Going Pro with Feedly

I’ve been a heavy user of RSS for years now.  I’ve tried and used everything from custom built applications and scripts, to browser add-ons, to third-party services.  Even this very blog’s archives are full migration and review articles form one tool to another.  Here are a few links, if you are interested:

For the last 3 years, I’ve been using Feedly, which I like a lot.  I’ve been thinking about going Pro for about a year now.  Last week, I made the switch.  Here’s why:

  1. I do love the service and want to support it!  After all, I’m spending at least an hour every day going through my feeds.  Sometimes even more.
  2. The Pro version removes the limit on the number of feeds and items in each feed.  Not that I don’t have enough to read, but I don’t like the idea that I might be missing something.
  3. The Pro version provides integrations and easier sharing to a variety of third-party services.  The one that is most important for me is WordPress integration.
  4. Their blog post about the upcoming changes to feed organization was the last drop – I WANT THAT!

Feedly constantly improves the user experience and brings new features.  It works very stable – I think only remember one or two downtimes in the last three years.  Their web interface is very handy and the mobile app works well too.  They have plenty of browser add-ons to make things even easier.

All in all, it’s well worth $5 per month for me.

A year without Google Reader

Mashable reminds us that it’s been a year since Google Reader has been decommissioned.  They are also doing a survey to find out if people use more of RSS feeds now or less, what they’ve substituted it with and which tools people are using now to follow their favorite feeds.

I’ve completed the survey, but without any visible results just yet, I thought I’d talk about my situation here.  In the last year my use of RSS has decreased significantly.   Even though the actual number of the feeds I am subscribed to has increased, I read them less.  I share less.  I bookmark and blog about less.  And it’ nothing but the tool’s fault.  Even though Feedly is an excellent tool – fast, flexible, with mobile support, and aesthetically pleasing, it simply is not Google Reader, which I was practically embed into.  I’ve looked around for Google Reader alternatives, I tried a few.  Feedly is the best of the bunch for my taste, but it’s different.

So, with that in mind, what happened to all that free time that I used to spend in Google Reader?  Sadly, I have to admit that I’m much more on Facebook now.  Quality-wise, that’s a huge drop.  Instead of following my favorite writers, keeping in touch with all kinds of technology advances, and learning new things, I am now participating in flaming comment wars about nothing, and watching videos of cute kittens and bouncing boobs.  Cheap entertainment swallowed me and spat me out.  It’s exactly like never switching a television set was in the last century.  And it’s a pity.

And the saddest part is that I knew it would happen.  And if I knew, Google definitely knew that too.  And they killed Google Reader anyway.  And it’ll be a long time until I let it go…

Goodbye Google Reader

Today, June 30th, is the last day of Google Reader availability.  If you completely ignored all the noise around the matter, run quickly, export and backup your feeds.  Tomorrow Google Reader will be no more.

Google Reader

 

Of course, I’ve been on a quest for the Google Reader alternative.  Of course, I found plenty.  And, of course, none of them are exactly the same.  I’ve decided to stick with Bazqux, and I’ve paid my yearly subscription fee a few month ago.

It’s also worth mentioning that a lot of work went into many of the alternatives over the last months, as more and more people started looking for the new RSS home.  Some of that work was quite noticeable.  For example, Feedly changed in the last 100 days so much that I had to re-evaluate it completely.  And, also, new services were introduced – such as Digg Reader.

Still, with all that, it’s sad to see Google Reader go.  I’ve used it every single day and relied heavily on it for years.  Paraphrasing the classic quote: so long, and thanks for all the feeds.

Why Google Reader Really Got the Axe

When Google announced its plans to shutter Google Reader in March, the Internet freaked out. Twitter users raised their virtual pitchforks in outrage. Bloggers wept, scrambling to find a suitable replacement by the service’s July 1 death date.

Wired runs a take on why Google Reader is almost no more.  I do agree with most of the points on how the news consumption changed:

But there’s another reason Google decided to put its RSS reader to death. According to Mountain View, most of us simply consume news differently now than when Reader was launched.

“As a culture we have moved into a realm where the consumption of news is a near-constant process,” says Richard Gringras, Senior Director, News & Social Products at Google. “Users with smartphones and tablets are consuming news in bits and bites throughout the course of the day — replacing the old standard behaviors of news consumption over breakfast along with a leisurely read at the end of the day.”

Google Reader, and other RSS readers, subscribe to this “old” model. You sit, you pore through the day’s news link by link. Yes, some people are glued to their readers constantly. (Guilty!) And yes, you can use an app like Feedly to get your RSS fix on the go, but it’s a passive news-getting experience. With its updates to Now and Plus, Google wants its readers to take this more active approach to news consumption.

But I don’t like this narrow view of the Google Reader (or other RSS readers).  RSS is not just for news.  Sure, news are an important part of Really Simple Syndication, but it’s not the only one.  There are many others – Wiki updates, mailing lists, commit messages, shopping updates for deals and stock clearances, etc.  Even if Google considers supporting those with Google+, the support is not there yet.  Heck, there isn’t even a publishing API for Google+.  As a blogger, I have built up a small audience of subscribers, but there is currently no way for me to transfer them all to Google+.  Unless I really push them, and then manually publish every post into Google+.  It even sounds ridiculous.

We’ll see how it plays out …

Google Reader alternative quest

After the news of Google Reader demise broke out, I, like many others, started looking for an alternative.  There are many RSS readers out there, both free and commercial, but none of them is quite like Google Reader.   So, I thought, I’d share my adventures in hopes of more suggestions.

First of all, here are the things that I am looking for in an RSS reader:

  • Web based.  This is a requirement for me.  I want to be able to access my subscriptions from any computer connected to the World Wide Web.
  • OPML import and/or Google Reader synchronization.  I have around 300 feeds in the Google Reader currently.  I am not going to resubscribe to each one by one and reorganized them again.  Ideally, I want to have a Google Reader sync, which will mark the read items, etc.  In the worst case scenario, at least the OMPL import, so I can batch add all the feeds.
  • Rich content support.  I want to see embed images and videos in the feed items.  I want the text to have style.
  • Mobile app.  This is not a requirement per se, but a much wanted option.  I read a lot of RSS on the go.
  • Free.  Again, not a requirement, but a much wanted option.

Here is a list of the ones I tried:

  • The Old Reader. It looks like the old Google Reader, but it suffers now from all the spike of new accounts.  I’m trying to import my OPML, but I’m 30,000+ down in the queue.  The number keeps going up and down for the last two days, so I’m not sure when I’ll be able to actually use the service.
  • Tiny Tiny RSS. I’ve installed it on my server and it does work somewhat well.  But the styling is very weak, and the experience is quite different from the Google Reader.  It will take me forever to get used to it, and while doing so, I’ll be constantly thinking of patching it up.  Removed, for now.
  • BazQux Reader.  I have reviewed this service a while ago.  It only got better with time.  In fact, this is the closest experience to Google Reader with a few extra bonuses, like item comments.  The service is not free, but not too pricey – choose between $9, $19, and $29 per year.  As far as the migration from Google Reader goes, this is the fastest service – two clicks, and you are already reading your feeds.  The only downside I see is mobile experience.  I couldn’t find the app for Android, and the website is not suited for smaller screens.
  • Feedly.  The best styling of all I’ve tried.  Nice mobile app.  But requires a browser extension on the desktop.  Also, the experience is a bit different from the Google Reader, so needs some getting used to.

So, as you can see, I am yet to decide.  There are also quite a few alternatives that I haven’t tried yet.  From the ones I’ve tried though, the two most likely candidates are Feedly and BazQux Reader.  Feedly looks beautiful and works well on the mobile.  BazQux Reader provides the best experience on the desktop.

Which ones have you tried and what’s your most likely alternative?  Have you made up your mind yet?

Google Reader is retiring

These are sad, sad news… Google is retiring their awesome Google Reader product.

We launched Google Reader in 2005 in an effort to make it easy for people to discover and keep tabs on their favorite websites. While the product has a loyal following, over the years usage has declined. So, on July 1, 2013, we will retire Google Reader. Users and developers interested in RSS alternatives can export their data, including their subscriptions, with Google Takeout over the course of the next four months.

Yes, I know, it’s not now, and I can get all my subscription data, but it’s still sad.  I guess it’s time to give BazQux Reader a little bit more attention.  Any other worthy alternatives?

P.S.: Slashdot discussion provides some …

BazQux Reader – RSS reader that supports comments

One of the first start-ups that I participated in was an effort to create a better RSS reader.  It way back a few years, before Google Reader was even launched, and the best option you had was Bloglines, which in itself was horrible at the time.  One of the things that we were implementing was the support for comments in the blog posts and articles.  Even back then many blogging engines and content management systems (CMS) supported comment feeds.  Too bad the whole thing failed.

But even with quite a few upgrades to Bloglines, and launch and redesign of Google Reader, and, in fact, launch and development of many other RSS readers, support for comments is still a rare feature to see.  Recently, I came across a web-based RSS reader that promoted comments as one of its primary features –  BazQux Reader.

I tried it and it seems to work fine.  However, it’s still too fresh for me to move all my RSS subscriptions over there.  Especially considering the fact that you can only have 15 RSS feeds in the free demo.  A full featured yearly subscription is about 25 Euro.  I don’t mind paying that for a tool that I use many hours a day.  But after using BazQux Reader for a bit, I don’t think it’s quite ready yet.  Maybe one day.

P.S.: Oh, and if you were wondering what kind of a name is BazQux – it’s a combination of two metasyntactic variablesbaz” and “qux“.  Sort of like “foo” and “bar“.  You probably won’t get it unless you are software developer of some kind.

Google Reader updated interface

Google updated the design and interface of the RSS feed aggregator – Google Reader.  Here is a really small screenshot of how it used to look (stolen shamelessly from Google Reader front page – it seems like they forgot to update it):

And here is a really small screenshot of how it looks now (I made this one, you can make your own):

In my opinion, the old interface was much better. Colors and borders helped to visually separate the sidebar from the main content area, as well as news items from each other.  The new design is much “separated”.  Also, there are a few minor quirks and bugs here and there, which will hopefully get fixed in the next few days.  However, one thing is great about this new release – speed.  The new Google Reader is much faster than the old one.  Extra responsiveness can’t hurt, especialy thos of us who go through hundreds and thousands of posts in a fast paced manner.

Feeding on friends with FriendFeed.com

One of the things that people on the web do is follow each other.  Reading blog posts, watching favorite video clips, stare at shared photos, reply to comments, get status updates, and so on and so forth.

In the previous years, the number of people who were online was much smaller.  And they weren’t publishing as much as they do now.  Everyone and their dog has a blog.  Pictures and videos are flying around.  Playlists and favorite songs are shared.  Micro-blogging is blossoming.  How can anyone follow all that?  Well, RSS, of course, is one of the common answers.

But, RSS has its share of problems.  It is still too technical to be used by many people.  Good tools are a few.  And grouping things around people isn’t much fun yet.  Also, feed discovery is still an issue (from a person’s point of view, not the aggregator point of view).

FriendFeed.com web service recently went public and solved a few problems.  It starts off with feed discovery.  When you register and login, you can easily specify all the places that you publish at – blog, Flickr photostream, del.icio.us bookmarks, LinkedIn profile, Twitter, and so on and so forth.  This way, when somebody is interested in following you up, he or she will just need to subscribe to you once and get all the stuff from everywhere where you publish.  This is cool.

FriendFeed screenshot

Another problem that FriendFeed solves is the problem of virtual people.  In social networks, it is often that you can’t follow a person who hasn’t registered yet.  You can invite them in, wait for them to join, and then be notified when they joined.  But it is often impossible to follow people who decided not to join the network.  In FriendFeed, you can create “imaginary friends”.  This way, you can group people and sources in any way you like best.   This is priceless.

For example, you can create an imaginary friend for a person who hasn’t registered, and you can assign a blog and a Flickr photostream to him.  Or, you can create an imaginary friend for a real person, who even registered, but who publishes so much that you can’t take it.  Instead of following of their stuff, you just pick things that you are interested in (say Twitter messages and blog, but not Flickr and YouTube) and link those to your imaginary friend.

With this functionality, following topics or events becomes extremely easy.  If you are interested in kebab cooking ,or in Cyprus switching to Euro, or  anything else for that matter, you can create an imaginary friend for the topic and assign it blogs, Google Reader shared items, Picasa photos, or whatever else is supported.  There is a lot of potential in here.

Another thing that FriendFeed does right is presentation of data.  There are links to original sources whenever possible, and there are thumbnails for whatever possible.  Also, people have avatars, which makes it very easy to distinguish who is who and who published what.

And if all that wasn’t enough, you can subscribe to updates via email.  Which means that you can really improve your productivity while still following a whole lot of sources.  No need to run around the web looking for updates.  No need to interrupt your work flow to see if there is a reply to your comment.  You just get used to getting back at all the updates once a day in a brief, but nicely looking digest form, and that’s it!

FriendFeed is a really nice services which a lot of people were waiting for and which they will appreciate now that it is finally here.  Oh, and just in case, here is the link to my FriendFeed profile.

Theme fixes, improvements, and polish

If you have a lot of attention for details, you probably noticed a few things moving around and changing on this blog in the last few days. You weren’t dreaming – I indeed moved changed a few things. Here is a round-up for those of you who enjoy these sort of things:

  • List of categories moved up. Since I am interested in and blog about many different things, I don’t blame you if you would like to skip some of them and read only things that you care about. I moved the list of categories higher up in the sidebar, so that you could jump directly to the topic of your choice.
  • Full posts in categories, tags, and archives. This should also make reading posts about specific things easier. You won’t need to jump to the full post page all that often now. Less clicks and all.
  • Category header images. Some categories (see Photography, Movies, and Technology for examples) will greet you with different header images (once again, thanks to Igor Gorbulinsky for his talent and time). This feature should help you out a bit while navigating the site – instant indicator of where you are.
  • Highlight of category name, tag, and search query. When you navigate to posts of a specific tag or category, you should see the term at the top of the page. Sometimes the term is highlighted, like, for example, in case of search query. Also, sometimes, you have a link to RSS feed which provides easier access to similar posts.
  • Improved RSS feed auto-discovery. Depending on where you are on the site, your browser will suggest a different set of RSS feeds to subscribe to. I’m trying to make these things as intuitive as possible.
  • Improved browser compatibility and standard compliance. A few small glitches here and there were fixed. All RSS feeds are valid now, except for those rare cases when content of specific posts causes problems. CSS is now valid and many warnings are fixed. HTML is now almost valid. There are a few issues which which are caused by WordPress bugs, but fixes for these seem to be available in the upcoming version of WordPress. In any case, it seems all theme and plugin specific issues were fixed.
  • Upgraded WordPress to version 2.3.3 .  This is the latest version with all the security fixes and such.

As you can see from the list above, all of these changes are rather cosmetic and can be classified as web site polish. None of them should cause any issues to you or your browser, and much of the misbehaving functionality should be fixed now.

If you have any ideas on suggestions on further improvements, or if you notice any misbehavior at all, please let me know.