Posted on Fri 26 July 2013

The end of RSS

It’s ironic that the end of Google’s flavour of RSS reading has rejuvenated the world of RSS reading. It’s impressive just how many developers have stepped into the gap left by the withdrawal of Google, quickly offering new sync services and updated or enhanced clients that use those new services. It’s all got quite complicated...

For the last couple of years I’ve been using Shaun Inman’s self-hosted RSS service called Fever. I came to this solution after using other services such as Newsgator and Google Reader precisely because it protected me from sync providers withdrawing their services. Fever works great but it’s not the easiest solution and it’s not Inman’s top priority at the moment.

Having had a play with a few of the new services, I thought I would write down my thoughts, as much for my own benefit as anything else. Testing these has really helped me better understand what I am looking for in using RSS.

The new services I’ve tried are:

My key requirements are:

  1. Reliable syncing across devices (Mac and iOS) and third-party apps
  2. Ideally web access in the locked-down Windows world of work where I’m stuck with Internet Explorer 8
  3. Access to sharing services such as Instapaper and Pinboard.
  4. Keyboard shortcuts for quick browsing.

Notes

Newsblur via the web has the quickest keyboard shortcuts and the nicest looking interface. However Newsblur is not supported on the wonderful Mr Reader iOS client. You can read why on the Mr Reader blog. Basically Newsblur is designed for websites, or Apps that behave like websites, and that approach is very evident in their own iOS app. The downside is that every interaction results in a separate call to fetch the requested data. This doesn’t sound like an ideal approach for mobile (non-WiFi) devices. NewsBlur is not currently supported on the popular Reeder for iPhone, I’m assuming for the same reasons.

NewsBlur wins the browser battle but loses the third-party app war.

Feed Wrangler’s offering uses smart streams which can work like folders at their most basic but potentially do much more. For instance it’s possible to search for keywords within a Smart Stream. The down-side is that Smart Streams are not widely supported in third-party apps. The end result is that one may be presented with a very long list of individual feeds rather than nicely grouped folders.

Feedbin’s web interface lies in the middle ground between Newsblur’s busy web interface and Feed Wrangler’s sparse interface. I feel it’s the most like Google Reader is some ways. My impression is that Feedbin does the job without being spectacular in any way.

One of the third-party apps that has added many of these new RSS services is ReadKit which supports all of the services that I’ve listed above and also supports Fever. Unfortunately ReadKit’s performance with Fever appears to be really poor. I am experiencing startup times of around 40 seconds with Fever enabled while the application starts almost instantly without.

Round Up

Who wins the browser battle to access RSS via the web?

  1. NewsBlur
  2. Feed Wrangler
  3. Feedbin

But it's worth noting that Newsblur just doesn't work on older versions of Internet Explorer (I am the 1%!) while the other two at least give you something. If you have to use Internet Explorer 8 (please don’t!) then Feed Wrangler is a better option

Who wins the third-party app battle?

  1. Feedbin
  2. Feed Wrangler
  3. NewsBlur

Newsblur struggles because a significant number of apps don’t currently support their service. Feed Wrangler has good support from third-party apps but there’s no widespread support for smart streams yet.

Conclusion

In my opinion it’s just too early to make any sort of judgment about Google Reader replacements. The services themselves are still changing and the third-party clients are playing catch-up. If you need to sync RSS across multiple devices there are going to be a few rough edges for a while. I reckon that will change fast though.

For the moment I’m sticking with Fever but that could change soon.

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