Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Farewell to Google Reader

Google's announcement that it would be ending Google Reader service on July 1 caused considerable wailing and gnashing of teeth ... and that was just me. A lot of other folks are also inconvenienced, to put it mildly. I have no intention of slamming Google over the decision. They provided the service at no charge to me, and I'm grateful to have had the use of it. Now it's time to move on.

John D. Cook did a couple of blog posts about alternatives (see here and here), and there is no shortage of web pages devoted to the subject. I've spent more time than I care to think shopping for a solution. My requirements, in descending order of importance are as follows.
  1. The reader must be accessible from both a web browser (on Linux, although that's unlikely to be an issue) or Linux desktop client (browser preferred) and an Android client (or browser application, but native client preferred).
  2. The reader must synchronize between my Android tablet and my Linux PC.
  3. I must be able to import my Google Reader subscriptions (preferably including the folders into which they are organized).
  4. The reader should have straight-forward navigation, including the ability to flag articles as read. (I'm not worried about liking, +1-ing or other social features.)
  5. There should be easy (one click) linking from the reader summary of an article to the source (original web page) in a browser.
  6. I would rather not have a magazine-style interface. For me, it's just unnecessary clutter, and somewhat inappropriate. Some of my subscriptions are blogs, but I also use RSS to subscribe to forums and Twitter feeds, which just look dopey in a magazine layout.
It turns out that synchronization (my second priority) is an issue. Some alternatives currently sync very well, but they use Google's Reader back-end to do it. That leaves them scrambling to find alternatives by the end of June. Some do not sync at all, which is a deal-breaker for me. I'm busy enough that it's a bit of a struggle to keep up with the feeds to which I subscribe, and I really do not have time to spend flagging articles that I've already read on another device.

I thought that Dropbox might be an easy syncing solution. Brent Simmons, who I believe authored the NetNewsWire reader for Apple devices, argues in a blog post that syncing through a cloud file service like Dropbox is unlikely to work. So much for the easy way out.

Since Feedly grabbed far and away the lion's share of recommendations on several sites I checked, I tried that first. Importing my Google Reader subscriptions was trivial. The interface took a bit of getting used to, which is going to be an issue with any alternative to Google Reader. On the PC (in Firefox, using their extension), some articles were "featured" (displayed in larger boxes) than others. I found it easy to mark as read those that were not featured, but for the life of me I could not find an easy way to mark the featured ones read. It was either click on them and read them, or click on a different article to make it "featured" and then, with the original article no longer featured, mark it as read. That's a bit inefficient.

The Feedly Android client was actually a bit easier to navigate, once I learned that (a) swiping horizontally was the way to mark an article read or unread and (b) I needed to be very careful about not using too long a swipe. (A long swipe marks everything on screen read/unread.) Synchronization worked, although I found that I had to log out and log back in at least once on my desktop browser in order to catch changes from the Android client.

Unfortunately, one glitch in the Android application proved to be a deal-breaker. Tapping a link provided with each synopsis let me read the article in a browser, which was embedded in the Feedly client. In many cases, the article is a post on a forum, to which I want to respond. Finger-painting a response on an Android device is painful as it is. In at least a couple of cases, though, Feedly ate my response. After laboriously typing in the answer, I had to scroll up or down to access the button to submit the message. Feedly apparently interpreted the vertical swipe to mean "go back to the previous screen", losing my work in the process. I could not find a setting that would compel Feedly to send me to an external browser (either the default Android browser or Firefox) to read the full article, so that was the end of my Feedly trial.

I'm currently trying Netvibes. There is (as yet) no native Android application, so I access it via web browser on all devices. I can live with that. Synchronization seems to work (knock on virtual wood). Importing my Google Reader subscriptions (including folders), while not as easy as with Feedly, went fairly smoothly, although previous posts in some cases came in with very incorrect dates (as in, all posts from one source were dated seven minutes prior to import). I spent a bit of time marking things read, but that is a one-time phenomenon. The interface is quite clean. I find the "widgets view" more visually appealing but, for busy feeds, the "reader view" more functional.
Widgets View
Widgets View
Reader View
Reader View

Update: After a week plus of use, I've posted my impressions of Netvibes.

Update #2: According to eWeek, Feedly has grabbed some 3 million Google Reader users (and counting) and is adding/improving features.

Update #3: I've now switched to Inoreader, mainly because I'm a bit more comfortable with it on mobile devices. After about a month of use, I'm quite happy with it.

5 comments:

  1. Great post! So useful. I have been looking for a replacement as well, my requirements are quite similar. Freedly was a disappointment. I was going to give The Old Reader a try next, but I might just try Netvibes instead.

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    1. Marianela: I looked briefly at The Old Reader and liked what I saw of the interface, but my impression is that it currently does not support multi-device sync. I seem to recall a comment from a developer or support person saying that most users do all their RSS reading on a single device, so sync was perhaps not a high priority (although I also think that I saw something indicating they were looking into it).

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  2. Google reader was not optimal but I had set up so many workarounds it's not funny. Typically if I liked something I would star it, and had pipes for IFTTT to send it to pocket (for reading later offline on my pocket app) and sending it on to twitter. This was my most common way to tweet anything--just to star it in Greader. I also had tags set up in reader (tagging is really just a form of RSS feed I think) which IFTTT recognised and used to email to my work email and home email, etc.

    The problem I have with feedly is I can't easily post to Pocket. I don't know about an alternative to 'starring' but I need to have my own RSS feed directly from Feedly to be able to pipe it somewhere else, and I need to be able to read later directly. Apparently, Feedly blog says this is 'in the works'.

    Newsblur does quick posts to pocket and I also have a blurblog which I can share to and which has its own RSS feed.

    But newblur navigation is clunky to be sure. I seem to only be able to put feeds in single folders rather than to tag them into multiple. It is not pretty to be sure.

    Feedly is a much prettier alternative, but it is also a bit too pretty, with magazine views--I'd rather just have a title and see if I want to read more or not. I would rather leave the magazine style to some Ipad app like Flipboard, which makes the 'pretty' hurdle so high others have trouble competing.

    If I can set up all the piping (to Pocket, to an RSS feed, or preferably to several, to twitter directly), and easier sorting and better views, I will happily go to one alternative alone. Hoping you can give us more details on Netvibes.

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    Replies
    1. I agree with you about magazine formats - they look like someone trying to imitate an iSomething. As for Pocket, the Feedly Android app can post a tweet, blog entry or whatever to Pocket. (I'm not sure if it requires that the native Pocket app be installed. I do have it.) I've uninstalled the Firefox Feedly plugin, but when I had it I think I could just click over to the original source and then Pocket that.

      The Android app also let's me send a link to any app that Android recognizes as suitable for"sharing". On my tablet, that includes a couple of email apps, HootSuite (for Twitter), Google+, Dropbox and Pocket (again).

      Paul

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    2. I just posted my experience with Netvibes (and added a link to the new post above).

      Paul

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