It was a bit of a surprise to hear Google’s announcement about the closure of the Google Reader service on July 1, 2013. It is surprising for two main reasons. First, It’s a very popular service and considered one of the more successful offerings of the entire Google plethora, and it’s the most popular RSS reader on the market, by a huge margin. Second, Google is not offering any alternative. Historically, Google closes down a service for one of two reasons, it’s either failing in popularity (by Google’s standards) or there is a different service which is either more advanced or already covering the same functionality with a clear and easy migration path. There were a few hints of a replacement of some form under Google+, but I haven’t seen any indication of it.
Since the question of why Google is shutting down Reader is not fully answered, at the time RSS feeds are still popular and not going away any time soon, I would like to look at the available alternatives.
Standard readers and aggregators:
If you’re a Mac user, Cream might be for you. Cream is a feature-rich feed reader, but what makes it special is that the application knows which stories are the best and most worthwhile reading and floats them to the top so you can go through them first.
It offers one-click import from Google Reader, and its method for determining which articles and feeds are better suited for you is impressive: the application “learns” as you read, scan or ignore stories, within a particular feed or in general. That means that Cream not only pushes stories to the top but also entire feeds based on your actions.
FeedDemon is a windows only RSS reader which offers a high level of customization. In this application you can enable keyword triggers to send an alert when any of the set keywords appear in the feed, regardless of whether you’re subscribed to the feed they appear in. Another useful feature is podcasts subscriptions with automatic downloads to a specified directory where they can be listened to or transferred to your mobile device.
Platform: Firefox | Chrome | Safari | Androd | iOS | Web
Feedly is a very popular reader and had many users long before Google announced it was shuttering Reader. It is both a browser add-on and an Android and iOS app. Feedly takes your feeds and presents them in a magazine-like view. It also has integrated sharing and integration features with many social networks. In addition to having a rich news suggestion algorithm that makes it easy to surface articles that you’ll find most interesting, it’s a rich social tool that lets you share stories with your friends and post them to your favorite social networks. Feedly has the ability to save stories for future reading, and offers layout choices that let you read the news in the manner you choose — whether it’s straight headlines from top to bottom, full articles, neatly arranged tiles, or images all laid out on a page.
Currently, Feedly uses Google Reader as its backend and there is no word whether Google will be keeping the Reader APIs online for developers. As of yet, I don’t know if Google will break the functionality of third-party application when it integrates Reader with Google+. But Feedly are not waiting to find out as it is building a new syncing engine so it’s users can seamlessly continue using the service long after Google Reader turns off the lights.
FeedsAnywhere is a browser-based reader, and while it doesn’t have a mobile app it does offer a website that is focused on the mobile user. It can handle a huge number of feeds pretty easily and has a smooth user experience. It can sync with Google Reader to get the user’s current feeds and allows the user to look at either single folders, a single feed, or all the feeds in one streamline. Setting up FeedsAnywhere is VERY simple. All you have to do is go to the FeedsAnywhere website and create an account. There are occasional quirks with the service, but it is a feature rich news reader.
Platform: Android | iOS
Flipboard is an immensely popular newsreader, and this is while not having any desktop or browser-based component. While Flipboard is considered mainly a newsreader and less useful RSS reader, it still have the capabilities and a very attractive and comfortable interface. Flipboard is an excellent option because it allows you to organize the articles you want to look at and then flip through it like a magazine. Flipboard presents you with an intuitive layout of your feeds and a few default news categories to browse. Touching a panel lets you browse through any of the default categories; touching and holding a panel lets you delete it and replace it with whatever RSS feed you might want. You can customize your Flipboard by browsing through several categories like News, Technology, Business, and Entertainment and more.
Historically Netvibes was a refuge for long iGoogle users since apart from supporting RSS feeds, it is mainly a personalized homepage service, a fact that may deter some hardcore RSS users who are looking for the RSS reader to be a centric feature. Netvibes can become somewhat similar to Google Reader once you switch it out of the default widgets mode. The service has moved beyond Web page personalization to provide online dashboards and business intelligence to companies, but still allows consumers to create personalized Web pages while augmenting its free service with business-centric paid options, such as brand monitoring, analytics, and enterprise portal services. Basic accounts at Netvibes are free, and are all you really need to keep track of your feeds. You can take the suggested feeds they start you off with, or you can import your own via OPML. After choosing Netvibes as a replacement, importing the Reader OPML file into Netvibes is as simple as clicking “Add content” and then “Import.”
Platform: Web | Android | iOS
NewsBlur has a well-built, beautiful, slick and fast-paced interface that’s somewhat similar to Google Reader, but with some additional bells and whistles that make using it a little more fun. For example, you can toggle the original view and display articles the way they show up on their respective sites, or read them the way they’re presented in their RSS feeds, or view them text-only to get rid of the images and other fluff. It has some social feature we’ve all got used to, you can share stories with friends, save them for future reading, star them, and start your own “blurblog” of featured stories you want to share.
The bad news here is that there is a big restriction, free accounts are capped at 64 blogs, 10 stories at a time, and public sharing options. Premium users ($US24/year) can subscribe to as many sites as they want, get all the latest stories at one time, get faster site refreshes, and can share publicly or privately.
Remember the days when everyone went crazy about personalized home page? Pageflakes was one of the runner ups, having been beat out by the likes of iGoogle and Netvibes. PageFlakes is still around, and you can use it to subscribe and manage your RSS feeds.
Here’s something for the Linux crowd. There are many news readers that are pretty, with nice and slick layouts, good graphics, and pictures. And then there is Newsbeuter. This app isn’t old-school so much as it is a creative anachronism. It only works on Linux, and it only runs from the command line – Yes, good old fashioned Linux.
Platform: Web | Android | iOS
Pulse is a news aggregator that has built in RSS capabilities with an intuitive interface for touch screens. News sites are laid out vertically so you can swipe up and down to the latest news from all sites quickly, or you can swipe horizontally to read more stories from the same site. It relies heavily on its own news filtering algorithms to help you find the stories that they think you’ll want to read. You can use it as a way to keep with latest news and stories from the blogs you already like. Your Pulse home screen is completely customizable, and you can easily save stories for later, share with friends, filter by category, and pick up where you left off on a new device without losing your place.
Platform: Web | Android | iOS
Taptu gives you a visual interface for browsing news feeds and also lets you add your personal social network and RSS feeds for easy access. The app comes with several premade Taptu-curated news categories, but it’s very easy to set up your own categories with the feeds you already love. Build a stream from scratch using the Add Streams button, where you’ll find many suggested feeds from popular publications. You also can search by category, or simply perform a search to gather all the feeds that relate to a specific keyword.
The Old Reader:
The Old Reader is still in beta, but is designed to be an exact Google Reader replacement for. This does not intended to be a Google Reader copy but the older Google Reader that offered more tools for sharing and organization. The log in is done via Google or Facebook, and it is possible import your feeds from Google Reader or any other RSS service via OPML. The interface looks very much like Google Reader, complete with folders down the left side, your list of stories in the main pane, and one-click subscription to new feeds. You get all the same keyboard shortcuts, and even get the ability to follow other Old Reader users and share interesting stories, the way you used to be able to with Google Reader. There are no mobile apps yet, but the web version works well on mobile devices, and the developers behind it note that they are working on mobile versions of it, though there are Chrome and Safari extensions already available.
Most web browsers have a built in RSS reader that allows you to follow up on feeds directly from the comfort of your familiar browser. There are plenty of plug-ins or extensions enabling this option in browsers that do not support it as part of their basic install. The disadvantage of this approach is the same as of a PC installed application, you can’t take the feeds with you and they will stay in the computer where the browser is installed.
Platform: iOS | Android
Google Currents was officially unveiled in December 2011 on both Android and iOS, and was framed as a sort of hybrid magazine viewer and RSS reader in one. Not many users used it when it started, and still today it has yet to gain widespread traction on either mobile platform. Regardless of its usage statistics, though, Google Currents is still useful, especially now that Google Reader will be going away.
Similar to other news aggregators, Google Currents employs a magazine-style interface with large images and paginated posts. It may not be most intuitive, but it looks sleek and works well. It lets you subscribe to and download app-optimized editions of publications, and you can subscribe to any RSS-enabled sites you like, just like Google Reader. The problem here is, there is no knowing if Google will ever decide to shut this service down as well.
Platform: Web | Android
TinyTinyRSS is not exactly an RSS reader but rather self-hosted RSS service. It is a free open source self-hosted RSS reading platform that allows you to grab your feeds on any system, as long as you have a web host and you’re comfortable installing and setting it up. It also has a Tiny Tiny RSS Android app for comfortably accessing and reading your own feeds. With this hosted on your own web server you now it won’t shut down on you.
Fortunately, Reader has always had the ability to export your RSS subscriptions and feed groups in the widely-accepted OPML format, which not only includes your feeds, but also your shared items, friends, likes, and starred items. To export your data from Reader, click the Cog button > Reader Settings > Import/Export. Make a backup of the OPML file while you’re at it, too. Now, pick one of the RSS reader replacements and import the OPML file.
While Google Reader is not shutting down right now, there is still some time until July 1, which gives plenty of time for new options to emerge. Many of the popular apps will roll their own syncing agent and try to stay alive in a post Google Reader-universe. But it is important to remember grabbing your feeds before the shutdown date.