Life after FeedDemon, Google Reader full time

Earlier this month I covered how changes in FeedDemon (my main RSS reader at the time) caught me off guard. I considered buying new paid version, but I was in very wrong mood to go that way. I decided to try to go for other half of equation and see if Google Reader will work for me as single web app.

I gradually stopped launching FeedDemon and in few days I just realized stopped to bother me. So how does world largest RSS reader by Google works for me?

Interface

While I mentioned more than once that I am really no fan of Reader’s interface… Interestingly interface of web app is both more tricky and more malleable than that of desktop software. Web app is still essentially web page, styled by CSS and JavaScript. Both of which can be controlled and customized in modern browsers.

For example there is quite known Helvetireader project that completely overhauls interface. It was somewhat glitchy in Opera (and somewhat overkill of a makeover) so I went for few bits of custom CSS to strip most of interface away.

There is also extensive set of keyboard shortcuts. I am 50/50 on those – some work the way I like, some not really. Shortcuts in web apps in general are not yet as common and unified as on desktop.

Since Opera now has extensions I also installed Google Reader Notifier – simple and efficient count of unread feed items.

Engine

Desktop RSS readers download and process actual RSS files for an update. Which is definitive action that can be scheduled or run on demand.

Google Reader is quite different in this regard – it is guided completely by some internal logic on how often feeds should be updated and it is per-feed parameter. In practice this means that while popular feeds are very snappy, less popular ones can have considerable update lag.

It is especially bad for complex dynamic feeds from some web services. They are effectively unique or near-unique and/or don’t play well with Google Reader. As result they can lag for days or even get stuck completely.

Analytics

It won’t be Google without number crunching in background. There is Trends area that calculates statistics for your reading overall and individual feed.

But what I like most is not what feeds I am interested in, but those I might not be. Inactive and Most Obscure statistics do a great job at singling out feeds that may got broken, not updated in a long time or otherwise irrelevant.

Lack of features

Google Reader lets you read feeds, but that is pretty much only thing it can do with them. Strangely it has next to none advanced functionality, such as filtering. Gmail is similar in form and has killer filters functionality, Google Reader has zilch.

I did some googling around on this and some other possible improvements. Discouragingly, despite them being requested for years, I mostly read references that team, handling Google Reader, is (relatively) small and lacks resources for implementing more complex functionality.

I really wonder why product that is so close to Gmail both in principle and being good advertisement platform is on so different resources diet.

On the go

I still mourn loss of awesome Newsgator Online mobile site for feeds. Google Reader has two versions of site for mobile devices, but neither really strikes good balance of minimalism and usability.

On other hand they had released native Android client which is quite nice, aside from complaints about it being battery and space hog. Not using it actively enough myself to confirm.

Overall

Google Reader is mature and robust web application from major company. It is very viable as main feed reader. Still it is one of those projects that gives me worrying not-a-priority vibe.

Link https://www.google.com/reader/

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12 Comments

  • Rarst, I’m with you totally on Google Reader.

    Two big gripes:
    1) I can’t subscribe to a private blog, as Reader has no ability to input username and password
    2) The right side of the screen wastes good real estate on irrelevant stuff that would be a good area to sort and filter feeds.

    If I knew of a better free feed, I’d use it… just don’t know of one.

  • @Brian Krogsgard

    1) I can’t subscribe to a private blog, as Reader has no ability to input username and password

    I very rarely have need to subscribe to private stuff, mostly just use Opera for that. It is likely one of the issues with underlying Google Reader architecture – you don’t really subscribe to finds as individual. Google’s cloud subscribes to feeds and then sends updates to the front end.

    2) The right side of the screen wastes good real estate on irrelevant stuff that would be a good area to sort and filter feeds.

    Not sure what view you refer to – special pages or feed reading. In reading feeds my UserCSS just makes items’ content span whole screen (in larger font as well) instead of being in default thin column.

    If I knew of a better free feed, I’d use it… just don’t know of one.

    There are plenty of desktop applications for feeds, but sadly online sync is whole different story. Google Reader dominates the niche for a reason – competition is small and over half of major services died out by now.

  • Why not use Opera’s feed reader? I do and I’m happy with it.

  • @Al

    I did and quite actively. Issues I had with it at the time so I moved on:

    – no online sync of any kind (still stands)
    – no folders (just checked and it seems it can do that now)
    – performance issues started at ~200 feeds (no idea if current version behaves better with that many feeds)

    Lack of online sync is probably main downside for me. Going through same feed items at home and at work is extremely inefficient.

  • @Rarst

    Yep. I have one private blog running P2 that I use and I can’t subscribe to it with Google Reader because it doesn’t allow login. Very annoying.

    My screen has extra space on the right where it shows “recently read” and “tips and tricks” where I’d prefer to be able to drag some folder management to.

    I too need to be able to access my reader remotely, so don’t want to switch to a desktop app.

  • what changes happened to feeddemon?

  • I’ve found Brief to be my favorite reader… It requires Firefox, but it’s worth it.

    http://brief.mozdev.org/

  • @Dustin

    Looks nice, but I am long time Opera user. Switching for RSS extension won’t be worth it for me.

  • Have you tried sage extension for firefox?

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