Last Thursday was a sad day in my computing world…a friend alerted me on FB about the impending death of Google Reader on July 1st, when Google phases it out. I love RSS feeds, with some 90+ that I follow and browse for interesting topics daily, and that’s AFTER I cleaned out whole categories since January. I don’t read all of them, of course, but I frequently check the headlines of 20 or so relatively religiously and find a few articles a day well worth reading, often saving them for later. I find this more stimulating and satisfying than surfing regular “news” sites.
So, seeing as I use RSS daily, and Google Reader is being terminated, it was time to find a new one. My friend posted some links to some tech mags who said “Here are some big i.e. popular alternatives” to Google Reader. Of the lists that were shared, I found five that could be contenders. Ones that are only app-based are out — I do a lot of the reading on a desktop, and save and share for later, so while I want an app, I also need one that is web-enabled. My candidates at the moment are: Feedly, Netvibes, Taptu, Newsblur and The Old Reader. Some come with extra bells and whistles so I’ll consider if I want those extra features.
Feedly looked promising to start. It is web-enabled, and can import from Google Reader. It also comes with a Firefox plugin which works well as I am indeed using Firefox these days (I hate old versions of Internet Explorer at work, and Chrome will neither install at work nor run efficiently at home, just really slow for some unknown reason). So this would seem like a good bet — Firefox integration should raise the bar considerably. I can switch from varying formats such as magazine, to just a title list, etc. Plus it integrates well with previously “saved” feeds from Google Reader. However, it’s not quite “right”. For some reason, it tells me in some cases there are “2 new articles” but then only shows me one. Even when I reset and refresh, it tells me there is a new article but won’t actually show it to me. Either way, something’s off. I’m temporarily eliminating Feedly from consideration.
Netvibes looks like a decent contender, allowing OPML exports from Reader to be imported (it appears). The site does note a high volume of “new users”, likely the result of people like me looking for a new RSS home. I also really like the discoverability factor of including some specific news feeds already pre-programmed and adding them to my regular feed (i.e. integrating a news feed into my RSS feeds). However, I don’t see an easy way to tag and “save” articles. Not sure what the VIP or premium options would give me, looks like I’m passing on this one.
Taptu was one of the first I tried, and I surprised myself by liking the magazine layout and pinkish/white colouring. It’s a very large change from text mode on Google Reader. However, there is some sort of lag on updates. Google Reader was showing me updates relatively “up to the minute” whereas Taptu was several hours behind. Usually that isn’t a problem but it strikes me as odd, and makes me question the viability of the choice. When you click on ADD STREAM, it takes you to three other tabs, one for Featured, one for Topics, and one for links imported from Reader. Seemed pretty good overall, and “saved” texts basically show up as Bookmarks, and there seemed to be lots of extra internal options. Too bad the update didn’t seem to be “live”. More importantly though, I can’t seem to switch from a “graphical/picture” version over to a text based “scan the headlines” mode. No dice.
Newsblur was my fourth choice, and while the free account is limited to 64 feeds, I have no qualms about paying $1/month for a premium account if it is the best tool for the job. The site, like others, was extremely slow the first day, but that’s not a worry in the long-term. I’ll never know though because even on the second day, I couldn’t get anything to work. Imports didn’t complete, connections to Facebook didn’t complete, heck even manually adding a single feed sent it into conniptions. I feel sorry for the people who used it regularly before — the influx of new people checking it out probably killed the servers as they couldn’t scale up fast enough.
That leaves consideration of The Old Reader. I exported my Google Reader settings, saved them to disk, extracted the Subscriptions.xml file, uploaded it to The Old Reader for importing, and got an error message telling me the site is unavailable. Sigh. This one was the most likely “suspect” in the pool to work, and I saved it for last, because it is like the “old google reader” before they did a major update (hence the name). I then went over to their “queue” page to reimport and it said it DID get my update, but I’m in a queue. Behind 21,139 other users. Gulp. Me thinks I could add them manually faster than waiting for that to complete. Not that I’m in a huge rush…after all, I have until July 1st before Google Reader goes belly up. And that doesn’t even account for possible extensions because of the hue and cry raised Friday by the blogging community. I got an update on Sunday saying the import was complete, but the interface was incredibly slow on Monday. I don’t know if that’s normal or a scaleability lag, but either way, it’s out for now.
Okay, so I’m going back to trying Feedly, as it mostly worked and it is hugely popular. I think I can make it work, although it is not as intuitively user friendly, even when in “titles” mode that looks a lot like Reader. I prefer “mark as read” getting rid of titles completely. If I’ve read it, I don’t want to see it again. Interesting that the news cycle has shown that 500K new users signed up for Feedly over the weekend. Many sites would kill for 500K users, and Feedly got them because another company doesn’t consider it a viable enough.community to support.
The one thing that bothers me though about Feedly is that I can’t “break” the synch with Google. Yep, it synched. Yep, it had all my saved articles too. Great. Now I want to “break” the synch and have it be stand-alone, but no dice. It says it will run stand alone when Google finally shuts down Googe Reader, but it took me awhile to figure out why it doesn’t run that way now. In a nutshell, all the RSS readers out there use Google on the backend. So you have to stay linked to Google to access their API. And while some sites are suggesting building your own backend is relatively straightforward, it is not for the faint of heart or small of pocketbook. Feedly looks like the first one likely to make it there, at which time they can break the link with Google. And, fortunately, with the huge new influx of readers, the site runners are hugely motivated to make it work for everyone, and my needs aren’t extensive. Before July 1st, I’ll download my OPML file again just in case, and in the meantime I’ll just keep using Google Reader.
I also planned ahead — I took all my saved articles OUT of Google Reader and copied them over to Evernote. It makes my Evernote database a bit bigger than I would like, but it’s working. I have almost 2000 notes now in Evernote, so I’m glad I have their premium account!
Now, if only Evernote would create an RSS feed built into it and I wouldn’t have to worry anymore!