily basis.

My Google Reader stats as of right now.

My Google Reader stats as of right now.

Before Google Reader, I was just as devoted to the great but then sadly neglected after acquisition by Ask.com Bloglines, and before that, to a series of standalone desktop RSS reader apps (anyone remember SharpReader? RSS Bandit?), so it’s not like I haven’t had to change before, I’ve just never had to do it under pressure like this. This post lists the alternatives that I’ve looked at, what I’ve decided to use (for now, anyway…) and a plea for recommendations of other solutions that I’ve missed. 

My Criteria

I’m trying to be reasonable here — it’s okay for my next reader to not be an exact clone of Google Reader, as long as it supports roughly the same usage pattern, which is to sit down at my desk an hour or so before work starts and scan hundreds of posts really really quickly. Bonus points if the app supports j/k as the keys for next/previous posts. The faster I can scan through my feeds for interesting content worth slowing down for, the better.

My primary environment for this will be via the web at my desktop, but again: bonus for working well on my iPad and Android phone, extra bonus if that’s via a nice, crisp native app.

Also note that I gave myself permission to reject a replacement based on the most dumb and trivial of first-impression reasons. So add to my plea for advice: was I boneheaded to not look more deeply at any of these?

The Candidates

Pulse

http://www.pulse.me

Available for Web, iOS, Android.

Very pretty, with a big grid of images that you can click to expose the whole story. For me, it’s too pretty, too slow, and even though articles elsewhere say that it can import my existing feeds, I couldn’t find that option.

NEXT.

Taptu

http://www.taptu.com

As soon as the Reader shutdown was announced, ads for Taptu started showing up in my feeds. Another very visual reader that has its own curated set of ‘streams’ that you can then “DJ.”  I can see someone who has a far smaller number of  feeds than I do finding this one useful, but it’s too focused on the pretty and not enough on the speed for me. NEXT.

Netvibes

http://www.netvibes.com

This one is mostly targeting itself at commercial/enterprise users ($500 a month(!)) as a combination reader/dashboard app, but it also has a personal edition. Articles say that the free edition maxes out with support for around 200 feeds (but it didn’t raise any kind of an error when I imported all 650 or so of the feeds I follow).

I’ll check this one out every once in a while to see if it’s going to work for me. It seems pretty snappy once it’s set up, and nicely supports j/k navigation.

The Old Reader

http://www.theoldreader.com

Web only.

The entire goal of this service is to emulate Google Reader. It’s not quite as fast or as polished as Reader is, but it’s definitely usable. There are a lot of tweaky things about the UI that I’d love to see changed, but if none of these other alternatives existed, I think that I could happily settle into the Old Reader and just resume my normal life on July 1 when Reader shuts down.

Feedly

http://www.feedly.com

Web, iOS, Android

For the time being, I’ve settled on using Feedly as my reader. The web experience (which runs as a browser extension, not a regular web app) is nicely crafted, and they’ve been aggressively working on addressing the issues that have been exposed by suddenly having an order of magnitude more users than they had before the announcement of the Reader shutdown. For me, the iOS and Android apps are excellent additions. At the moment, Feedly uses Google Reader’s back end for all server-side work (which means that Feedly and Google Reader have a shared state for subscriptions and read/unread state), but they are working on having their own server component to manage and serve feed content to clients before the bug shutdown. I would imagine that they’re working rather frantically on that.

What Did I Miss?

I’m sure that there are others that I missed (or that I looked at so quickly that I don’t even remember evaluating them). Bradley Macomber already wrote here about how he’s dealing with this impending feedpocalypse… Leave your thoughts below.

Brett g Porter

Brett g Porter

Lead Engineer, Audio+Music at Art+Logic
Lead Engineer, Audio+Music development at Art+Logic. Always looking for excuses to write code. Tweets at both @artandlogic and @bgporter.
Brett g Porter

@bgporter

Music+Software+Music Software+Ice Cream. Relapsing composer/trombonist. Day job @artandlogic. Creator of @tmbotg. he/him.
Go, Kiley! Kiley Porter Named to Montclair State University's Spring 2020 Dean's List https://t.co/crDu3e9H3H - 12 mins ago
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7 Comments

  1. gilhodges

    I switched to Feedly, too, but it removed its search function (an essential feature) and is now its clearly moving toward making it a for-pay service. Fuck.

    • bgporter

      I’d happily pay for a well-supported reader, if that means that it won’t suddenly vanish. Of course, you don’t have to think very hard to come up with examples of paid services that were acquired and shut down (Sparrow, Lala come immediately to mind…)

      Your point about search is spot-on, and that’s someplace where The Old Reader does shine.

  2. Ron Tarro

    You missed NewsBlur. I went through the process of trying all the above. (I also have a large number of feeds). NewsBlur handles the feed scope and density very similarly to Google Reader.

    • bgporter

      Thanks for pointing that out — it also came up in a conversation on Twitter last night. When I first went through this exercise, NewsBlur errored out when I tried to import my feed list. I tried again yesterday, and it’s still doing the same thing. I agree that it looks nice (the option to view posts in their ‘native habitat’ is a nice one that I’m surprised others don’t offer). One of these days I’ll check it out again.

      An unexpected outcome of writing this is that after going through all of these again, I’ve switched over to The New Reader, at least for a while. I guess I won’t be surprised if I keep thrashing around a bit before settling on the One True Reader for me.

  3. Jason Crane

    I tried Feedly but I was unhappy with the UI. Seemed too graphics-rich and not particularly navigable. Today I learned about http://www.commafeed.com. Simple UI, good import (although it didn’t retain read/unread status, but that may be the export algorithm’s fault). Seems a bit slow to actually update the feeds, but I’m just a few hours in. Open source, too.

  4. Dawn Lambeth (@dawnlambeth)

    I’ve still put off the switch…. Did you end up settling on One True Reader, and are you happy with it?

    • bgporter

      Hey, Dawn!
      After I wrote this saying that I was switching to Feedly, I had a dalliance with The Old Reader — at the time Feedly still lacked some features that I needed/wanted. I also poked around for a bit with a very nice web-only reader at http://www.yoleoreader.com. Behind the scenes, Feedly has been slamming out an impressive list of features and speed/stability improvements, and that’s where I’ve ended back up, at least for now. Synchronized read/unread status between web/mobile devices is a must-have for me. I’m on the waiting list for access to the new digg reader that’s been announced, so we’ll see what that looks like when I can get in.