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?
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.
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.
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.
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.