With Google Reader steering into the sunset and retirement, the journalism and blogging communities have been going nuts looking for the best replacement. We’re no exception; we’re all still pretty bummed about the loss of a staple of our jobs. If this experience has shown us anything though, it’s that we were all too dependent on that one particular service.
Thankfully there are a lot of alternatives out there, and some of them are really pretty good. Interest in alternatives has been great; YOU, our amazing audience, have stepped up to help us out by pointing out Nick Kellet’s fantastic crowdsourced list of alternatives.
The incredible interest in alternatives has also come with a downside. Actually using many of the alternatives has been nearly impossible due to intense demand for their services.
One note about selection criteria; I demanded that potential candidates be available on mobile and desktop in some fashion, so that it’s more or less universally available. A candidate must also be free. These availability criteria forced me to exclude some otherwise obvious choices like Flipboard and Reeder.
Power users are people like us here at Geek Beat. We rely on RSS to do our jobs, and spend a lot of time looking at it. We’re after something fast, powerful and simple that won’t get in our way. We want our feeds, and we want ’em now.
The Old Reader
The Old Reader is getting hit hard by demand, and for good reason. As I write this, my feeds are #13897 in the import queue, and I don’t know if it’ll be finished tomorrow or next week. This has been a problem, as I have to test these reader replacements as I review them.
It’s pretty easy to add a few major feeds in manually though, and it was a joy to do so; The Old Reader takes its name very seriously, with an interface that will feel familiar right away to Google Reader users. It’s been given a slick modern skin though, but doesn’t suffer any slowdown for it. (Well, as modern as you can get while staying strictly true to Reader’s layout.) It even has something akin to the social features that were removed from Google Reader.
For the hard-core power users of Google Reader who really just wish that Google hadn’t cut us off, this is our top choice. It offers everything Google Reader did, without any flashy shiny extras getting in the way. I suspect I’ll be using it a lot in the months and years ahead.
For those concerned about the queuing problem, let me just say that they’re working on ways to speed it up, and it’s likely a problem that will resolve itself anyway as the mad crush of people trying to try it out subsides over time.
Feedly is deservedly winning praise around the blog circuit as the top choice of many sites, and I’ve been using it myself since the news about Google Reader dropped. I’m going to keep on using it too, even after The Old Reader enters my full-time toolbox, simply because Feedly looks great and works really well.
The only thing stopping it from being my top recommendation is that its appearance does come at the cost of some speed and convenience. I often find that I have to reload a feed category because it stops letting me scroll through, and I’m used to Google Reader’s endless scrolling through the feed items. I can still highly recommend it though, especially given that Feedly is working on their Normandy back-end, which will apparently seemlessly pick up where Google Reader’s back-end leaves off when Google shuts it down.
General User Recommendations
General users are less concerned about raw speed and manageability. They’re more into usability, discoverability and the overall experience and aesthetic of their news program of choice. This can include many power users when they’re not “on duty” in circumstances that demand extra speed. With that in mind, let’s take a look at a couple of good options for general users.
News360 is a solid reader that works a bit differently than the other solutions I’ve brought up. Instead of letting you subscribe to specific feeds, it imports your “interests” from various social sites you’re on and uses them to prioritize content that it pulls from its own sources. For general users, this is probably fine. For those who want to follow specific news sources that aren’t in News360, this will be a problem.
News360 is well supported, with apps for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Windows 8 and the web. The screenshot above is of the Windows 8 Metro interface. It’s very clean and good to use; the web interface is somewhat more cluttered. The iPad version looks like it falls somewhere in the middle. It looks like it’s worth a look on your platform of choice, especially if you’re less inclined to be as picky about your sources as I am.
Pulse is an attractive reader that uses a tile-design to display news stories. Available for the web, iOS, Android, Kindle Fire and Nook, availability isn’t a problem. The reading interface is clean and simple, and includes a number of options for customizing the experience to your liking. You can change the font size and style and the background color, and it does its best to provide a distraction-free reading experience.
Importing Google Reader feeds into Pulse is reasonably easy, but the option is hard to find, at least from the web interface. I had to dig a little to find a way to do it. On mobile, it’s easier; they even have a blog post detailing how.
Finding new content is handled by an interface that does a good job of presenting categories you may want to explore.
IFTTT: An Unconventional Recommendation
My final recommendation is a weird one, I admit. If This Then That is a service that glues together various parts of the web. What most people haven’t considered in the wake of Google’s announcement is that RSS is one of those IFTTT parts.
It’s a very simple matter to create actions triggered by either 1) new items in an RSS feed, or 2) new items that match a parameter in an RSS feed, and then do all kinds of useful things with them.
- Send them through email.
- Send them to your Evernote account.
- Send them to your Pinboard account.
- Send them to your calendar.
Let’s just consider the first two, because those are the two that I’ve played with the most.
Sending an RSS feed to email might seem like an odd suggestion, but with (for instance) Gmail’s powerful mail filtering and priority inbox, Gmail itself can become a handy “RSS reader” with help from IFTTT.
Evernote can be used in a similar way. I created an RSS notebook and fed a few feeds into it. Each feed requires a separate recipe, which is unfortunate, but it makes it pretty easy to add custom tags to each. Evernote’s search capabilities then make finding what I need an easy matter.
The main drawbacks to using IFTTT as an RSS reader solution are very similar to the Google Reader problem itself. If IFTTT ever disappears, good luck salvaging your recipes and feeds from it. For this reason, I’d recommend it mainly as a highlighting solution for feeds you pay particular attention to, rather than trying to use it for your entire feed collection. (I certainly won’t be putting all of mine into it; I have some 500ish feeds!)
I’ve set up some examples using this very blog as a test case.
- GeekBeat.TV Blog posts to Evernote
- GeekBeat.TV Blog posts to Gmail
- GeekBeat.TV Blog posts to Pinboard
If you decide to test drive one of these recipes, you should keep in mind that nothing will trigger until we publish a new blog post. For clarity’s sake, our blog posts here at Geek Beat are NOT on the same feed as the show episodes. Of course, if you decide to give one of these a try, you can base new recipes with different RSS feed sources, too.
What solution do you prefer? Did we overlook something fantastic? Let us know in the comments!