SiliconFilter

Don’t Like the New Google Reader? Here Are Three Alternatives

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Once upon a time, Google Reader was just one of many RSS readers out there. Today, though, it can often feel as if Google Reader really is the only game in town when it comes to subscribing and reading news feeds. Today, Google launched the largest update to Google Reader in a long time. While it brings some new features (especially integration with Google+), it also does away with a number of useful tools that many users came to rely on in the past. Reader’s social features, for example, are now almost completely gone. You also can’t bundle a set of feeds and share them with friends anymore, just like you can’t share comments about stories with your friends in Google Reader.

Given all of these changes – and a new design that isn’t everybody’s cup of tea – here are three alternatives that are worth checking out. Most of them don’t recreate the social features that Google Reader used to have, though, but given that those aren’t coming back as Google is moving to Google+, now may just be the best time to switch to a new feed reader anyway.

Feedly

Given that you probably already manage all of your feeds in Google Reader, Feedly is a nice way to transition to a different style of feed reader. Feedly syncs with your Google Reader account, but uses a more magazine-style interface. The minimalist interface thankfully doesn’t put as much emphasis on whitespace as the new Google Reader, either. The service offers support for a plethora of social media services, but doesn’t include any built-in substitute for Google Reader’s social features.

Just in time for the launch of the new Google Reader, Feedly also just launched version 7 of its web service (there are also various mobile and tablet apps).

Go Desktop: FeedDemon (Win) and NetNewsWire(Mac)

Before Bloglines, Google Reader and numerous other web-based RSS readers, most of us relied on desktop apps to regularly ping and update our feeds. The idea of using a desktop app may sound odd in this day and age where everything is on the web, but there is still something to be said for a good desktop app that neatly integrates with the rest of your system.

netnewswire_text_logoQuite a few of the older readers are now unmaintained, as their developers have moved on, but for Mac users, NetNewsWire is still more than worth a look (though I can’t really recommend NetNewsWire 4 Lite, which is the only version that is in the Mac App Store) and for Windows users, FeedDemon is still the app to beat. Both of them are still under active development, sync with Google Reader and offer at least some support for social sharing features (NetNewsWire, for example, also support Instapaper).

Personally, I use a combination of Feedly and NetNewsWire as my main setup for reading feeds.

Host Your Own: Fever

fever_smallIf you want total control over your feed reader without using the desktop because you want the convenience of being able to access your feeds wherever you are, take a look at Fever. It’s one of the prettiest and most fully-featured self-hosted RSS readers out there today – but you do have to pay $30 for a license.

What makes Fever stand out is its speed (it can ping a lot of feeds and can do so pretty fast) and its built-in memetracking feature which ranks stories based on how often they are being talked about by other sources in your feeds. You can even put feeds you don’t normally read into a separate folder that you don’t read but that influences the Fever algorithm.



3:16 am


Google Reader: It’s Still Alive and Getting a Facelift, But Will Lose its Social Features

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Google Reader, the company’s popular feed reader, long looked like the forgotten stepchild of Google+ and other more recent products at Google. As the company continued to update the look and feel of many of its products in the last few months, Reader looked like it would be left behind. Today, however, Google announced that Reader will soon get a facelift as well. At the same time, though, it looks as if Reader will also lose some features, as Google is moving all of its social efforts to Google+.

Among those features that will soon be retired are “friending, following and shared link blog inside of Reader.” According to Alan Green, a software engineer on the Google Reader team who wrote today’s announcement, Google thinks “he end result is better than what’s available today, and you can sign up for Google+ right now to start prepping Reader-specific circles.” Google Reader will, however, get support for Google+ sharing and Google notes that “many of Reader’s social features will soon be available via Google+.”

Alive, But on Life Support?

It’s worth noting that for a long time now, the development of Google Reader looked like it had come to a halt. There haven’t really been any major updates to Reader in more than a year and according to some of the people I have talked to at Google, most of the original team has been disbanded and was working on other products. Google+ itself offers a feed reader-like feature with Sparks, though this currently remains one of the least developed parts of the service.

It’s not clear if today’s announcement heralds the beginning of renewed development of Google Reader, or if the new design is simply meant to bring the product’s look up to date but won’t extend beyond that.



5:20 pm


Hands-On: Why Spool Could be the First Real Instapaper, Read It Later Challenger

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Just a few minutes after I posted a story about Instapaper’s latest updates earlier this week, I received my private beta invite for Spool, a free Instapaper-like tool for the browser, iOS and Android. While Instapaper and Read It Later mostly focus on making articles and other written content available for offline reading on mobile devices, Spool also adds audio and video to the mix. For iOS users, this also means that they can watch Flash-based videos on their devices with Spool that would otherwise be unavailable, as Spool’s backend handles the conversion automatically.

This focus on video means, for example, that you can watch videos embedded in a New York Times article, for example, that wouldn’t be available for viewing otherwise. It’s worth noting, though, that these audio and video clips are also available for offline viewing.spool_online

Pros:

Besides the video and audio aspects of the app, Spool does a number of other smart things, too. Because it actually uses a crawler to discover the text and other content on the pages you bookmark, it can also detect multi-page articles (the kind neither readers nor Google really like, but that drive up pageviews for publishers). It then hops from page to page in those articles, saves them all and assembles them back into one long article for you. In my tests, this worked very well, though some of the crud on the pages (page numbers etc.) sometimes found its way into the saved articles.

Using the service also couldn’t be any easier. You just install the Chrome or Firefox extension and you’re good to go. On your phone, you can also use Spool’s built-in browser to discover content and then save it from there (though this isn’t as easy as having a bookmarklet available for mobile Safari).

The service also has built-in support for augmenting links in Google Reader, Google+, Google News, Twitter, Facebook, Quora and Techmeme with an inline Spool button, making adding content very easy.

Cons:

Now, there are obviously some features and tools that are still missing. There are no bookmarklets for mobile browsers, for example (Spool only makes browser plugins available right now). You also can’t organize your bookmarked articles in folders besides Spool’s default Favorites and Archived directories. There is also generally a short delay between bookmarking an article and being able to read it online or on your phone.

There are also still some cosmetic issues here and there. While the overall design of the app is pretty much what you would expect, some of the text formatting is a bit off. Depending on the source of your bookmarks, Spool seems to have a dislike for paragraph breaks, for example.

Verdict:

Having spent quite some time with Spool now, I’m not ready to give up Instapaper yet, but given that this is just a private beta so far, I can’t wait to see where the Spool team takes this app.

All of these services, of course, have to face the fact that Apple itself could be working on a similar product right now. Safari’s Reading Lists so far aren’t quite up to par yet, but Apple will surely continue to develop this feature and may just put all of these firms out of business in the long run (especially those that just focus on iOS).

If you want to give the service a try, head over here to request an invite.

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4:41 pm