Dealing with the demise of Google Reader
I have long been a happy user of Reeder for reading RSS feeds on both the Mac and iOS. However, that will all change on Monday, when Google shuts down Google Reader. Unfortunately, Reeder uses Google Reader behind the scenes to manage your subscriptions and unread items and sync them across your devices. And because the developer of Reeder hasn’t been able to add support for other sync services in time, this leaves many of us in an interesting situation where we need to find both a new RSS reader app and a new backend sync service.
RSS sync services
Here are the main contenders in the battle to replace Google Reader. Some have a one-click process for importing your Google Reader subscriptions, while others will require you to download your subscriptions as a file and then upload the file to their service to import.
Feedly seems to be the most popular Google Reader replacement, presumably because it is completely free and was up and running right away. It has a web interface that is on the whole reasonably well designed apart from a few quirks. There are also native apps for iPhone and iPad.
One thing that puts me off Feedly is the seeming lack of business model, as it raises the probability of intrusive advertising in future, or a sudden demise like Google Reader. However the main deal-breaker is the current lack of export functionality, making it extremely difficult to switch away from Feedly at any point in the future.
Feed Wrangler ($19/year)
Feed Wrangler is the work of “Underscore David Smith”. He is pretty friendly with many Apple/tech podcasters and bloggers, and as a result Feed Wrangler has received many “celebrity” endorsements from people like Marco Arment, Shawn Blanc and Federico Viticci.
The most unique feature is “smart streams,” which work like smart playlists in iTunes. I could see this being useful for building filters for really high volume RSS feeds, so only the articles that you are interested in get through. They are also great for grouping articles around topics, regardless of which feed they are from. This is a big improvement over the traditional “feeds grouped into folders” model, as it allows grouping to work on a per-article basis instead of an entire feed, and also allows articles to appear in multiple groups.
Many people have complained that Feed Wrangler’s web interface and apps are “ugly,” but when considering it purely as a backend sync service to use with other apps, this isn’t really a concern. A slightly more practical problem with Feed Wrangler is its inability to import folders from Google Reader. You can use the smart streams feature to create what are essentially folders, however you will have to do this manually after importing your subscriptions.
Feedbin offers a widely supported replacement for Google Reader in terms of syncing, along with what is probably my favourite web interface of all the services here - in fact probably the only web interface I could see myself using instead of a native app. It’s far more simple and intuitive than Feedly, while having the quality design and attention to detail that Feed Wrangler lacks.
Unlike Feed Wrangler, Google Reader folders are automatically imported and converted into Feedbin’s tags. These tags can be used in exactly the same way as Google Readers folders, only go a bit further as a single feed can have multiple tags, essentially allowing it to be in multiple folders at once.
NewsBlur has been around since well before Google announced it was shutting down Reader, but has received renewed attention since. It has a novel web interface that in some ways reminds me of Safari’s (long gone) built-in RSS viewer. NewsBlur is clearly aimed at “power users,” which can be both its greatest weakness and its greatest strength. It has many features that go far beyond the other services, such as inline comments from NewsBlur users, and a system you can train to automatically highlight stories you will like and hide stories you won’t. However, this also results in NewsBlur having one of the most cluttered interfaces, especially if you rarely use these power features.
In terms of native apps, there is support from ReadKit on the Mac, however, as far as I know the only option on iOS is the official NewsBlur app.
- Digg Reader - Recently entered beta, so one to watch for the future. Betaworks recently acquired both Digg and Instapaper, so it will be interesting to see if we get any nifty integration in future.
- Tiny Tiny RSS - An open source, self-hosted solution.
- Fever - A self-hosted solution with a one-off $30 fee. Reeder for iPhone support.
- The Old Reader - Currently in beta, very little support amongst Mac and iOS apps.
- MnmlRdr - Web interface only.
Mac RSS apps
At first glance, ReadKit appears very similar visually to Reeder for Mac. It has the familiar 3 column view, with almost identical buttons in the top and bottom toolbars. It feels a bit like an imperfect imitation of Reeder, although that is hardly a major issue.
In terms of functionality ReadKit has all the features that Reeder offers and far more. Most importantly, of course, is support for a multitude of sync services, including Feed Wrangler, Feedbin, NewsBlur and Fever. I’m also particularly liking the Instapaper and Pocket integration too, which makes ReadKit a fantastic unified place to do all my reading on my Mac.
The other notable feature is smart folders, which are just like Feed Wrangler’s smart streams. The added benefit of ReadKit’s smart folders is that they work with any (or multiple) sync services, however the downside is that they won’t appear outside of ReadKit on your other devices.
NetNewsWire ($10 pre-order, usually $20)
NetNewsWire has been around almost as long as RSS itself. It has a loyal following, and the recent update to version 4 brings a nice UI overhaul. The big problem with NetNewsWire is the current lack of any sync options whatsoever. New versions of the iOS apps are also still currently under development, so it’s likely that a proper sync solution will be on a similar timescale to Reeder for Mac.
Caffeinated gets an honourable mention purely for its absolutely beautiful interface. Like NetNewsWire it is currently completely lacking in sync options, and no proper support for third party sync services is even on the roadmap. But if sync is not an issue for you, it looks fantastic.
iPhone and iPad RSS apps
On the iPhone, Reeder already supports Feedbin and Fever. Supposedly it will support Feed Wrangler any day now, but without proper support for smart streams. So if you are a happy Reeder user, there might not be an urgent need to switch, but you might want to take the opportunity to assess some of the alternatives. If you choose Feedly, Feed Wrangler or NewBlur for your sync service, their own native apps are an option. However, like its web interface, Feed Wrangler’s app receive a lot of complaints for being “ugly”. While it’s not a conventional RSS reader, Flipboard has recently gained a lot of popularity as an alternative way to read news.
For the iPad, Mr Reader has been almost universally touted as the best option.
Everyone has different requirements and tastes, meaning there is no obvious best choice suitable for everyone. In a way that is one of the great things about the death of Google Reader - such an amazing ecosystem of different apps and services has sprung up so quickly. In the end, I settled on using Feed Wrangler for my sync service. Feedbin was a close second, and likely would have been my first choice if I anticipated making regular use of a browser-based web interface. In terms of apps, I’m currently using ReadKit on the Mac, while keeping an eye on the progress of Reeder and NetNewsWire. For the iPhone, I’m planning on just sticking with Reeder, which will mean putting up with a possible interruption if Feed Wrangler support comes after Monday. On the iPad I’m actually doing most of my reading through Flipboard.