Still In Mourning Over Google Reader

GoogleReader

 

I have had an awful lot of loss recently. Some quite personal, and some smack in the public eye. Take, for instance, the untimely (although not unexpected) demise of perhaps my all time favorite web tool, my secret weapon in the pursuit of knowledge, my endless font of material for my beloved blog, my source of inspiration and enlightenment. Yes. I am talking about Google Reader.

First, a eulogy. Way back in the day, when I made the conscious decision to engage more on the Internet for professional and personal pursuits, one of the very first tools I stumbled on was the RSS feed and companion RSS feed reader. I believe it was in a webinar discussing how to use web tools for legal research. RSS was one of the items items discussed and it struck me right between the eyes as an absolutely brilliant proposition – rather than spend hours searching out news when there was a pending question and even more immediate deadline, why not have the news come to you whenever it was fresh and hot off the presses? You could make yourself look like a genius with very little effort. My first reader application was FeedDemon for Windows (NewNewsWire for Mac / iOS users). It allowed me to easily subscribe and organize feeds. However, as I added more and more sources to my local program, I found that it would bog down and get so cumbersome, I could hardly load new articles. By the way, FeedDemon, which used to have its own sync engine, is going to join Google Reader in the crematory as it is now exclusively powered by Google Reader sync, unless they come up with a solution before July 1.

It was then that I discovered the joy of the cloud-based reading tool that is Google Reader. There, all my subscriptions sat, quietly updating whenever I opened the page, allowing me to folder and subscribe to all sorts of feeds, including custom feeds and alerts, Twitter feeds and social media updates. When I found a site I really liked, I could use Reader to suggest similar blogs and RSS feeds so that I could move deeper into a subject. It had awesome search functionality (no duh! – its Google). And all of this at the speed of virtually real time (or at least as fast as the news sources could update with PubSubHubBub). I would visit Reader daily, sometimes several times a day, watching the new items fill the screen, hungry for more hot-off-the-presses stories on my favorite subjects. And, with the click of a button, share my findings with the world.

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After discovering Feedly, the application that offers stories based on your interests built on your Google Reader subscriptions, I spent less direct time on the Reader app itself. However, I would still regularly visit to prune and add content, and read stories without the Feedly filter to prioritize based on its best guess on my interests.

And now, all of that is about to fly out the proverbial virtual window. As of July 1, 2013, Google Reader will be no more. The writing was scrawled upon the wall about a year or more ago as Google made it quite clear that the social aspects of Reader (yes, there were social aspects), were being handily addressed on its new social net Google+. And, the scuttlebutt around the Web is that Google didn’t want to commit resources to ensure the Reader team kept their product in compliance with privacy and other regulatory constraints.

Whatever the reason, the net effect for me (and it really is all about me) is the loss of a fantastic, well-designed, productivity tool. So, as the reality of the loss sinks in, one has to wonder: how to pick up the pieces and move on?

Fortunately, there are so many creative and effective minds on the web that the loss of something as fantastic as Google Reader has not gone unnoticed and unaddressed. There are plenty of options out there for subscribing, digesting and manipulating RSS feeds and news stories. As a public service to Studio readers, I thought I would include some here. As Kubler-Ross theorized, we all undoubtedly will proceed through the five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining (remember that petition to the White House?), depression, and acceptance. And I will have the goods here for when you have hit that “it’s time to move on” point in your own process.

I should offer a caveat – I have not tried many of these alternatives so can’t offer the hands on. I have collected many of them while reading the Web news via, you guessed it, Google Reader. However, if I have had a personal experience, I will mention where appropriate.

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Desktop Options

NewsBlur. NewsBlur is one of those reader applications that will offer news based on its best guess as to your interests, based on your past reading and liking / disliking behavior. Using the Intelligent Trainer tool, you can tailor each individual feed based on your interests. It looks pretty much like any other standard reader program, with folders in the left nav and articles in the main panel on the right. You can import your Google Reader subscriptions into NewsBlur. You can also import from desktop programs the OPML file containing your subscriptions. The problem for me is that NewsBlur’s free account accommodates 64 feeds, which is woefully inadequate for my existing library. But it is only $12 per year for unlimited feeds, which is pretty reasonable given my use of this particular type of service. There are a few different ways to view feeds as well, which is more dynamic than Reader’s approach.

Skimr. A stripped down approach to feeds, with the ability to import OPML subscription files, but no inbox daunting you with a mounting unread list. Access your feeds individual to view content.

Fever. How about a self-hosted RSS reader app that you host on your own server? That takes away the uncertainty of a free service getting pulled out from underneath you. Fever offers just that – simply upload 4 files via FTP, add a MySQL database, and create an account. There is a $30 one time fee to Fever’s developer, plus the cost of your own hosting, but if you already have that set up, you are good to go upon price of admission.

The Old Reader. It is what it says – a version of an RSS subscription tool that looks like the old Google Reader. You can transfer feeds in or upload your OPML file. It also has the old news sharing features and social aspects of Google Reader before they were stripped in lieu of Google+. Nice for those who prefer not to be too jarred in the upset of Reader’s demise.

Tiny Tiny RSS.  Another player and I can’t believe how much it resembles Reader in looks. Tiny Tiny RSS is an open source web-based news feed (RSS/Atom) reader and aggregator, designed to allow you to read news from any location, while feeling as close to a real desktop application as possible. Free, too.

NetVibes. A web-based reader alternative, among NetVibes toolset is a RSS subscription / reader function. Create a free account and then click the add button. You can import your feeds using the subscription.xml file and will see them in NetVibes in the same folders as in your Reader app. View your feeds in Reader or Widgets view. Search is lacking in the app, and you can really only use your built in browser search box. They call it a monitoring dashboard, but my sense is that its best free use is as a feed reader.

HiveMined. A relatively new player, HiveMined’s developer is sensitive to the post-mortem pain we are feeling about Reader and is working hard to replicate the best parts. There is not much to say about it right now, but the developer is working furiously and you can keep up to date via his Twitter account and  blog.

Feedly. This is my go to RSS reader right now, especially since the developers saw the writing on the wall for Reader a while ago and have cloned the Reader API. If you sync Feedly with Reader now (or have already done so), they claim the switch will be seamless. There are a lot of other reasons to love Feedly, with its awesome user interface, recommendations and learning engine, easy sharing, and great mobile applications. That, combined with the powerful back end of Reader, has been a winning combination for me.

Good Noows. Web only, which can be a bit of a detraction, but this is a nice looking easy to use Web-based reader. Add it via Chrome extension. Sign in with a preexisting social account. Easily add feeds. If this is what you need it for, then this is a nice alternative.

FeedaMail. Are you still reading your news via email? then FeedaMail might be your answer. Submit your favorite blogs, links and sites to the app, and get back digests and instant updates in your email. This is great for either web viewing or mobile viewing, but if you are like me and get antsy when your email inbox gets to full, you might opt for something else.

RSSOwl. A desktop option that claims to be platform independent. It looks a lot like a traditional reader program as well. There are lots of features, so head over to their site for more – you can search and organize, use the built in browser, create bins and labels and share the goods.

Rolio. If you like the real-time river of Twitter or other news feed type interfaces, Rolio will do that for you with your RSS feeds. But you aren’t limited to your RSS subscriptions – add in your Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn feeds as well. And, because this is all about the Google Reader loss, you can import your Google Reader feeds as well.

River2. If you need to get some real RSS cred, why not turn to the guy who invented the protocol in the first place? River2 is Dave Winer’s application offering another River of News (only new feeds showing, with newest first in descending order) take on the RSS reader. It runs in an OPML Editor that implementing a River of News aggregator. It will collect feeds, podcasts, photos, reading lists, and real time feed support. No doubt it is geeky, but for you geeks out there, this might be a cool tool to tinker with.

QuiteRSS. Notching it up with a bit more geek-appeal, check out QuiteRSS – an RSS/Atom feed reader built on Qt/C++. It’s a local desktop app, which might appeal more to some, less to others. But it is cross-platform. The interface is clean and simple. It has a built in browser that works nicely and there are lots of fine-grained viewing options. Add labels and custom icons and tear through your subscriptions with extensive keyboard shortcuts.

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Mobile Options

There are a bunch of options that principally or only work on mobile devices, iOS, Android or both or others. They are all great in their own right for different reasons and you may want to use one or more of them to keep abreast of the latest news on the go. My favorite option above, Feedly, has awesome mobile apps. But here are others that shine or live only on mobile and they have much to offer as well.

Pulse. Like most of the mobile apps, the focus is on presentation. Pulse is no exception. It offers a nice social mag-like UI. You have to work a bit to create and maintain lists of blogs and sites. But, its free and glossy, so you can’t be disappointed by its value. iOS and Android.

Flipboard. Flipboard was the first and still still probably the best social magazine app on mobile. Create your own personal magazine using your Twitter feeds, Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, Soundcloud and, until this summer, Google Reader feeds. Gorgeous and free, if not deep. But if you need to glance fast across your feeds, this is a great tool.

Taptu. Driven by images, but it is indeed an RSS reader. Use one of your social accounts to log in and customize and sync feeds on iOS and Android, as well as a few other mobile devices.

Google Currents. With my new Nexus 4, I have been using this app more and more. It is a great news magazine style reader with amazing attention to detail (images on read items go from full color to black and white). I like the organization and find it easy to scan through a lot of news quickly. It works with any Google account and is available on iOS and Android.

Zite. I can’t rave enough about this great app – it not only pulls the stories it believes I would find the most interesting from my existing feed subscriptions, it offers similar stories of interest from across the Web. I have subscribed to more than one new feed because it was served up to me via Zite. And, the Zite team just announced  it has built a Google Reader replacement for its service. While it will only works with Zite, it syncs with Reader feeds and is available for iOS, Android and Windows Phone.

Reeder. Reeder works on Mac and iOS, the latter is where I principally use it. It currently depends on Reader accounts as it is a true Google Reader interface app. But after the death knell sounded, Reeder’s developer suggested in Twitter that Reeder won’t die with Reader. What a relief!

I can’t guarantee an exhaustive list here, but as you can see, there are plenty of apps available to fill portions of the gigantic gap that will be left in the wake of Google Reader. Who knows, perhaps an eleventh hour reprieve will materialize? I would like to hope. But the pragmatist in me has my ducks all lined up for the eventual loss. Hope you do too – RSS is definitely not dead, if the massive outcry on the Web about Reader’s shuttering is any indication.

 

Feedly for iPhone – It's Here, It's Finally Here!!!

Content manipulators rejoice! Your favorite web extension for Google Reader, Feedly, has finally made its long-awaited debut on the iPhone (link here)! And, in a word, it ROCKS!

I have covered Feedly and the promised iPhone version many times here in the Studio. Apps come and go, but Feedly has been a constant companion ever since I started reading RSS and blogging and I couldn’t live without it. Feedly is a browser extension that works in Firefox, Chrome and Safari (I have it in all three browsers) that syncs with your Google Reader account – your GReader stories are pulled by Feedly and actions taken in either GReader or Feedly are reflected in the other service. Feedly wins with an outstanding magazine-style layout, relevance weighting of news articles based on your reading and sharing habits and very simple to use tools for saving, sharing, commenting, and otherwise playing with the great stories found among Feedly’s greatest hits.  You can display the latest updates from feeds, blogs, and sites like Facebook and Twitter – pretty much anything with an RSS feed you can subscribe to in Reader. Feedly integrates with Delicious, Amazon.com, YouTube, and other sites as well, showing that content alongside the news stories. It offers numerous ways to add, filter, display, mark, and share content. Ultimately, Feedly delivers your own personal magazine digest of everything you’re interested in, or might be interested in, since Feedly also does a good job of suggesting content.

I have longed for the iPhone version for quite some time and, following a tip on the Feedly blog, I was able to secure an advance copy of the iPhone app last fall.  I have been playing with it ever since.

Up front, Feedly for iPhone is not the full-function Feedly web, nor should it be. The mobile app gets to the very heart of what I use Feedly for – blowing through the top content in my Google Reader folders, save what I want, share what I want and mark the content read. Feedly for iPhone also takes full advantage of the iPhone’s tactile interface, with swiping right or left to access the story headlines, swiping up or down to mark read or unread.

The app shows the digest of all articles, most recent articles, featured sources (what Feedly thinks you should read), the most popular items from the Feedly community and saved items.  The deeper you delve into one of your Feedly categories, the less recent the story. You can like items with the thumbs up and mark the entire feed read by clicking the check mark at the bottom.

There is no faster way for me to wade through my Google Reader streams than Feedly and I find it even faster on the iPhone. Plus, there is the “here and now” factor of having the app on the phone so that I can read and share a little when I am between events or meetings on the go.

Developer and founder Ed Khodabakchian has been very accessible and responsive to comments and suggestions on the interface. They really seem dedicated to providing the best possible experience with this app and it shows.

If you use Google Reader, then you owe it to yourself to try Feedly. If you are an iPhone user (or iPad user  – it works on that too with the 2x zoom), you can get a very full Feedly experience in the mobile domain. And, if you are an Android user, don’t despair – the Android client is coming soon to a mobile phone near you!

Build Your PDF Library As You Browse Google Reader

Now that I have an iPad, with lots of great PDF reader applications, including iBooks, I am a lot more interested in collecting PDFs to read on that fantastic facilitator of information consumption. Joliprint (link here) has made the process of making web content, particularly Google Reader more readable, by dropping it into your PDF reader with the ease of a bookmarklet.

All you have to do is grab the bookmarklet via the link above. Then, while you are browsing through Google Reader, select the desired post, hit the bookmarklet in your Favorites bar and voila! Instant PDF. Great for printing and reading. Once you have it, simply email it to yourself, open the attachment on your iPad and select the reader you want your PDF sent to.

That’s easy!

Looking for a GReader Alternative? Try Good Noows

Although I am a die-hard Google Reader fan, it is always nice to welcome a new RSS news reader to the fold and expand the options. Good Noows (link here), a web-based reader, has the slick look of Feedly with lots of customization tools  and social sharing buttons. Interestingly, you cannot sign up for Good Noows directly. Instead, you use your social log-ins from Facebook, Twitter, Google, Yahoo or LinkedIn.

Be aware that, unlike Feedly, Good Noows is not tied to your Google Reader subscriptions. You must select your topics and sources within the application. Your news options do vary based on your location. In addition to the offered choices, you can insert custom feeds from your own favorite sources. Make sure you de-select the default options that you are not interested in, as Good Noows automatically subscribes you to recommended sources, just to get your started.

There are nine different formatting options for your news blurbs, all of which are nicely laid out and easy to navigate. I like the auto-translate feature – click a button to translate your entire page into another language. As with other readers, clicking on the item ultimately sends you through to the original article.

There is searching and filtering within streams for specific terms, which are called “labels” and can be added as buttons for quick access to your desired content.  In addition to the usual sharing options, you can share links from Good Noows in a chat format, powered by Meebo.

If you are a chat junkie, this last feature may make Good Noows a first place choice. For the rest of us, Good Noows might offer a different view of the news and may fit your needs better than the old standby.

One Step Closer to Efficient Off-Line Reading

I use Instapaper, an off-line reading tool, but not as much as I should. I use Google Reader, an on-line RSS reader, but I often don’t have the time to devote the proper attention to every interesting article. In Reader, I “star” a lot of articles that I plan to go back and consume later, but many times, later never comes.

Enter InstaReader, a free plug-in that bridges the gap. Lifehacker tipped me to the tool, which can be found here. Simply feed the RSS feed from your Google Reader starred items into InstaReader on your desktop and it will automatically update Instapaper with your starred items every few minutes. Load Instapaper into your iPhone, remember to sync before you go off-line and your are good to go!

Clearing Your Virtual Magazine Bin

In my humble opinion, the single best source of information both on and off the Web is a healthy collection of news and blog feeds automatically pouring into Google Reader. But, much like my tangible desktop, briefcase and magazine bin, my virtual periodical inbox is stuffed full to bursting. It can’t be helped: I see an interesting post or feed and I MUST subscribe. My pack rat mentality flows over into virtual space. Dozens of feeds and thousands of posts later, I lose complete site of the bottom of the pile.

So I welcomed this morning a post from Lifehacker (link here) with tips on how to tame the tangle mass that is my Google Reader inbox. Some tips I knew, but others were fresh and I immediately applied them. For example, use the “Trends” button underneath “Your Stuff” in the left hand column to quickly view the least updated, most obscure or least attended-to feeds and lose them like a bad habit. Lifehacker also suggests creating a folder system that encourages you to spend more time on the stuff you want: consider folders called “favorites” containing all your must-read subscriptions, then tier the remaining content in order of importance or subject matter. I employ a subject-based foldering system, but I do tier my Reader follows into “Top Peeps” and all the rest.

Another great tip for the higher order geek is using Yahoo! Pipes (link here) to further customize your feeds with built-in filtering. Another, somewhat simpler, option is FeedRinse (link here), which strains by author, tags, and keywords. Lifehacker reminds that WordPress feeds also offer tagging – in other words, if you are reading a WP blog within a particular category, simply add /feed/ to the end of the URL and you can secure a feed of only that category.

The Lifehacker article finally spurred me to start the long overdue Spring feed cleaning that I had contemplated for some time. It didn’t hurt my momentum when I learned this morning that the Reeder app on my iPhone stops updating when there are 5,000 unread items. Oops.

Archive Your Tweets

Do you save your Twitter tweets? Maybe you don’t have a need to keep all your posts about your last meal or Foursquare check-ins or latest calamity. If you primarily tweet your own blog posts, there are other ways to save that content within your own CMS. But if you use your Twitter stream as a business development tool and frequently save or retweet valuable links, you might want to keep a record of the cool stuff you find and share.

Sure, Twitter has a search function and you can peruse your own profile page to see your latest tweets. But, did you know that Twitter does not store your tweets much past a few days to a couple weeks? If you are relying solely on Twitter, you are missing a great deal of your back story. Friendfeed, for as long as it lasts, offers a fantastic means of saving and searching your own content – simply feed your tweets into the service and use their awesome filter-able search to quickly pull your desired link.

But maybe you aren’t so sure that Friendfeed will be around for the long haul and you still want to be able to put your finger on your Twitter content. As I am always looking for the quick, simple way to store, I feed my tweets into Google Reader. You can find your own Twitter feed RSS towards the bottom right of your page. Anything with an RSS feed can be sucked into Reader. Simple, cloud-based storage that is also searchable within the Reader app.

There are other third party means of archiving your content – Sarah Perez at ReadWriteWeb has a great list of these tools (link here). The one I find most intriguing (but haven’t yet used) is Twistory (link here) an app that integrates with your calendar to show your tweets over the span of days, months and years. You can even use it to feed in other people’s tweet streams, if you are so interested. Another application, The Archivist (link here) offers a desktop option for saving and storing tweets generated by saved searches. Pretty cool!

If you are like me and share tons of articles, as well as retweet others’ great content, on a regular basis, you might want to consider implementing one of these back-up systems. You never know when an old tweet might contain the precise answer you are looking for.

Google Reader For The Video Generation

I woke to a pleasant surprise this morning. I opened my ever-faithful Google Reader and found an invitation to play. Google Reader Play, that is. Cognizant of complaints by internet denizens who are comfortable enough to get online but fearful of the complexities of a full-blown RSS reader experience, Google apparently sought to simplify the process with, what else, a picture show!

I love that Google is willing to experiment like this. Play is a bit rough around the edges and isn’t quite as full-featured as I would like. But I think it is a great way to make RSS feeds more accessible to the masses. Shifting the emphasis from the mountains of text to the images found within posts, Play creates a slideshow of your RSS items. Very CoolIris. Each central image is graced with an extra-large “like”, “share” and “star” button. Thumbnails of a series of smaller images are spread across the bottom. You can turn the slide show on or off, adjust your stream with very rudimentary settings, hide the thumbnail viewer, or toggle between original and magic layout. There is a “read more” button and a link included, along with the identity of the feed or person sharing the post in Reader.

Reader Play isn’t quite like the full-blown Reader in one major respect – it takes your control of your feeds out of the picture and will show you items it believes you want to see using the tools behind Reader’s “recommended” items section. It also places heavy emphasis on items from people you follow in Reader and tries to bring to the top items similar to those you have previously liked, starred or shared. Great for browsing and surfing, but not so great  for power users who want the ability to perform a surgical strike on specific feeds.

And that’s about it. Probably not very effective for a person like me with with about five hundred feeds and a post reading deficit that rival our national debt. But a great introduction to RSS reading, particularly with a relatively clean Reader and manageable number of posts.

If you have an existing Reader account, give it a try. Would love to hear what you think about it in the comments.

So Excited, Just Can't Hide It: Feedly for iPhone!

I can’t begin to count the number of times I have attempted to “read” my feeds on the iPhone and longed for the desktop Feedly interface. I wondered if and when one would show up, figuring those big brains would come up with something REALLY cool.

What’s Feedly, you ask? It is an application add-on to Firefox and Chrome (developers version) that works with Google Reader, providing a slick, magazine-like overlay of your feeds. There are granular controls for telling Feedly what you want to see and how you want to see it. And, as you use Feedly over time, it learns what you like best and pushes those stories to the top. Posts include buttons for recommending, sharing and starring. There are filters that alter your view and tabs for viewing posts within feed categories that you set.

I have raved about Feedly here in the Studio before. But I couldn’t recommend it as a mobile application. But I will be able to soon.  Here is Feedly iPhone Prototype 7:

Check out their blog post introducing mobile Feedly (link here). The developers indicate that simplicity and performance were their goals. I think they got it. Using a swiping gesture, you can:

  • swipe through the feedly digest
  • drill down into a specific article
  • recommend/share an article
  • tweet an article
  • mark an article as read and hide it (swiping the card to the top)
  • use the home option to select a specific category and feed

The developers are looking down the road to Feedly on Android and Palm Pre. Head over to the blog, give them some feedback on the video and they may actually incorporate your suggestions. And get ready for the live beta, coming March 15!

I’m going to hold my breath until then. Wish me luck.

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Power Up Your Blog Speed

Google Reader remains, by far, the most popular RSS feed reader out there. I rely on it heavily, both in its direct form and as the back bone of my other reading sources, such as Feedly and other information-consuming applications.

One of the complaints comparisons often bandied about the Web regarding GReader is that it is painfully slow to update feeds with new publication, now that we have such hyperactive services such as Twitter. Real time speed (“RTS”) is often considered a “good” thing among Webizens. I, for one, prefer curated content from dependable sources to RTS and have always preferred to sacrifice a wee bit of speed for reliability.

Until now. Techy people already know about the PubSubHubbub protocol which enables the transfer of RSS feed publications at RTS. I don’t know enough about these technicalities to even attempt to explain the how of it. But I do know that the protocol has been rolling out via various Web applications, speeding things up wherever it lands.

Late last week, commenters noticed GReader delivering information from feeds enabled with PubSubHubbub at a much faster rate. Apparently, GReader is now reading and relaying PubSubHubbub-enabled feeds in real time. Most major on-line publications have already adopted the protocol so the GReader experience has definitely picked up as a result.

What does this mean to content creators? Well, you too can jump on the PubSubHubbub bandwagon with your blog and supply the world’s most popular reader with your writing in real time. If you use Blogger or Posterous, your feeds are already PubSubHubbub-enabled. If you use the WordPress software on your own hosted site, you can install this PubSubHubbub plug-in (link here).  If you are slogging away over at WordPress.com, you unfortunately are out of luck at the moment – they have adopted the competing rssCloud format, which is not yet supported in GReader. If you use Feedburner to send your RSS feed, turn on Google’s Pingshot to send out information in real time.

What are you waiting for? Not GReader anymore! 

Hat tip to ReadWriteWeb (they so smart).