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Google Reader Alternatives for Reeder Users Like Me

tl;dr 2 – The ReaderPocalypse is upon us. Silvio has updated the iPhone version of Reeder to work with Feedly, Feedbin, and a couple of other services, but not the iPad and Mac versions, which I use heavily. I’m starting to lose hope. In the mean time, I’m using Feedly, which has some pretty slick iOS apps, and works decently in the browser on my Mac. It’s a pretty good interim solution, but I still feel like there’s room for a standout in this field. I’ve played with FeedBin, FeedWrangler, TheOldReader, Digg Reader, and AOL Reader, and they just don’t work as well for me as Feedly does. YMMV

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).

Josh Reading Feeds on the Beach

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. :-)

Orange Crocs on the Beach

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

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

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.

Fever

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.

FeedWrangler

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.

Digg

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.

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☍ Let Google Reader Automatically Translate Feeds Into Your Language

Official Google Reader Blog: Is Your Web Truly World-Wide?

Ever wanted to subscribe to a feed in a language other than one you understand, and have Google automatically machine translate it into your language? Now you can.

greader_translate.jpg

Of course, machine translation is usually terrible. I worked in software localization for a few years, where I learned first hand just how far out the idea of usable machine translation is. But hey, it’s better than nothing, and is a nice option for that Chinese or Russian blog you REALLY wish you could read.

I tried this out on the feeds for the Intel Software Network blog in Chinese and Russian, and it seems to work pretty well (as well as Google Translate ever does). Pretty slick.

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Blog

New Google Reader Feature – Inline Web Page Preview (Not!)

Update: I’m an idiot. This is a feature that’s part of Lifehacker’s Better GReader Firefox extension that I installed the other day. I just now noticed the behavior, and though it was part of Google Reader itself. Still, a cool feature – check out Better GReader for that and more! And sorry for the false alarm. Here I thought I was breaking news on a new feature! ;-)

Just noticed this – a new Google Reader feature!

Google Reader Inline Preview


When I clicked the post title, instead of opening in a new tab, as usual, it opened an inline preview of the entire target web page, right there inside Google Reader.

There’s a new “Preview” button at the bottom of the entry, too, where you can toggle the preview on and off.

Haven’t read anything from Google about this feature yet, but it’s neato! :-)

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Two Month Kindle Review (and full text of my Washington Times interview)

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by Kelly Jane Torrance, a reporter for the Washington Times. She was working a piece about the Amazon Kindle ebook reader, and had seen my Kindle unboxing and initial review video. We conducted an email interview, part of which went into her final article in the Washington Times (“The Carry-On Library” – beware popups).

Of course, all of my lengthy replies didn’t make it into the article, so I’m posting them here. Consider this my “two month” review of the Kindle – that’s about how long I’ve been using it. Read on for the rest of the interview/review.

(Update: I forgot to refer you to a couple of other posts I’ve written about the Kindle, namely, my Rebuttal to Kindle Critics, in which I talk in depth about the limits, real and perceived, of the DRM on Kindle books purchased from Amazon, and “Why eBooks are a Better Entertainment Value Than Almost Anything Else“, which is pretty self-explanitory. Both are good background on my thoughts/stance on the Kindle in general, and DRM in particular. I didn’t get into DRM much in the newspaper interview.)

How long have you had your Kindle?

I’ve had my Kindle for about a month and a half, since they became reliably available in mid-April. But I’ve wanted one ever since they were released in November 2007 (and subsequently sold out in 6 hours).

Why did you decide to purchase it?

I’ve been a long time fan of ebooks. I’ve read hundreds of them on various PDA and phone devices over the last few years. Needing to touch a physical book as part of the reading experience stopped being an issue for me a long time ago. The convenience of being able to take a library of hundreds of ebooks with you on a small device is very appealing. Already a fan of ebooks in general, I wanted a dedicated reader device with an electronic ink screen (super high contrast and DPI, low power usage). Among the dedicated eInk reader devices out there (Sony Reader, etc.), I chose the Kindle for a couple of reasons.

First is the Kindle Store – the almost-150,000 books that Amazon has made available to purchase and read on the Kindle. You could have the greatest ebook reader device in the world, and without a great library/store, it would fail. I figure if anybody can do the “electronic bookstore” right, it’s Amazon.

Second, the Kindle has a built-in unlimited cellular wireless data connection. That means it can access the internet and the Kindle Store almost anywhere there’s cell phone coverage, with no monthly fee. Besides being able to look things up on Wikipedia, or browse the web, this means I can go from “I want to buy a new book” to having the book purchased and downloaded to my Kindle in a matter of minutes, from anywhere.

You mentioned you have an iPhone, so are you the sort of person who tends to buy the latest gadgets?

I’m definitely the kind of person who always wants to have the latest gadgets. I’m a geek all the way down to the core. Interestingly, it was when I bought my iPhone that I stopped reading ebooks, because there was no ebook software for the iPhone, and it replaced the other mobile gadgets that I used to carry. So when the iPhone came along, I went back to buying “dead tree” version of books. I lost the advantages of ebooks, and the paper books I was buying started piling up all around my house.

Have you always been a big reader?

Yes, I’ve been a voracious reader all my life. It drives me crazy to have a few minutes go by without something for me to read (either on my Kindle, or reading the web on my phone).

How many books do you read in a month/year?

I read probably 6-8 books a month, around 100 per year (first time I’ve counted that up – yikes!).

What sort of things do you find yourself reading on the Kindle?

I find myself reading mostly books from my favorite genres on my Kindle – science fiction, history, computer books. Besides the books that are available for purchase from Amazon, I read a ton of free books that are available from places like Project Gutenberg, Creative Commons, and the Internet Archive. Many of my favorite authors, like Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross, have embraced Creative Commons (“Some Rights Reserved”) as a way to distribute their work for free in order to gain new fans. Cory Doctorow has written extensively on why he follows this model (the basic argument is that for most authors, your enemy isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity), and in my case, at least, it works. I buy hard copies of Cory’s books to give to friends, as well and recommending they get the free versions of his books. He and others like him have gotten way more money out of me this way that they would have if they followed the traditional publishing model.

Are you happy with your purchase?

I am very happy with my Kindle purchase. I use it every day, and I love it more and more. I read to my daughter from it every day (she calls it my “magic book”, the best way I could think of to describe how it works to a 5 year old). I highly recommend it to anyone who loves reading.

What have been the best things about the device?

As a concept, the best thing about the Kindle and ebooks in general is being able to hold hundreds (or thousands) of books in one physical device. As a device, I love the electronic ink screen on the Kindle, and the built-in wireless connection (and the fact that Amazon doesn’t artificially block you from using the web with it). The battery life is stellar (with the wireless radio turned off, battery life is measured in thousands of page turns, which translates to days and days of active use). The design and layout, while controversial, becomes immediately comfortable when you start using it – you can tell why it’s designed the way it is as soon as you hold it in your hand. For me, it has changed reading the same way MP3 and iPods changed music. It’s a real-life Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Anything you’ve been dissatisfied with?

My only real complaint with the Kindle is that I wish the page would refresh faster when you “turn” it. The refresh time is about 750 milliseconds – three quarters of a second. I understand why this is – the electromechanical eInk screen just can’t flip all those pixels very fast. This will improve as the technology matures. But it’s still irritating sometimes, when the Kindle can’t keep up with me and my page turns. I also feel a little guilty when visiting my favorite local independent bookstores. I still go there, browse, and buy books that aren’t available or wouldn’t work well on the Kindle (photography books, etc.), but I’m spending a lot less time and money there than I used to.

Have you shown your Kindle to others through the forum on Amazon?

Yes, I posted a “See a Kindle in Portland, OR” in the forum that Amazon set up for this purpose. A couple people came, including another Kindle owner (at the time, the only other Kindle I had seen “in the wild” besides my own). Since then, I’ve been keeping loose track of how many people in Portland have a Kindle – we’re up to 8 or so that I know of (and a whole lot more that I don’t know about, I’m sure).

Do you find people coming up to you to ask about the Kindle? And do you enjoy showing it off?

People often come up to me and ask about the Kindle, and I love to show it off, and tell them all about it. I know several people who have decided to buy a Kindle after hearing me sing the praises of mine. Sometimes I feel like I’m working for Amazon and Jeff Bezos, and they should pay me a commission. (Actually, I am an Amazon affiliate, and I get a small percentage of Amazon credit when someone buys a Kindle through the links on my website.)

Have you traveled with your Kindle?

I have traveled with my Kindle, and it’s one of the most brilliant uses for the device. A few weeks before I got my Kindle, I took a two week trip to Shanghai, China. I brought a “dead tree” book with me to read during the trip. I finished the first book before I even left my home airport, and bought another one there. I finished that one by the time I got to San Francisco, and bought another one there. I finished that one before we landed in Shanghai. While I was there, I bought a couple more books, which were sufficient for the rest of the trip. By the time I got home, I had been carrying these five or six books in my luggage all over the world. It was that experience that gave me concrete evidence of how a Kindle could simplify my reading.

Could you see yourself taking it to the beach and places like that?

I take my Kindle with me everywhere I go – it has a semi-permanent place in my cargo pants pocket. I take it to work, to appointments, to meals, everywhere. I love being able to read for a few minutes when I have the chance.

Did this factor into your decision to buy — To me, this seems like one of the biggest benefits, being able to get what you want wirelessly, without having to carry books or worry you’ll run out of reading material.

This is exactly why I love my Kindle – being able to read what I want, when and where I want, and get new stuff to read easily and quickly, and I can carry it all around in my pocket.

/end of interview

Do you have a Kindle? If so, what do you think about it? If you don’t have one, what would it take for you to get one? Have any questions about mine? Post a comment, and let me know! :-)

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I want to write more. Do more. Hack more. Learn more. So I gotta read less.

There aren’t enough hours in the day. I’ve been trying to juggle several side projects, plus all the stuff I have to do at work, plus all of our family stuff which is ramping up for summertime, and still keep up with all of my sources of information crack – RSS feeds, Twitter, books, etc. And it’s not working. A couple of things are crashing down around my ears. Something has to give.

I read a LOT. I used to be subscribed to over 1500 RSS feeds. That was WAY too many. About a year ago, I cut it down to around 500 feeds or so. But that was around the same time that Twitter really exploded in my life, proving itself invaluable for not only connecting and talking with people, but as the fastest conduit for breaking news, the most efficient source for answers to questions, and general serendipitous gems of things that were interesting and made me smarter. So I think the overall level of information overload stayed about the same.

Today, I decided action was needed. Drastic action, maybe. So I went and pruned my Google Reader feed subscriptions down to around 250 – I cut them in half. I have a pretty structured system for organizing feeds into various attention tiers (which I really should write about one of these days, but I haven’t had time – see my problem!? ;-) ). But even that wasn’t enough. So, after backing up my OPML, I got out the machete. Chop chop!

I feel pretty good about what I have left. I have a serious disorder – FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). I’m always afraid that something cool or interesting or significant is going to happen, and I’m not going to be among the first to know about it! I had to battle that tendency, and be ruthless about what I really needed to keep in my aggregator, and what I could get rid of. We’ll see how it works out.

I pacified my FOMO by reminding myself how effective tools like Twitter, TechMeme, and Digg are at letting the interesting/cool stuff bubble to the top. A few years ago, there really wasn’t anything like them that information addicts like myself could rely on. Now that they’ve matured into what they are today, I’m more comfortable relying on them, and not needing to subscribe to the many, many sources of news myself. It was funny and ironic to tell myself “I don’t need to subscribe to that feed. I’ll just go to the site if I want to see what’s new.” Me, Mister Orange RSS Shoes, lives in his aggregator, etc. You can laugh now if you want. ;-)

Anyway, I hope to force myself to have more time to write (long form, as in blog posts, and maybe other stuff – 140 character microposts on Twitter don’t really count as writing!), and work on some side projects. I’ve been getting the itch to do more programming and hacking. I want to sit down and teach myself Python, or PHP, or build something cool on Google App Engine or Amazon EC2 or something. Create. Build. Hack. Teach. Do.

And as much as I love reading, something’s gotta give, so we’ll see how long I can last on this feed diet…

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Video: Amazon Kindle Unboxing and First Impressions

I finally broke down and ordered an Amazon Kindle, now that they’re back in stock. It’s an ebook reader device, and since I read so much (borderline obsession), and there are growning piles of dead tree versions of books all over my house, I figured a Kindle was a good idea.

In this video, we go over the packaging, basic functions of the device, discuss its wireless features, have a look at the fabulous (dare I say revolutionary?) electronic ink screen, and generally check out the new gadget.

Camera help and cameo appearances by my wife Rachel and our son Gabe. You can download the higher quality original Quicktime movie file (about 6 minutes, 72MB), or get a code snippet to embed/share this video on your own site by clicking the little “connect the dots” icon in the player above.

I’ll be posting more thoughts as I use the Kindle more (I’ve had it less than 24 hours), but the verdict so far is: I LOVE this thing! I only wish I hadn’t had to wait so long for Amazon to get them back in stock.

You can find out more about the Kindle, browse the books, newspapers, and magazines available for it, and generally get more information at Amazon’s Kindle page (affiliate link – if you decide to buy one, and use that link, I get a small percentage, which helps to pay for my gadget buying habit).

Post a comment or message me on Twitter if you have any questions, and stay tuned for a lot more Kindle information in the days and weeks to come! :-)

Update: There’s a LOT of great discussion going on down in the comments for this post. I’ve been typing like mad, answering questions, so make sure you have a look if you’re interested in what book formats the Kindle can support, what you can use the SD card for, what I think of the DRM on the Kindle, how the design feels in my hands how to use the Kindle to read RSS feeds for free, and more! :-)

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