Sunday, March 17, 2013


The announced July 1st shutdown of Google Reader this past Wednesday sent me into a bit of a tizzy. Google Reader is a very convenient way to track web site updates. I've been using RSS, the underlying technology for Google Reader, since it was introduced in the late 1990s.

RSS originally stood for Really Simple Syndication. The idea behind RSS is to make a web site's content available for aggregation by any program capable of reading RSS. Obviously, sites may not want to syndicated full articles but only article extracts or headlines. You find all three.

RSS is an incredibly efficient way of tracking the content of multiple web sites, and Google had really invested a lot over the years improving its infrastructure to make its own tracking of RSS as efficient as possible. Google Reader was a nice side-effect of that effort.

But, the truth of the matter is that Reader's interface had become neglected over the past couple of years. Google had even resorted to ripping features out of Reader in favor of Google Plus, their flagship social network.

Google Plus doesn't really hack it for tracking website updates.

So, the past couple of days I've been evaluating non-Google alternatives to Reader. The one I like so far is Feedly. It uses Google's feed infrastructure, something that will have to change before Google shuts it down.

Here's a list of the feedly positives:

  • Very fast loading.
  • A compact, attractive display of headlines. It just hammers every other alternative with this feature alone.
  • Great iOS apps that really facilitate skimming headlines and quickly accessing content. It's a joy to use on iOS.
  • Well implemented sharing in the web interface, with a bit of an exception for Google Plus.
Here are some areas where feedly needs work:
  • Sharing to Google Plus from iOS. Feedly defaults to the web interface. To be fair, Google has only recently opened up the API for doing this directly without having to go through the web.
  • Sharing to Google Plus is also slightly flaky from Feedly's web interface. The text box for inputting your commentary has a tendency to flicker out.
Things any of these feed readers will have to do to attract me long term:
  • Convince me they have a business model. For instance, how does Feedly make money? Unclear.
  • Provide me a way to leave by exporting my feeds.

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