As you might know, Google has offered a new service to the Internet community – an RSS/Atom aggregator called Google Reader. I’ve heard many people liked it. Being an active user of RSS/Atom aggregator Bloglines I thought I would check it out. There are a few things that I want that Bloglines hasn’t implemented yet, and there are a few things that could have been implemented better. So I was wondering if Google Reader had it right.
Google Reader is not in beta anymore and so subscribing to it is fast and easy. There is no need for any invitations or anything like that. Just the usual email and password pair. There is a possibility to use an existing Google account too.
Both Google Reader and Bloglines support OPML format. That means that you can export the list of subscriptions from one service and import it into another. Which was exactly what I did. Since I had all my feeds already entered into Bloglines account, I exported them into OPML file and than uploaded it to Google Reader.
The user interfaces of these two services are both very different and alike. Confusing, eh? Let me explain.
The first major difference is in how they organize the subscriptions. Bloglines uses a somewhat outdated way of categories. That means that one feed can be in one and only one category. With a lot of feeds, it makes it a bit difficult to find things. Where did I put that feed from my friend’s blog? Is it in “blogs”? Nope. Maybe it’s in “personal”? Nope. It must be in “friends” then? Nope, I created this category after I subscribed. Where is it then? Oh, I remember that at the time I subscribed he was posting only about technology, so it must be in the “technology” folder. Yup. Got it.
Google Reader uses a better approach – tags. Each feed can have an unlimited number of tags. With the example above, I could have marked my friend’s feed as “blogs”, “personal”, “friends”, “technology” and anything else that applied. With this approach, it is very easy to find things as they are all over the place. The weak part though is that Google Reader does not allow you to specify several tags when searching for the feed (like “blogs” AND “personal”). Maybe I haven’t found it. Or maybe they haven’t implemented it yet.
The next big difference in organization of items. I find Bloglines to be clearer. All you have is a category with feeds. And then, when you click on the feed you see items from that feed. Bloglines also shows how many new (unread) items you have in each feed, and in the category, and in total.
Google Reader behaves differently. It just dumps all new items in your reading are. They can be sorted either by date or by relevancy (don’t ask me what’s that). It is possible to read items that are tagged with a certain keyword. When doing so, you’ll see items that you tagged manually, and also items that come from feeds tagged with the selected keyword. This is a convenient approach, but it’s not finished.
Consider the example. I am subscribed to nearly 300 feeds. Some of these are for my personal interests, while others are for my job. It is very likely that feeds for my personal interests might have items that are NSFW. It is very easy to avoid seeing those items when using Bloglines – just don’t open feeds that might have this items. With Google Reader it is not so. Oh, again, I haven’t found the way to avoid them. It easy to SEE them, when limiting items to NSFW tag, let’s say, but how can I see feeds that are NOT marked with NSFW? I don’t know.
Also, it is impossible to know how many unread items you have in the feed or in total with Google Reader. It shows new items in bunches. When you are approaching the end of the bunch, it adds a few more new items. And then again. And then you can reload the page. I didn’t like it. When exact information is available it should be displayed. End of story.
By now you probably think that I didn’t like Google Reader very much. That’s not true. I liked it. I did.
Two things that I really liked in Google Reader that I can’t find a subtitute in Bloglines are “starred” items and “read” items. One thing I really liked in Google Reader that Bloglines does not provide is the history of “read” items.
Bloglines does not keep read items in the history at all. If you read a story – it’s gone. If you need it – you can mark it so that Bloglines saves it, but if you didn’t – forget it. Google Reader doesn’t do that. Storage space is cheap this days and they know it. So it is possible to go back in history with any feed. There is also the convenient option of “do not show read items” to get them out of the way in day to day operations.
Both Google Reader and Bloglines provide a way to save items for later. Google Reader uses the “starred” concept. “Starred” items are very similar to “starred” messages in GMail. It’s like a bookmark. When you come across an item that you want to bookmark, you just mark it as “starred” and than you can very easily find it. Very convenient feature. Bloglines has the same functionality via its “clippings”.
Both Google Reader and Bloglines allow one to blog about the item. Google Mail is linked to Blogger, while Bloglines has it’s own blogging service. While I am not interested in neither of these, I would really appreciate the option to blog to a third party service/site, like Flickr had done it.
Google Reader also provides an option to email the item using GMail.
So many differences – is there anything similar between these two services at all? Yes.
Both of these provide a very convenient way of keyboard navigation. Even the keys are mostly the same. Google Reader has slightly more options, including a much needed “open original story in the new window” by pressing
I guess that’s about all the similiarities.
I found Bloglines to be more feature rich. It has more feeds available for subscriptions. It is possible to see how many people are subscribed to the certain feed. It is also possible to list public subscribers and to see their other subscriptions.
Another bit that is important to me – blogrolling. With Bloglines I can publish my blogroll on my website (as I do here). With Google Reader it is not possible. In fact, there is no way to share the subscriptions with the world at all. Not only Blogline beats this, but it also provides a convenient way of specifying what exactly I want to share and what not (public/private subscriptions).
Bloglines has a mobile mode. It is a lighter version of the sight designed specifically for use from mobile devices such as cell phones and PDAs. Google Reader does not have this. In fact, it didn’t work at all in Opera browser on my Sony Ericsson P800. Too bad.
One other small bit that Bloglines got better than Google Reader has to do with feed options. In Bloglines it is possible to edit the title of the feed, while Google Reader takes it from the feed itself and does not allow any editing of it. This is inconvenient, because some feeds don’t have any title at all, others have it in the wrong language or character encoding, and yet others have a single title for many feeds.
I appreciate the competition. I appreciate the effort. Both of the services do good. Unfortunately, neither one of the is perfect. Which one should you use? The one that suits you best. If you are a heavy Google user with Blogger and GMail, than you should probably use Google Reader. For me it doesn’t work yet. I’ll stick to Bloglines. Although I will miss some of the functionality, like tags and read items history.
Hopefully, one day we’ll have the RSS/Atom aggregator that would combine the best of all worlds and provide the perfect solution. RSS/Atom feeding is still on the rise anyway.
Made correction about Bloglines’ clippings.