Tag Archives: The Old Reader

Feedly vs The Old Reader: The Final Result

Ever since Google announced that it’s closing the doors on Reader, I’ve been running Feedly and The Old Reader side-by-side, trying to decide which one I like better. Today, I’ve decided to go with The Old Reader, and I figured it might be helpful to put my list of pros and cons of the two readers out there for others, in case they’re having the same debate.

Feedly

What I like about it:

  1. It updates frequently, so new items hit my feed very close to the times they hit their websites.
  2. It has an iPhone app, which does make it convenient for reading while on the go.

And that’s about it.

What I don’t like about it:

  1. Feedly has a clunky interface. Very little of what it does makes it easy to manage my feeds.
  2. It doesn’t hide read items. Sure, you can click the button that tells it to display on new items, but once you’ve gone through the list and read everything, rather than displaying a blank page with a note that says there are no new items, it shows all old items from a window that is, as near as I can figure it, about 30 days old. What’s worse is that, while it greys out those items, the ‘read items’ grey is so similar to the ‘unread items’ grey that it’s difficult to tell the difference.
  3. It doesn’t have an easy way to add new feeds. It’s supposed to, and it says it does, but the method it actually uses is anything but simple.
  4. It mashes graphics to fit the reading panel. Basically, whenever an item contains an image that exceeds the boundaries of the reading panel, it resizes the image to fit. For most things, this isn’t much of an issue, but I read a lot of webcomics, and it’s exceptionally annoying when it resizes those comics down so much that it makes reading the text difficult. I’d prefer to keep the images the same size as the originals and have to scroll a little to see everything.
  5. On a similar note, Feedly insists on floating all images to the right, which A) is counterintuitive, and B) is just annoying and frustrating. I’d much rather have no float at all and have item text appear above and below the image. I know this is Feedly’s way of trying to make a more user-friendly reading experience, but it just doesn’t work.
  6. The reading panel wastes a lot of space. When viewing a list of unread items, Feedly uses the entire reading panel, edge-to-edge, left to right. For some reason, though, when you view individuals items, it plunks a large buffer of empty space on the left, which further exacerbates the image problem two items above. I don’t know why they have this buffer — it doesn’t make sense from a design perspective — but there it is.

I’m sure there are other minor issues and annoyances that I’ve forgotten, but these are the big ones for me. It’s not an ideal experience, by any means, hence my decision to stop using Feedly altogether in favor of The Old Reader.

The Old Reader

What I like about it:

  1. It’s much more similar to the way Google Reader used to be (before Google ‘upgraded’ its image and broke nearly everything that was good about it). But then, that’s one of The Old Reader’s mission statements. Visually, TOR could be the original Google Reader. It’s simple, lightweight, and easy to navigate (mostly).
  2. It actually hides read items, making it really easy to see when new things have come in and when you’ve gotten through your list.
  3. It’s easy to add feeds. Like Google Reader, TOR has a button in the left sidebar that lets you easily and quickly add a new feed. It couldn’t be simpler.
  4. It doesn’t shrink images into a smaller space. Have I mentioned how happy this makes me?

What I don’t like about it:

  1. It’s noticeably lacking in certain keyboard shortcuts, like ‘R’ to reload/refresh new items. I use keyboard shortcuts extensively when browsing my news feeds, and using ‘R’ to refresh is one I’ve come to rely on. Not having it in TOR is annoying, since I still find myself trying to use it, several weeks into this experiment. The TOR design team has said that this is a feature that will be added later, so I’m looking forward to seeing it.
  2. It doesn’t refresh as often as I’d like, nor does it refresh all feeds with the same regularity. The TOR folks have said that they use a different system for fetching news feeds, and it apparently operates on a different schedule than most other readers. Compound that with the fact that they became unexpectedly popular when Google made their announcement and have spent the better part of the last few weeks updating servers to handle the load and you end up with some latent news updates that can happen anywhere from several hours to several days after new items appear on their respective websites. It’s a little annoying at times, but it’s something I can live with. There’s little I read that’s time-sensitive, after all.
  3. It doesn’t have a mobile app — yet. This is not a deal-breaker, but I’m hoping they’ll be able to design and deploy and mobile app that will allow me to continue taking my news feeds with me wherever I go.
  4. The search function does not appear to search through old feeds. This is something I just discovered today, since it’s a feature I rarely ever need. But I’m also realizing that it’s one that’s frustrating when I do need it. I’m hoping they’ll extend the search range to include read items as well as unread (and really, why would you search unread items when you don’t even necessarily know what’s in them yet?).

The Old Reader definitely offers a better experience for me than Feedly, hence my choice to use them as my new feed reader. The things I don’t like about TOR are things I can live with. The design team for TOR consists of just three people (edit: now just two), all with full-time jobs and responsibilities. TOR has been a side project that, up until their recent spotlight, was under development mostly for just friends and family. I expect things will slowly get better over time as they make tweaks and deploy new features.

Hopefully this is a helpful summary of these two services. There are certainly other options out there for feed readers, including desktop apps and self-installed server-side readers. There are limitations to all of them, of course, so your mileage may vary.

Looking for a New Reader

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.