Google announced recently that they’re going to close down their RSS aggregator called Reader due to declining usage and their desire to concentrate development resources in other areas. I’ve used Google Reader for years now, pretty much since it was launched in 2005. It’s how I keep up with the couple hundred different blogs and websites without having to visit each and every one of them in turn. Needless to say this announcement was very distressing, but all good things come to an end and it’s not like they’re the only RSS aggregator out there so I started looking into alternatives.
In the past few weeks it became clear that what Google considers a “small” group of users is still huge compared to anyone else as just about every other RSS aggregator I tried was swamped with people checking it out after the announcement. The three most recommended ones I tried were Feedly, Newsblur, and The Old Reader.
Newsblur was almost completely useless at the start because its servers were so overwhelmed by all the folks jumping ship. Things have settled down since then and I’ve had a chance to try it out a bit and it certainly seems to have the most features, but it’s also limited to 64 feeds with 10 stories max unless you subscribe to their service. It’s only $24 a year and it might be worth it, but I’ve not used it enough to make that determination yet. It’s one I’ll definitely be playing with more, but my initial impression is that it’s trying too hard to be everything to everyone and the fact that it requires a subscription to really be useful is a negative. It also doesn’t appear to be able to share items with anyone who isn’t a Newsblur user. I’ve gotten used to sharing items on my Google+ page and Newsblur doesn’t support that.
Feedly also was near useless in the immediate aftermath, but it has since become more stable. It wants to present your feeds in a magazine format that’s quite different from Reader’s layout. Ultimately it suffers from what I call “Apple Computer Syndrome” in that it’s very pretty but it wants you to do things its way instead of the way you’d want to do them.
I have a particular way that I go through my RSS feeds in Reader and getting Feedly to allow me to do the same thing has been a real pain in the ass. Some things can be set as default through the preferences option (full articles as opposed to excerpts with a pic next to it), but other things have to be configured on a per-feed basis (showing only unread vs all articles). Considering that I have 200+ feeds having to tell each and every one of them that I want to see both read and unread articles is damned annoying. How you sort feeds in Feedly is also a mystery to me. I want mine sorted alphabetically, but by default it sorts them by who has the newest content. I seem to have somehow gotten it to sort alphabetically, but I have no idea how I did that.
It’s also slow compared to Reader and it becomes even slower if you have a crappy network (like I do at work). Lastly it seems to have a habit of skipping over some articles in a feed. I’ll get to the end of new articles, but it’ll still show 5 or 6 as still unread and if I click on the feed again it’ll suddenly show new items between the items I’ve already seen as if it had them in its pockets and just forgot to show them the first time around. But it is very pretty and it will let me share items to my Google+ page as well as Twitter and Facebook and a couple of others I don’t recognize so it has that going for it.
The Old Reader is an attempt to clone Google Reader from back when it was more of a self-contained system. When you shared items back then it wasn’t posted to your Google+ steam because Google+ didn’t exist back then. Instead it was only shared with other GReader users that had marked you as a friend or subscribed to your shares. TOR also suffered from the sudden influx of new users, but it didn’t seem to impact the functioning of the application so much as it did it’s ability to import your Google Reader subscription lists. You can export your subscriptions as an OPML file that you can use to import them into another RSS aggregator. I did with this TOR and it was nearly two weeks before it got around to actually processing it because so many other people were trying to do the same thing.
That said, TOR is the closest so far to Reader in terms of how it does things and it’s relatively speedy once it gets your subscriptions imported. The ability to rearrange subfolders has a couple of annoying quirks, but you can work around them. It’s definitely a work in progress and its performance will vary as a result, but the biggest negative against it is the same one Newsblur has. That it will only share with other users of TOR.
So, for the moment, I’m still trying to use GReader until they yank the plug or I find an aggregator that does everything I want. Alas, Google appears to have broken GReader’s ability to share items with Google+. When I try to do so these days it’ll pop up the box and I’ll get halfway through typing in a comment only to have the box suddenly disappear and all my key-presses interpreted as keyboard shortcuts screwing up where I am and losing the share in the process. It’s damned annoying. So I keep hopping back and forth between Feedly and GReader and finding I’m not happy with either one.
Granted, in the grand scheme of things RSS aggregators are pretty low on the list of most import things ever and it’s definitely a First World Problem I’m bitching about, but that won’t stop me from pouting over it.