tl;dr – I don’t know what I’m going to use to replace Google Reader yet. I’m going to wait and see what works best as a replacement sync service in Silvio Rizzi’s Reeder apps.
Now that we’re a few days past the initial shock of the Google Readerpocalypse, everyone can’t stop talking about alternatives. As a heavy Reader user, and having converted many people to it over the years, lots of people have been asking me what I think about the alternatives. Rather than list out the alternatives for general Reader users, I’m going to focus on 1) how I use Google Reader, and 2) which of the current alternatives is a suitable replacement for my workflow (hint: there isn’t one yet, as of mid March).
I have been a huge fan and proponent of RSS since I discovered it in the early 2000s. That “Longhorn <3 RSS” track jacket that Microsoft gave out at Gnomedex in 2005? I wore that all the time, with pride. I even went so far as to wear bright orange Crocs for a few years, as my “RSS Evangelism Shoes” – people would then ask “What’s RSS?” and I’d say “I’m glad you asked!” While I’m in between bright orange shoes right now, it’s still one of my favorite colors, and that’s 100% because of its association with RSS. So, yeah. I’m that guy.
Once I realized how well it could replace my “open a bunch of bookmarks for sites I follow and check to see if I recognize anything new” model, I was hooked. I used various RSS aggregator apps (FeedDemon, NewsGator, etc.), but the one that really set my heart afire was Bloglines. The appeal of a web-based reader, which could sync my subscriptions, read state, etc. across any device was the holy grail. It was fast, I only had to manage subscriptions, and it had a great mobile-friendly version that worked on my handheld devices (this was back in the day before smartphones were even really a thing). It was the centerpiece of how I read the web. There’s a reason there are 8 pages of search results for “bloglines” on this blog. It had a lot of cool little features, too, like a widget that would embed a live outline of your subscribed feeds, which I used as a live-updated “Link Library” to show what sites I was following. (Side note: I was surprised to learn that Bloglines is actually still around. I thought they had been shut down long ago. It looks like Netvibes absorbed them – the new interface is very similar. Maybe they’ll stage a comeback in this new feed reader renaissance.)
When Google Reader was ascendant, it quickly became clear that it was going to be the web-based feed reader that most people used. After a rocky start (it was extremely slow and clunky in the beginning), it improved steadily, until one day, it was the only game in town. I used it very heavily, at one point trying to out-Scoble Robert Scoble (I prided myself on the insane fact that I followed more RSS feeds – about 1800 – than he did at the time). Fast forward a few years, and my feed count is at a much more manageable level (324 today), and I’ve probably read millions of items using Google Reader (for some reason it’s only showing my stats back to 2010, with 300K+ items read). And now Google Reader is going away, and I’m in the same boat as all of you looking for a replacement.
I’ve learned in the last week or so that the way I use Google Reader is a bit different than most other people. As such, my requirements for a replacement are different. So let me elaborate a bit on how I use Reader, so you can see 1) why a replacement that might work for you won’t work for me, and 2) what your prospects are if you happen to use Reader in a way similar to me.
Google Reader, for me, is now exclusively a back-end sync service for Silvio Rizzi’s Reeder apps on my iPhone, iPad, and Mac. Reeder’s combination of speed, excerpts, and shortcuts let me “process” hundreds of items in just a few minutes (that is, skim and decide to read, send to Instapaper to read later, or share to individuals or mailing lists that I manage). I actually timed myself this morning – I started with 149 unread items from overnight, and in less than five minutes, I had gone through them all. I didn’t read every single item, but Reeder shows me enough that I can quickly decide whether I want to read more, and most importantly, when I’m done, and everything is marked as read, I’m confident that I’m not missing anything important. I never use Google Reader’s web version, on my computer or devices, anymore.
So, for this kind of usage, let’s see how the current (and near future) Google Reader replacements fare.
Feedly saw over 500,000 new users over the weekend, since Reader’s demise was announced. It’s essentially a really pretty copy of Google Reader’s web interface – and it is very pretty. In inexplicably requires you to install an extension in Safari or Chrome when you use it on Mac or Windows, which makes no sense to me. And it has an iPhone version that looks quite nice. I imported the OPML of my subscriptions, and it works well. The only problem for me is that it doesn’t sync with Reeder’s apps, so it’s out. It’s also not clear what their business model is (it appears to be advertising-based, with no option for paid user accounts). Given what Google has repeatedly taught us about free services, this makes me nervous.
NewsBlur has been down under heavy load for the last few days, so I only now got a chance to create a free account (they offer paid “Premium” accounts for $24/year). I imported my OPML, and immediately ran into one of the limitations of the free account – you can only have 64 subscriptions. Premium accounts have no limit to the number of feeds you can follow, and also get access to other key features, like “river of news” view (reading by folder, which I do exclusively), an extracted text view, and privacy controls. While I’m encouraged by the fact that they actually charge users money (and therefore hopefully have a sustainable business model), I’m not ready to plunk down my $24/year yet until I hear they have added my key feature – syncing with Reeder’s apps. Overall, though, I’ve heard good things about NewsBlur, and if Silvio updates Reeder so that it can sync with NewsBlur, they could be a contender.
I’ve wanted to check out Shaun Inman’s Fever for a long time. It’s kind of a niche product – it runs on a web server (like WordPress or Mediawiki), not your personal computer or device. It costs $30. That was enough to keep me from installing it to tinker, but current conditions changed the balance, and I decided it was worth a look. One of the big plusses that Fever has to recommend it is that is syncs with my beloved Reeder (at least, the iPhone version – the Mac and iPad versions don’t sync with Fever). So I set it up on my web host, and played around with it. It does what it says on the tin. It’s a little slow, but I blame that on my cheap mediatemple hosting (it’s not running on a powerful server, by any means). I really like the “Hot” view, which synthesizes all of your feeds to see what topics people are talking about – a feature I always hoped Google Reader would release. But I don’t think I’m going to stick with Fever. I’m a little concerned about it eating up storage, bandwidth, and CPU usage on my mediatemple account (all of which are limited at the tier I’m on, with overage charges). But Reeder is closer to syncing with Fever than any other alternative, and unless Reeder goes the route that Marco Arment outlined (make “sync server” a user-changeable field), there’s a good chance it could be my Google Reader replacement. At the very least, I’ll probably keep using the “Hot” view.
I hadn’t heard about it until the Readerpocalypse (I don’t think anyone had), but David Smith has announced that he’s working on a paid Google Reader replacement for syncing. No further details are available, but I signed up to learn more. This one is a wild card. Could be cool, could fizzle and fade.
Remember Digg? If you’re thinking of the old user generated news site, then you need to check out the new Digg. They reinvented themselves as a collector of what’s hot and interesting on the web, and the new site is surprisingly good. It consistently delivers stuff I find cool and interesting that I haven’t found anywhere else. Anyway, the new Digg has announced that they’re building a Reader replacement, complete with copying the Google Reader API. Another wildcard, but if it’s anywhere near as good as the new Digg, this one could be great.
What Are You Going To Do?
So after all that, what am I going to do about finding a replacement for Google Reader before July 1, 2013?
I’m going to wait.
There is no clear winner for a replacement right now, at least, not for the way I use Reader/Reeder. So I’m going to wait and see.
A lot will depend on what Silvio decides to do with the Reeder apps. I really hope he follows Marco’s advice. But given how dependent I’ve become on his apps for the way I read and process feeds, his decision will hold a lot of sway with me.