Sunday, June 30, 2013

Free Feed Reader Alternatives For Google Reader

Today is the last day of Google Reader. I have tried several alternative feed readers in the last month, free ones obviously, and I liked some more than others. Sharing my experiences and feedback about them here.

1. NewsBlur - It offers direct import from Google Reader, which is cool. It imports all the folders, but the "starred items" fetched were restricted to only last 10 items. The older starred items are lost. Also, its free version allows a maximum of only 64 subscriptions. If you want more, you have to pay $24 per year. Subscriptions aren't updated on a real-time basis either, in the free version. For some feeds, it says it will be updated once in every 90 hours, for some others, it's 2.5 hours.

The interface looks a bit complicated and cluttered. Probably requires a little "getting used to", as it is so different from Google Reader, but otherwise, it is good. Seems like it's built for more advance users though. It even shows up the tags of your blog posts. And you can have a "public profile" there too. I couldn't find a "keep unread" option though. It does have sections for site statistics and site settings, where we can find the direct feed URL, if needed.

2. The Old Reader - Very much like Google Reader. Simple and un-cluttered interface, though there is no option for direct import from Google Reader. You have to go to Google Takeout, and export an archive of your Google Reader data. It gives you a .zip file, which will have a "subscriptions.xml" file. Using that xml file, you'll be able to import all your subscriptions into The Old Reader. Fairly easy procedure.

The only bug is that it imports your folders but not your starred items. And it will fetch only a maximum of 10 items from each feed. You have a "mark all as read" option, as well as a "keep unread" option. It also shows the feed URL, in case you need it. It is pretty okay if you don't care about older posts and don't have any starred items.

3. NetVibes - It is not just a feed reader, but a complete dashboard, like My Yahoo and iGoogle! And boy, is it complicated! After much hair-pulling, I discovered this small toggle button right on the top, that allowed me to alternate between the dashboard and the reader, only to find out that the reader already had me subscribed to several combined feeds, with 1000+ "unread" items, from sources I have never subscribed to!

After unsubscribing from all that nonsense, I finally imported my own stuff, again using Google Takeout, as it doesn't have a single-button direct import option from Google Reader. Got the folders alright, but no starred items! I guess it doesn't have any concept of "starred items", because I couldn't see any such 'folder' in the left sidebar either. It does have a "read later" option though, and it does show the feed URL if you need it. But, the interface looks really dark and gloomy, and did I say complicated? Way too complicated! Not good at all! :(

4. Feedly - About a month ago, it was proclaimed to be the best alternative for Google Reader. After trying the first three alternatives mentioned above, feedly seemed really user-friendly. It imported all my feeds, folders, and starred items. It went one step ahead of Google Reader, in that it gave so many other options for viewing, apart from the standard List and Expanded views. Managing folders was classy in feedly. There was a cool "Edit" button just next to the feed title, and from there I could see the feed URL of the blog, unsubscribe by single-click, or switch folders for that feed.

In short, I loved it, except for one stupid irritant. Instead of showing the actual date of posting, it gives "xxxx d ago"! (1734 d ago would be like 5 years ago? Should I keep calculating it for every post?) Anyway, their cloud migration thing happened earlier this month. After that, things became a bit messy. The feed URLs have disappeared from the "Edit feed" option. The "keep unread" button doesn't save the item as unread. Rest of the things are still good. I prefer to have a static sidebar though, instead of a slide-out one. Still, I will recommend it as a good free alternate to Google Reader.

5. Bloglovin' - Technically, this is not a "feed reader", it's just a blog reader. I would say, it is very much similar to the "Blogs I'm Following" option, in the bottom half of our Blogger Dashboards. It has the same magazine style layout, and is quite neat and orderly. Just like "Blogs I'm Following", you can choose to make your subscriptions public or private. And just like "Blogs I'm Following", even blogs with full feeds setting show up in their summary feed format.

It lets you "mark as read" or "mark group as read". But, because this is not a feed reader, it will not pull up your non-blog RSS feed subscriptions. For example, if you're subscribed to the direct feed of Blogadda's Book Reviews program, it won't show up in Bloglovin'. And RSS subscriptions from Facebook or Twitter won't show up either. It lets you import directly from Google Reader though (no need for an xml file), retains your folders, but your starred items are not transferred. The interface is completely different from Google Reader, so that didn't work well with me.

6. Digg Reader - I can't believe that I chanced on this one only today! It allows direct one-button import from Google Reader. And it fetches all your feeds, folders, as well as starred items! The interface is really simple and neat, pretty much like Google Reader. You have either the List View or the Expanded View. No fancy hocus-pocus! You have sharing options for twitter and facebook. In place of the single-click "Star" option in Google Reader, here you have a single-click "Save" option. Adding a new feed is same as in Google Reader, and its 'edit feed' option shows you the feed URL, if you need it.

It doesn't have the cool folder management of feedly though. You've to drag-n-drop in the left pane, just like Google Reader. A few very important things that are currently missing are

  • unread count against feeds, in the left sidebar
  • "keep unread" option for feed items
  • "view only unread items" option for feeds and folders

The Digg Reader team says that they are working on these 3 options at top priority. So I guess I will use feedly till then, and will then switch completely to Digg Reader. I will highly recommend it to all those Google Reader fans who liked it for its simplicity.

I was in a rush, so haven't been able to list out all the above information in a neat "PROS-and-CONS" manner. Also, I was a very basic user of Google Reader. I never used features like tags or combining feeds etc. So I will not be able to provide any feedback on those things. One feature of Google Reader that I did find useful was the "View details and statistics" option under "Feed Settings". None of the alternatives above have that feature, except NewsBlur.

Anyway, Google Reader won't be available from tomorrow. So, I would advise all my readers to at least get their backup xml file from Google Takeout, as outlined in point 2 above. And you can definitely import your stuff into as many feed readers as possible. Most of them are still working on rolling-out features and fixing bugs. But, over the next month or two, we should have a clear winner. For the time being, my vote goes to Feedly and Digg Reader.

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Abhiroop Banerjee said...

Excellent, timely post, Kaddu. Thanks.

Chicky a.k.a. Kaddu said...

"Timely"? :D

Abhiroop Banerjee said...

Yeah timely because we still have time till July 15 (tomorrow) to move our feeds to another reader.

Chicky a.k.a. Kaddu said...


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