Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Some thoughts on leaving (or rather being kicked out of) Google Reader

By now, everyone knows that Google is killing off their Google Reader rss reader. I am a pretty heavy user of rss feeds, both professionally and personally. To me, they are essential to keeping up professionally as well as staying informed personally. Thus when the announcement came, I found myself having to, yet again, go look for an alternative. After a week or so, I have a few thoughts for what little they may be worth. Keep in mind I am not a techie or geek or twopointopian. I may use rss a lot, but I certainly don't delve into every little nut and bolt. All I want is something that reads the feeds, allows me to organize them, save some posts to read later or refer to later for blogging, and that is about it. In other words, I don't need anything fancy. So, that's the point of view I am bringing. If you want something more polished or with more technical knowledge, there are others who can give you more depth.

I will start by saying that I do not buy the idea of just using Twitter and Facebook to keep up. Twitter is pretty much the equivalent of drive-by shootings. Content just comes and goes, and as the old saying goes, "you snooze, you lose." While you can arrange the people and items you follow into lists, you can't save anything in terms of posts aside from marking them as favorites if you catch them. The search option, to be honest, is not that great at times neither. As for Facebook, I don't consider my friends and social acquaintances as good sources of information; there are one or two exceptions, but they are rare and far between. Also, searching for anything on Facebook is next to impossible because, let us be plain here, their search pretty much sucks. I use an rss reader to bring order from chaos. I use a reader so I can keep track of a curated list of specific sources. Twitter and Facebook simply cannot do that. Now, if those two tools work for you, then more power to you. For those of us who need more depth and substance past quick headlines, something like a feed reader is very valuable.

If you want a list of rss feed reader alternatives, Mr. Phil Bradley has put together a list of 20 alternatives and then another one of 33 more.  I did not go through every single one, but I did go through a few. There are other posts out there listing alternatives, which are mostly the usual list of options. I say go to Mr. Bradley's lists and take it from there as he picks up a few things no one else has.

So, what has worked for me and what has not? I exported my feeds, and after a week or so of experimenting, this is what I have learned:

The stuff that did not work or was not good enough for what I need it to do:
  • Bloglines. I had used Bloglines previously, and I was pretty happy with it until it changed, and then later got bought out. By the way, they are powered now by the same folks who power Netvibes, of which I will speak of in a moment. With the changes they did, my old account went to hell, so I had to make a new one, or try to make a new one. During the week after the announcement, they had a lot of speed issues, as in they were extremely slow. The fact that they were being run by Netvibes did not help neither because I encountered some glitch that in essence "crossed" Bloglines with Netvibes, and not in a good way. Bottom line is that Bloglines is not what it used to be, and unless you like the Netvibes interface and style, you are probably not going to like Bloglines. I am certainly not using it. 
  • Netvibes. This is a popular choice for the popular folks. I believe places like Mashable, Lifehacker, and even a librarian or two mentioned it as a choice. The problem I had with Netvibes now is the same one I always had since I opened the account way back when personal start pages were popular: it is slow as molasses. In fact, I have seen paint dry faster. I will grant that this week they probably had a lot of demand. But the issue is not new. The few times I tried to use it, I just left frustrated and went back to Google Reader. Updating in Netvibes is also not too consistent. So, it looks very pretty, and I can appreciate that. But I honestly fail to see the appeal given the slow speed in loading overall and in updating. Also, during the past week, it had an issue creating dashboards. When I attempted to create a new one, it would "flip" over to some generic Bloglines page (this is where the company owning both is a problem it seems); it was like some cable crossed somewhere. On the positive, Netvibes was pretty responsive when I tweeted about the issue, and they did fix that bug for me. That responsiveness I certainly appreciate, but until the product gets better in terms of speed and not freezing up, it is not one I am bound to use. By the way, I did try it both at home and at work, two locations where I do have high speed Internet, so I know that it is not my issue. They are just sluggish. And that just does not cut it. 
  • Feed Booster (http://feeds.qsensei.com/home.html) It imports, so I was able to do an import of feeds. However, the interface is not intuitive at all. Nor is it simple to use. Overall, the screen was a mess, unclear, and you could not even see all the feeds you imported. I got the impression it may not have imported all the material in spite of saying it did. I would stay away from this one.
  • Pulse (https://www.pulse.me/). It does not import. It looks very pretty, so if you like the magazine style set-up, and you use a tablet, you may like this. From what I saw, it is very basic, and it populates based on preset things. Basically, if you just want to read the headlines of daily news from the usual places, this may be ok. If you need something deeper and more substantial, this is not it.
  • The Old Reader (http://theoldreader.com/). This was interesting. This is one that a few people claim is a lot like using, well, the old Google Reader. So I was interested. I was able to set up an account. Now, importing feeds? That was a different pain. Apparently, they lack capacity, so they take your import cue, then you have to get in line. The first message I got when trying to import was that they had no cue spots. Later, I was able to get the import in, only to learn there were about 30,000 (yes, those are four zeroes) ahead of me to get the feeds loaded up. I could add feeds by hand just fine, but given the number of feeds I follow, that was not an option. So, I left it and like some infomercial cooking device (Video link) "I set it and forgot it." And to quote that fine entrepreneur, "but wait, there's more!" A couple of days ago, Old Reader did e-mail me to tell me that my feeds were ready. I logged in, and it looks like all the feeds are there. The interface may take some getting used to, but it may be workable. Keep in mind that it only brings in your feeds. If you had saved items on Google's tool, they are not making the trip over. That is pretty much the case for most of the options. The fact that I had to wait so long to get things set up with them was a big turn-off, since by then I had found another easy and viable option, which I will mention shortly. Will I use Old Reader? For now, maybe more as a backup than as my main reader. It is still running slow at time due to the demand, but I can hope that will improve over time. 
  • Newsalloy (http://www.newsalloy.com/). This has no option to import. It is just a basic news reader. You can add some things manually if I recall. I did not spend much time here. 
  • Newsblur (http://www.newsblur.com/).This is another darling for some people out there. However, here is the deal. It is capped at 64 feeds for the free version. That's it. And recently, they stopped taking in free users. A tool that is not free is simply not an option when there are other decent free options out there. Once I saw the cap, I did not bother. Actually, I just checked again as I was typing this, and the free cap (they are doing free it seems) is down to 12 sites to track and other restrictions.
  • Guzzle.it. (http://guzzle.it/). Another basic news reader. This is not really an rss reader per se.
 Stuff I am waiting on or want to check out later as of this writing:
  • I did request an invite for Sprightly (http://spright.ly/). If I do get in, I will try to let people know about it.
  • I heard some good things about Rolio (https://www.rolio.com/), but I have not tried it. Again, if I do, I will try to let people know.
What actually worked for me:
  • Feedly. (http://www.feedly.com).  This is an extension for Firefox and Chrome. I am a Firefox user, so given I heard good things about it, I took the chance. Naturally, the disadvantage may be for some you do have to have Firefox on your device. Or you need a tablet where you can install it. I have an iPad at work, and yes, they have an app for it, which I did install. Personally, I prefer using this on the laptop via the browser extension, but the iPad app is ok and can be read, so in a pinch, it's ok. However, I do like the extension. The default is a magazine style set up, but you can change it to a list similar to Google Reader. I have gone back and forth on the view, and I am fine with it. In fact, I am getting used to the magazine style. Keep in mind, what this extension does is "pull" your stuff from Google reader, so you sign in with your Google account, and then it pulls the stuff, synchronizing with Google as well. For those concerned, recently on their blog, Feedly reassured users that they are working on an API clone, so after Google Reader goes extinct, you should be fine. I will wait and see if indeed that is the case, but I certainly feel pretty good about using this. I have not gone back to Google Reader since I made the switch to Feedly, and I am not planning to. By the way, the saved items I had on Google Reader came over (due to the syncing), which was cool as well. 
So that is what I have learned. Feedly is working well for me, and it seems business is back to normal. Well, as normal as can be. I have always known that when it comes to free products online, we live at the whim of the maker. So I take things with some caution and a big grain of salt. What is here today can certainly be gone tomorrow, which is why I also try not to keep my eggs in one basket. Since I read my feeds in various locations, I tend to prefer web-based solutions. However, if you prefer some desktop tool, there are those options as well; Mr. Bradley's list provides some too.  He also has a nice reminder of what I just said in terms of free online tools that I think is worth reading. I think I agree with his description of Google as "trying things out for short periods of time and then, like the 3 year old toddler, throwing them to one side if they don't do quite what they expect." As Mr. Bradley says, the real issue with Google now is one of trust. Sure, if they shut down a free product, it is what it is. It is their right to do so if they are not making any money on it or whatever reason they want to give. They own the thing; it is theirs to kill. But the damage to reputation is there. I am sure a lot of people are going to trust them next as the question becomes: what will Google kill next? It is not a matter of if they will kill something next. By now, we know they will, but what will it be? GMail? Maybe down the road Google Plus? Sure, why the hell not. They can push it all they want, but if no enough people bite, I am sure the toddler will get tired once it sees it is not getting attention. Blogger? I do keep my blog backed up just in case. As the old saying goes, nothing lasts forever. You folks get the idea.

So, for now I am sticking with Feedly, and keeping my feeds loaded to The Old Reader and maybe one or two other places. They may be here today and gone tomorrow, but I will try to hang on as much as I can. What I do fail to understand is why take a good thing and destroy it. I mean, I get the financial incentive part. But the decision does not seem to be very constructive, and it did alienate a lot of people. Is that alienating people worth it? Maybe to them it is. Not to me, but then again, I don't run the place.

For what it's worth.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness! I did not know this. I don't use my google reader a lot (otherwise I might have known:-)), but I do check it a few times a month. Thank you for the reviews and evaluations of other sites. Excellent article and great blog. By the way - this blog got a mention in the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) PD Postings newsletter

Angel Rivera said...

Anon. Thanks for stopping by. Still sticking with Feedly so far (they have updated since I joined, but the upgrades seems mostly aesthetic, nothing major to fuss over). And I will have to check ALIA at some point. Very cool to make friends around the world.

Best, and keep on blogging.