Google Reader alternatives

So, Google decided to kill one of their most useful products: Google Reader.

If you don’t use a feed reader, well, it’s a way you can subscribe to one or more web sites, and collect headlined summaries of what’s published. You can then sort, browse and filter the summaries, and click through to the articles that interest you. In short, it’s the only reasonable way to keep up with more than a handful of web sites.

Like many people, I had migrated to Google Reader because it offered a web UI for the desktop, and apps for my phone and tablet. When I had 20 minutes to kill at the doctor’s office, I could use my phone to catch up on what was new from the web sites that interest me, including all my friends’ personal blogs.

How much did I use it? According to Reader’s own stats: “Since November 23, 2007 you have read a total of 299,990 items.”

There used to be a lot of competition in this space. Everyone built RSS into things, and later Atom (a newer and better way to do the same stuff). There were commercial feed reader applications. But Google Reader was so good that it killed the market for many of them, and most of the rest became alternate front ends to Reader’s back-end storage. And now Google are killing the entire ecosystem.

It could be worse, though. I can get my entire subscription list out of Reader in a standard format (OPML), and load it into a replacement system. All I need to do is find the replacement system. I need something that’ll work on tablet, desktop and phone. I want it to have a compact display option that maximizes headlines per screen; it needs to be able to deal with 400+ subscriptions efficiently.

So, here are the options I’ve looked at, with notes.

Feedly have announced their Project Normandy. Apparently they were expecting Google to shut down Reader, and have been quietly cloning the API. They have web and phone/tablet clients, so they’re a strong contender. I’m guessing that most of the good feed reader apps will switch over to Feedly. They have tips for getting a more Reader-like UI.

Netvibes push their service as a business intelligence dashboard. At the heart of it, though, is web feed reading. While they don’t make a big thing of it, they have a Google Reader style interface. They also have pretty much everything else. It’s overkill, but quite intriguing, as it would let me pull image feeds (like Flickr) in as well. Check out their SXSW demo dashboard, and look for the toggle switch top left to switch to reader view.

Both Feedly and Netvibes have a business model: selling premium features to businesses. Feedly are a lot less in-your-face with it, and call their option Feedly Plus. Is it a sustainable model? I can’t tell, but as long as I can get my subscriptions out again I’m not too bothered. Netvibes have OPML export; I’m not sure about Feedly yet, but I’m guessing it’ll be part of Normandy if it doesn’t already exist.

NewsBlur is a completely open source solution, so it should be future-proof. Unfortunately, its servers are currently getting pounded by bitter Google Reader users trying to switch; the developer has had to cut free accounts down to a dozen feeds each to try and control the load. I could set up my own instance, but unfortunately it’s written in Python and I don’t know how well my web host supports that. (Also, most of my experiences trying to get unpackaged Python stuff to run have been very negative.)

Fever is commercial software you buy once, and run on your own hosting. It’s PHP and MySQL, unfortunately, but at least that makes it easy to get up and running somewhere. My main reservation about it is that it seems to be focused on drawing your attention to whatever everyone else is talking about the most. That’s not what I want. Quite the opposite, in fact.

The Old Reader is a clone of how Google Reader was before its most recent redesign. It doesn’t have any app support yet, though.

Tiny Tiny RSS is another DIY web-based solution. PHP. Has an Android client (and a tablet-compatible web UI).

Then there are the desktop-only applications. In many ways they’re great, but I’m not keen on losing my mobile reader capability.

RSSOwl is probably the strongest option on the desktop, as it’s free, open source, cross platform, and supports kill files—the one feature I’ve been waiting for someone to implement in feed reader land. It isn’t going to win any beauty contests, but if you don’t need mobile sync it’s a strong contender. Currently it has a sync to Google Reader option, so perhaps it’ll add sync to somewhere else (Feedly?) and then I’ll be able to use it with some other Android app.

Bloglines is an online feed reader that almost died in 2010, something they still mention on their home page. Their focus is now local news. I’m not filled with enthusiasm by either of those things. No apps either.

Newsbeuter is for people like me who are so old-school that they probably helped build the school. If you miss trn, this is your best option.

More to come, no doubt.