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.

Software screen capture

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 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

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.

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.

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
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.

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.

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