Update 27/03: Fabsh has published a great write-up at the H on the same topic, well worth checking out.
When Google announced last week that they would be discontinuing Reader, I felt somewhat a sense of deja-vu harking back to the time they pulled the plug on Wave, which may have been the ugly duckling of the Google top bar but I was a fond user all the same. But losing Reader is different, I’ve been a daily user of Reader for many years as is virtually everybody I know it seems. So for Google to pull it so ruthlessly was quite a shock to the system, a shock that rang out on social networks with posts of disbelief, confusion, denial, justification, sadness, then eventually acceptance and more recently optimism, with a sudden realisation that with the Blue Whale of feed readers gone, the little fish have a chance to grow and multiply.
Of course what inevitably happened was millions of users closed in upon a handful of relatively tiny Feed Reader websites, blissfully minding their own business in a data centre somewhere, upon which they promptly keeled over. I was one of those millions, so for blog post 1, I’ll share a few of my experiences.
I already had an account at Netvibes having tried them out for their dashboard focused design with news stories occupying boxes you can organise in panels across the display. Their dashboard is powered by RSS feeds and they also allow you to view the data in a traditional feed reader format much like Google Reader and virtually every desktop RSS aggregator in existence.
You can set up multiple lists of feeds for different scenarios which they call Dashboards. I have one set up for work and personal feeds.
You can import from a standard OPML file that you get exporting from Google Reader, although you need to manually download and upload the file, but this doesn’t take long.
The interface is quite snappy but the layout takes some getting used to, there’s not been any intention to model it around Google Reader so there’s a few differences that can catch you out.
Adding feeds is easy using the big green button at the top but there’s no popular feeds to choose from, you just enter the feed address manually.
It’s simple and functional but it does have a few drawbacks. It lacks the social features that are one of the primary benefits of online feed readers. You can read feeds but that’s about it, you can’t discover feeds from other users and share them like you can elsewhere.
There is a paid option, but this isn’t what you expect, they target online marketeers and provide analytical tools for substantially higher than you would pay for a feed reader. One of my concerns is that using Netvibes, I’m clearly not their target audience and they may choose to see me as an unwanted drain on their resources some day like Google have.
The Old Reader
It took me about 5 days to get into The Old Reader, they are building a site around the traditional Google Reader design which is exactly what you’d expect and it works great. But their feed import is extraordinarily slow, days instead of seconds and they tease you with a queue position you are supposedly at, but it goes up as well as down. When things have calmed down a bit it’s worth checking out, they have all the Reader features you’d expect and it works well, if a little slow at the moment. They have no paid service yet, obviously if it’s going to continue long term they need to monetise it somehow and some people prefer to pay rather than get adverts pushed in your face.
I’ll be frank that I haven’t used Newsblur much, when I attempted to sign up they told me they had turned off their free accounts to ease the scaling issues with the surge in demand, and to pay up or go away (but in a nicer way). I wasn’t going to pay for a service I’d never tried so I went away, but then I got an email welcoming me and when I tried going back to their website it appears they have re-enabled free accounts.
Unlike the Netvibes and TheOldReader, their free account only supports up to 64 feeds, which is a couple fewer than I have, but that’s enough to give it a try and their paid service is not expensive at $24/year and supposedly goes towards feeding their pet dog, and I love dogs!
A few features really stand out at Newsblur, first is they provide the ability to view articles in their original website design as well as raw text-only output. They have lots of social features and the interface is all shiny, using modern browser features to make it work like a native application with a resizeable 3-panelled display. It does lag a bit when I use it, but this is likely due to server load, they have a blog post that suggest their user base has increased many-fold in the last few days, so this is understandable and they are working to address it.
One feature that is dear to my heart is that their software is open source. They make the application available on Github so in theory you could run the software on your own server, if you were so inclined. This is a big plus for me and may be a winner, but it’s a big commitment for me and I’m not ready to settle down just yet.