I’ve used Google Reader for as long as it has existed, which means that I’ve been on the hunt for an alternative over the past several months, leading up to the scheduled demise of the service after today. After a long time searching, I’ve accumulated a vast number of accounts with Reader’s potential successors, along with a long list of notes on how I felt about the experience of each. Here are highlights from what I found.
Feedly feels like it wants to be the new Google Reader. It features a clean, flat aesthetic, and is built primarily around a cross-platform web app. It features all of the same Google reader shortcuts, but managing your feeds individually is harder than it was with Reader.
Feedly’s app is built around the Today tab, which I found to be decent at providing a well-designed round-up of stories in my feeds, but it often missed stories that I wanted to see right when I opened my feed reader.
Digg Reader, Free
Digg Reader is also trying to follow in Google Reader’s free online footsteps. Its mobile apps and web app are well-designed and easy to navigate, and for a light-weight feed reading experience, it seems well-positioned to succeed. My one point of confusion is the “Popular” tab in the app’s sidebar. It’s not exactly clear how the popularity of the links are calculated, and that makes me a bit skittish.
Really, though, my overarching concern with the new crop of free services is that if Google can’t find a way to make free RSS reading work, I don’t know how these upstarts can either.
Feedbin, $2/month or $20/year
Feedbin, is one of the rising paid services for RSS reading, and the only hosted one that’s currently supported by the iPhone version of Reeder, my iOS RSS client of choice.
And it’s okay. Ultimately, Feedbin does everything you want–track feeds, categorize them and export articles to various services–and wraps it all up in a competently-designed shell.
But right now, the refresh rate on feeds is incredibly slow. As someone who usually sets his feed readers to sync every 10 minutes, waiting for at least twice that long for my feeds to sync is not at all appealing. Of course, if you don’t mind the delay, it’s a very nicely designed service.
Feed Wrangler, $19/year
Feed Wrangler is the epitome of functional but not stylish. Its web interface looks like something from the 90s, and its iOS apps are fine, but not great. It certainly won’t be winning any design awards in the near future.
But the core of the service is built like a 1980s-era Volvo. It’s robust and effective, and my time using it found it to be responsive even among the crush of Google Reader refugees.
The marquee function of Feed Wrangler are Smart Streams, which you can set up to filter through your feeds for certain keywords and only pull those stories out. For example, you can set up a stream that pulls together all of the stories in your feeds with the phrase “patent” in them.
It’s not as good at the usual feeds in folders functionality that I’m used to, so I passed on it, but I’ll be interested to see how it continues to evolve.
Out of all the non-free Reader alternatives that I’ve tried, Fever is the only one that doesn’t require an ongoing payment. That’s because instead of relying on somebody else’s server to keep your feeds up to date, you install Fever on your own server.
What you get for your 30 bucks is a gorgeous app with an innovative focus. The main tab of Fever is the Hot list, which tracks how frequently a topic is discussed in your feeds, and sorts stories by how hot they are. It’s a great way to see the big stories of the day at a glance.
To feed the hot list, you place feeds into one of two big categories: “Kindling” and “Sparks.” Kindling is for feeds you read on a regular basis, and can be split up into a number of sub-categories, based on your preference. Reading through your Kindling is a lot like reading through Google Reader’s interface. Sparks give you a guilt-free bucket for all the feeds that you don’t read regularly, while still allowing them to contribute to how hot something is.
Admittedly, Fever is not for the faint of heart. Since I’m already paying for web hosting, and I’m familiar with how to use FTP, I’ve already side-stepped the major hurdles to a successful Fever install. If you’re interested in taking a crack at a Fever install, but you don’t already pay for hosting, this Macstories tutorial on using Fever with NearlyFreeSpeech is a good starting point.
If you’re not a heavy RSS user, either of the new free services highlighted here will do just fine. If it were me, I’d use Digg Reader, but both of them will keep track of your feeds and are very easy to use.
For RSS power users, I recommend Fever. It’s well designed and the Hot view lets you see the big picture of the news coming into your feeds. Plus, you don’t have to worry about a service shutting down. In theory, Fever should continue to run in perpetuity, so long as you have access to a compatible web server.
Of course, if hosting your own service sounds daunting, then Feedbin or Feed Wrangler are probably right for you. If you’re going to be using the web interface most of the time and you don’t care about a slower refresh rate, Feedbin is great. If you think Smart Streams are worth the lack of visual polish, then Feed Wrangler is probably the better bet. Both services offer refunds, so if you find out they’re not for you right off the bat, it’s possible to get your money back.
GeekWire readers: Any other recommendations based on your own experience?
One final note: A number of these services will allow you to import your data direct from Google Reader, but since Reader is going to be shut down tonight, you want to grab your data from Google before that happens. I’d recommend following this tutorial for a straightforward walkthrough of how to use Google Checkout to get your feeds.
Blair Hanley Frank is a technology journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has also worked for Macworld, PCWorld and TechHive. He can be found on Twitter @belril.