If you read a number of blogs, you need to keep up with new posts. There are several ways to do this, but subscribing to a feed is one of the best ways. And for several years, the easiest feed reader to use was Google Reader. I had Google reader on my iGoogle home page, but Google has announced that both Reader and iGoogle will be discontinued – Reader in just over a month.
I put quite a few hours research into finding a replacement, so I thought I’d share what I learnt – hopefully it may save someone some work.
How feeds work
To avoid having to check a blog out every day to see if there’s a new post, you can get automatic updates via email, or via a feed. If RSS or atom feeds are set up on a blog (and most have it), there will be a separate feeds page which shows information on all the posts in chronological order – it may be the whole post or just the tile and the opening lines. If you set up a “feed reader” for yourself, it will regularly scan all the blogs you’ve subscribed to and present you with all new posts.
Makes things very easy.
Types of feed readers
There are three different types of feed readers:
You register with the website of a Feed Reader product, and its software sets up your feed information and presents it to you each time you log in. These are probably the most common type of reader, but you could be left stranded if the company ceases to provide this service. Many online readers have free, limited feature, versions as well as paid services.
A number of online readers have been recommended, but perhaps the two most favoured were Newsblur and Netvibes. Both have free versions, but the Newsblur one may be a little more limited. Both look good (the screenshot above is from Netvibes). I found it quite easy to set up.
Netvibes has the added attraction of being able to function either as a feed reader or a dashboard-type personal home page. Unfortunately, it can’t effectively function as both, like I used to use iGoogle, unless you have only a small number of feeds. As a dashboard, each feed appears in a separate widget instead of in one combined list, and this is ugly and ultimately unusable for more than about 8 feeds.
Some Browsers have a feed reader built in. Safari used to have one up to version 5 (which I use) but it was removed in version 6. (Chrome has removed its plug-in from its App store – are Apple and Google up to something??) Firefox has a feed plug-in and Internet Explorer 9 has a feed reader built in. I tried out the Safari reader because it was already there, and found it adequate but less attractive and less featured than the dedicated readers.
Probably the most popular feed reader of all, Feedly, is a Browser plug-in for Safari, Firefox and Chrome, as well as smartphones. I didn’t try it because it currently relies on Google reader, and so has to develop a “clone” of Google Reader by the end of June. There may be some uncertainty in that, but most Google Reader users have apparently adopted Feedly, so it is worth a look.
You download software to your computer and then the feed information is stored on your own computer, so you are not affected by any loss of service that may occur with the online readers. Thus desktop readers give you the greatest control over things. However they run as a separate application to your Browser, so there may be some drawbacks in that.
I found the most popular desktop readers were Vienna and Reeder, and I tried out Vienna. I found it easy to use and it did everything I needed. It is open source, but Mac only.
So what have I learned?
There are plenty of sites offering advice on choice of reader, if you want to know more. Here are a few useful ones:
I think most of the products probably work equally well, and possibly you need to be an intense user to find much fault with any of them. Of the three I tried, the Safari built-in reader is the least attractive to use and to look at, but it may be the most convenient. I liked the look and operation of Netvibes slightly more than Vienna, but having Vienna on my own computer may have some advantages.