If you are a Google Reader user then you are no doubt well aware that it is in its last week of existence. For the most part, the so-called alternatives have tended to overwhelm – but improvements have been made since Google’s big announcement, so some of them might be worth a second look.
I have used Feedly on my phone a couple of times. For the most part, it was everything that I did not want in a reader – but the web interface is a different story. With a few display tweaks it is possible to more or less replicate the GReader experience, or you can go with their aesthetically pleasing magazine-style layout (it works well if you don’t have too many feeds). It scores extra points for seamless, one-click GReader subscription importation, great sharing options, and the muted color scheme – which is easy on the eyes when you have to do a lot of reading.
Who’s it for? If you have a big subscription list, do a lot of reading and don’t want to pay then you will find Feedly to be a great GReader alternative. In your author’s opinion it even offers a few improvements.
NewsBlur probably has my favorite interface of all of the readers. After Google announced that Reader was shutting down, the site gained a lot of attention and performance seemed to suffer as a result. That was before the infrastructure upgrade. Now it is fast, and the publicly displayed site stats let you know how ridiculously fast it is. That performance focus definitely makes the $24 per year premium option a worthy consideration. NewsBlur’s free accounts only let you browse through 64 subscriptions at a time. While I love getting things for free, the site’s focus on performance, its open source code and its lack of ads more than justify the price tag.
Who’s it for?NewsBlur would be my pick for anyone with fewer than 64 feeds. If you have more and are not blown away by Feedly, then it is definitely worth checking out.
The Digg Reader
No, it is not out yet and no, you can not get an invite. We have not tried it, so we have to discuss it based on rumors, sight unseen. Digg has been floundering of late, but there are still some diehard loyalists that have not defected to Reddit. Your author has it on good authority that the folks at Digg are doing their utmost to get the Digg Reader ready for Google Reader’s unplugging – they are cutting it very fine.
At this stage it looks like the Digg Reader will be add free. Earlier comments on readers being prepared to pay for subscriptions has me suspect that there will be some sort of premium offering sometime in the future. Expectations are high about this one, so you might want to hold off making any lasting commitments elsewhere until you have tried it out.
Who’s it for? We don’t know yet, but the people behind Digg Reader seem to have gone into the project looking at it as a Google Reader successor, and that has me hopeful.
The Old Reader
This is basically a GReader clone, with some of the features that Reader abandoned in its latest edition. It is good, reasonably fast, and gets the job done. That being said if you just try to replicate, you are never going to improve. Reader has been fantastic, but nothing gets improved without raising the bar. I am sure that they will innovate – but yours truly is ready for a post-Google reading experience.
Who’s it for? The Old Reader is likely to appeal to curmudgeons and fanboys with big subscription lists who prefer living in the past. GReader was great, but lack of innovation on the news reader front is a big part of why it was struggling. I worry that calling it “The Old Reader” might anchor it too firmly in the past.
NetVibes gets the job done, but I tend to find the page a little busy and the whole thing a little too geared towards analytics for my liking. I never warmed to the radioactive-snot-green borders around the articles and I can pass on the metrics – they do not help my research. That being said, it is highly functional, fast and imported very quickly. It is also worth mentioning that the site stood up to the traffic in the days after Google’s initial announcement – which suggests that NetVibes has some rock solid infrastructure.
Who’s it for? If you own or manage a bunch of blogs then the analytical side of NetVibes could be really useful – otherwise, stick with simpler better-looking options.
Honorable Mention This is another nice, minimalist web-based news reader. I love the clean interface and it looks great – but I am not thrilled about the bright red bullet-points, I think that they draw attention away from the content. I also found the importation process to be a little slow and the web application to be a resource hungry on my aging work desktop. Yoleo links to GReader for easy feed importing, but it was definitely the slowest of all the sites to handle the import.
Who’s it for? Yoleo looks fantastic, but I felt like some of the design elements slowed down my reading. If you are not on the clock or staring at the screen for long enough to get eyestrain then it is fine.
There are actually quite a few options for Google Reader replacements and picking a winner out of this selection is a highly subjective endeavor. My suggestion, try them all – if nothing else it is the easiest way to back up your subscription list without going to the trouble of manually exporting and then importing your OPML file.
I placed the biggest priorities on speed and ease of reading. I like to be able to move through large amounts of text at once. As such I do not really care for finishing touches that are made purely on the basis of aesthetics – so first and foremost I am looking for a non-distracting layout and a soft color scheme. If I can get that on a platform that lets me share effortlessly between a range of social networks, I am happy. The relative complexity of the NetVibes layout turned me off and had me leaning towards the other sites.
Infrastructure is key! Putting together a workable reader interface is not rocket science. Making one that loads quickly and that is light on resources is much more of a challenge – but none of that matters if the infrastructure is not up to the task. With that in mind, NetVibes really stood out. It took the post-announcement traffic influx in its stride. NewsBlur had a different way of handling it – they limited free account when demand was high in order to maintain the site’s performance, built up their infrastructure and then opened up to free members – which seems a good indication that they are more concerned with maintaining a high-quality user experience than they are with growing their membership base. Yoleo provides the perfect contrast. It grinds along, either because of the weight of the glossy interface, inadequate infrastructure, or both. I found it so slow that it was barely usable.
Why pay for something that you can get for free? We all love a good free web application, but servers and bandwidth are not free. The money has to come from somewhere, either it comes from advertising, users, or companies that want to harvest your data – sooner or later, something has to pay the bills. Personally, I am more or less comfortable with all of those models – as long as they are fast, because time spent waiting for things to load or avoiding distractions adds up very quickly. So, to cut a long story short, I am looking for a fast reader with a simple layout. The three offerings that I thought best met this criteria were The Old Reader, NewsBlur and Feedly.
The Curve Ball: The potential game changer in all of this is the Digg Reader. When it launches, it will almost certainly be free, it has a lot of programming expertise behind it, and with all of the time that seems to be going into it, I expect big things.
Third Place: While my assessment of The Old Reader might have seemed a little harsh, I actually like it – a lot. It is fast, costs nothing and is thus far ad free. They seem to be funding the site through donations. While it seemed a little slower than the commercial offerings, its performance was more than satisfactory, even with a big subscription list. As such, it comes a very close third.
Tentative Second: I found that NewsBlur matched Feedly pound for pound in every way. There were no noticeable differences in speed, both options looked fantastic – what it came down to was the pricing model. NewsBlur charges, while Feedly is free. That being said, the site is sustainable and very experience-focused, so there should never be a reason for the performance to slip. If you have less than 64 feeds, this is the reader to use.
The paid option is a very reasonable deal, but consider holding off until Digg’s option hits the Interwebs.
First Place: Feedly is free, has no ads and is extremely fast. As such it is my personal favorite. However, one should keep in mind that it is new and does not yet appear to be monetized. The only thing that really separates Feedly from NewsBlur is the price. You can’t beat free, but it is doubtful that it will remain free forever – but is now and that is what counts.