Monday, 27 May 2013

After Google Reader

One more month until Google shuts down Reader, it is high time to evaluate the alternatives and move on. My requirements are:

  • It must be web-based (or cloud-based, as they call it nowadays).
  • It must be reliable. Some history, a big user-base, financial plan, or something that makes me believe that it will be around for the next year or two.
  • It must have an export feature. NEVER use a service like this if it doesn't let you export your data.
  • It should have a good selection of keyboard shortcuts.
  • It should have a mobile (iPhone and Android) client with offline support. Originally this was a "must have" request, but I had to lower the barrier.

The starting shortlist: Feedly, Hive ReaderNetvibes, NewsBlur, PulseThe Old Reader. These are the online ones that were mentioned by other blogs and articles. I wouldn't expect reliability from a service that failed to get into the news and blogs in the past month.

Feedly

Probably the most popular alternative, it was all over the news when Google announced that they close Reader. They also promised to provide a Google Reader compatible API that helps the developers of the mobile clients to re-target their clients to Feedly. It does have a mobile client, but the UX is a bit unusual and it doesn't work offline. However my bigger concern is that as far as I understand it is basically just a front-end to the Google Reader. I am not sure how they will serve their some-million user's RSS feeds by themselves: that's a totally different architecture, infrastructure and business. Also I don't like that it works with a browser extension and they still don't support IE (not if I cared, but it is just plain wrong). And the final no-no: there is no export functionality.

Hive Reader

This one is in beta. I requested an invitation and I am still waiting for it.

NewsBlur

First of all, this one is open-source. Doesn't matter from the functionality point of view, but it is exceptional. It has a mobile application that looks really good but doesn't support offline mode and no "mark as unread" feature. The web-application offers good functionality with some social features. Offers OPML export. There are also MANY extra features, you can read a detailed review here. All looks good so far, but unfortunately sometimes I experienced endless "fetching stories" status bar that can be fixed only with a page reload. (see Update 2 below!)
UPDATE: I tried to throw money on Samuel Clay, the developer of NewsBlur, so that he could feed his dog Shiloh and even that failed for the first try. After I successfully upgraded to Premium account (second try after a page reload, yes I am desperate) the server errors are gone. Happier dog, happier user, happier Samuel. Besides the fix of server errors there are more keyboard shortcuts in the premium package. The social and AI features yet to be discovered, but it looks very promising so far.
UPDATE 2: I talked with Samuel and we came to the conclusion that most probably the error was on my side. The service works absolutely reliably since then.

Netvibes

I really like the UI after switching to the "reader view" from the default "widget view". There is no mobile client but the mobile page has offline feature which, however, failed on my tests. Also no "mark as unread" on the mobile: this one is important because it often happens that you tap on an item on the mobile then realise that this one you would like to process on the desktop. Yes to export features and also offers a limited set of keyboard shortcuts.

Pulse

It is on the list because it was mentioned so many times by other blogs but if you are moving from Google Reader you understand why I don't evaluate this one. This one is a totally different breed.

The Old Reader

The UI is good with some annoying minor issues. No mobile client and no offline feature in the mobile site. Not really future-proof: it was started by a team of three and now it seems like it has one developer, an artist, and some friends who help with the development. Also doesn't seem to have a big user base. Does offer export. Somehow looks the most likable one: it is a really lovely hobby project from some young guys with nice technical solutions (I like their REST-like interface) and a cute rabbit in their release announcement.

Summary

No for Feedly because of the missing export feature and because I wouldn't risk a broken service if they fail to migrate from Google Reader. No for Pulse because it is not a Reader replacement. And no for Hive Reader because they are late. NewsBlur is the best one if you don't mind paying for it. Netvibes vs The Old Reader are on the second place, far beyond NewsBlur. They are a draw: Netvibes is more professional and realiable, but feature-wise The Old Reader is also complete in a more likable package. Both have export features so you are safe with any of them and you can switch later if it doesn't meet your requirements or the other one evolves to something better (mobile app please!).
I think NewsBlur definitely worth the price, but if you are a real geek you can even host it on your own server and use it for free :) Samuel is very responsive developer, the service has a nice, open and free API and so many features I wasn't even looking for when I used "just another RSS reader". It is the absolute best RSS reader, even better than Google Reader. If you don't have many feeds (less than 64) then you can consider the free package.