In March I wrote a lengthy post about death of Google Reader and my out of control subscription list that I could never even dream of keeping up with. Well, I managed to solve one of the problems I mentioned in that post: I curtailed my subscription list. I mercilessly culled out all the dead blogs and unsubscribed from any high-volume publications I no longer had active interest in following. I went from 400 blogs, to less than 40 and I can typically zero-out my unread count every morning or at lunch without even breaking a sweat. Feels good man.
Not only that, but my OPML suddenly got much, much more portable. As a result I have been able to shop around for a replacement to the venerable old Reader much more efficiently. I tried couple of other services and the one I spent most of my time with was Feedly. It is actually a really nice service – the interface is great, and the fact it syncs up with Reader made switching to it incredibly easy. All I had to do was to sign in and authorize it with my Google account and I was ready to go. It also had a very nice iOS app that went with it which was a huge bonus.
That said, the service is not without flaws. Firstly, for some strange reason it requires you to use a browser plugin. Most of the processing is running locally and changes are asynchronously synced with the back end whenever it feels like it. Most of the back-end heavy lifting seems to still be handled by Google, with the Feedly website being there to just coordinate things. Despite off-loading most of the work to the client and to Google, Feedly still couldn’t keep my read-counts straight on some days. Rather frequently stuff I clicked through on my laptop or on my phone would still show up as unread on my desktop. I kinda figured this might have been glitches caused by them transitioning away from Google and towards their own independent back end so I didn’t really fret about it to much. It wasn’t until I realized Feedly had no export option that I decided to abandon it.
Yes, you read that right. Feedly does not currently have an OPML export feature. It is dumb easy to switch to Feedly, but virtually impossible to get out of it. Fortunately former Reader users that suynced their subscriptions over still have option of logging back to Google and exporting their feeds that way. Any feeds added to Feedly do still sync back to Google so you won’t loose anything. If you however set up a “proper” Feedly account without Reader integration you are utterly fucked. Allegedly the OPML export functionality is on their TODO list, but currently rather low on the priority list with the looming demise of Reader drawing near.
I decided to play it safe, and quit while I still could. If and when Feedly chooses to add an export button I might give them another chance. Until then however I’m out. I really do not want to get locked in – especially now that I got my shit in order, and I’m actually reading my feeds regularly again. So once again I’m in the market for a good feed reader.
Recently, Chris chronicled his own quest in search of a Reader replacement. Seeing how I have more or less the same list of requirements as he does, I figured I might as well follow his lead. After testing a number of different services he settled on The Old Reader. I figured I might as well give it a try. My first impressions are rather positive. It is a proper web application, and thus it suffers from no weird local sync issues. It does not have a sync-functionality with Reader which makes migration a little bit more annoying, but is actually a good thing in the long run. It is uncertain how exactly Feedly servers are going to behave the day Google Reader closes – the Old Reader on the other hand can be expected to work exactly as it does not since it never actually used Google service as a back end.
The user interface is very simple (spartan even) and bootstrapy but that’s actually not a bad thing. They are using a responsive design, so it scales very well to a mobile screen. It is clean, functional and it does everything I need it to do. My only complaint is that it is noticeably slower at picking up new entries than Feedly. That said, I’m fairly sure Feedly is currently cheating and using the Google Reader magic indexing powers to refresh their subscriptions. So who knows how it will behave next month. Perhaps it is not that The Old Reader is slow, but that Google Reader has conditioned us to expect nearly real-time feed refresh rate which are nearly impossible to achieve unless you happen to have Google’s army of web crawlers at your disposal.
You know what’s the best part? If the performance continues to suck, or if I find a better alternative, The Old Reader has this on the bottom of its settings panel:
Yep, I get a one-click access to my up to date OPML that I can download and import to a competing service at any time. That feature alone more than makes up for the slower refresh rate. It gives me a peace of mind, and confidence that the team behind the service is actually interested in providing its users with a valuable service rather than in capturing, locking in and capitalizing on the once in a lifetime opportunity that is the Google Reader closing and subsequent user migration.
So, what feed reading services have you tried since Google announced the closing of Reader? Are you still shopping around or have you picked a replacement you are going to stick with? Is there any service you would recommend? Much like Chris, I prefer a cloud based solution that can be accessed via a web browser from anywhere, and I’d rather avoid the headache and hassle of configuring and running it on my own server. A working iOS app is a plus, but not required as long as the site is usable on the phone.