With the news that Google is shutting down its popular Reader service, I’ve been on the lookout for a suitable replacement. I’ve always preferred Google Reader for managing my news feeds, having tried several alternatives, including a couple of desktop clients (like Thunderbird) for aggregating my feeds. Reader was always the simplest and easiest to use, with good keyboard navigation and enough features to keep it robust and useful while not drowning the program with more things than I need. Best of all it was free.
Which, as it turns out, is apparently part of the problem. I suspect Scalzi’s analysis of the closure is probably pretty spot-on, which makes me a little nervous. Google has begun demonstrating a willingness to start up — and shut down again — projects somewhat willy-nilly, which is kind of a shame. In general they make good things, things that people want to use, and things that people come to rely on. Reader’s been around for a while now, so I was shocked by the news that they are planning to shut it down this summer.
With the announcement from Google, there have been a flurry of posts from various sites about other aggregation products. The problem is that few are 100% free, and I simply refuse to pay money just so I can read more than 12 feeds at a time. Fortunately, there are some free options out there, and the two I’m currently testing are Feedly and The Old Reader.
Feedly was the first completely free service I found, and it’s a decent replacement for Reader, despite a handful of interface elements that are clunky to use. I’m not a huge fan of the Today screen, so I’ve adjusted my setting to default to the list view — article title and preview of the first few words of the article — which is closer to how I’m accustomed to reading through my feeds. I also like my categories sorted in alphabetical order, which is something that Feedly doesn’t allow you to do easily. It seems to have imported my Reader account in somewhat random order, and while they do allow you to drag-and-drop feeds and categories into your preferred order, it’s awkward and difficult, and I’d much prefer an option to automatically sort them by category name. The final element that annoys me a bit is that, when you’ve finished reading through new articles and refresh the list, there’s no option to hide articles you’ve already read. If I’ve gone through the list already, I prefer to see an empty page so I know there’s nothing new. Currently, I either have to refresh the page manually or wait for it to do it automatically, which isn’t as frequently as Reader has done in the past.
I’m always trying to give The Old Reader a whirl. The Old Reader is supposed to something of a Google Reader clone, with the look and feel of Reader before Google gave the service a facelift and broke a bunch of things that didn’t need fixing. I like the clean look of The Old Reader better than Feedly, but the service is still in beta, and their import process is ridiculously lengthy. My imports have been in their queue for about a week now, and it has every indication of taking at least another week before they process through enough of the queue to get to my account. For some reason, though, a handful of my feeds did get make it into my account the other day, and what I’ve seen of those as they update I like better than Feedly. About the only thing I don’t like that I hope they implement is a keyboard hotkey (r) for refreshing feeds. Currently, the only way to refresh is by clicking on All Items in the left sidebar.
I’ll be curious to see what other services spring up in the next few months before Reader shuts down. Frankly, I kind of hope Google recants its decision, but I don’t really expect them to, especially if monetizing the service really is their major motivating factor for discontinuing it. In the meantime, I plan to try out as many different free services as I can and figure out which one best suits my needs and preferences. Let me know if you have any recommendations. I’d certainly like to hear them.