Friday, 28 June 2013

Readerpocalypse

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As I'm sure you're sick of hearing, Google Reader is closing down SOON. I was pretty hacked off when I heard this, and even more so when I had to look for alternatives.
The two that are everywhere are Bloglovin' and Feedly (I bet they were popping champagne corks & ordering servers when they heard the news) but there are plenty of others out there and what you need to do to find the best alternative is to understand what a reader is.
Now I may be preaching to the converted here since Google Reader users will at least have to have come across the concept of an RSS feed, but it's amazing how many times I've seen Bloglovin' or Feedly recommended because "it has feature x!" when feature x is a standard RSS thing or common to all readers. Because I'm cynical and care too much it rather irks me that they're being given credit for things that were always there (although I know they're not doing it themselves) - like Apple making a big fuss about multitasking on iOS7 when Android has done it for years. What it all comes down to is that people don't know what they don't know, and you can't blame them for it, so all I can do is try to make things a bit clearer.

A reader is essentially a thing that brings together the RSS feeds from lots of different sites. Essentially an RSS feed is a page (probably not human-readable) that's a stripped down version of a site with only the entries/posts/items on it. (and lest you think it's just for blogs, every Flickr photostream and group has an RSS feed) Your RSS reader takes this and turns it into a nicely readable format and allows you to organise your feeds how you want them - usually with some sort of folders, fave-ing, mark-all-as-read, sharing buttons etc. That's it.

There are lots of different types of readers - web-based, app-based, desktop etc. Most of the web-based ones will also have a mobile version so you can read on the go and not have to mark all those items as read later; but one of the things that, in my opinion, made Google Reader great was that it had an API (Application Programming Interface). I didn't use the official Reader for Android app (the reviews weren't great), I used gReader and it linked perfectly happily to my google account. As far as I know with Bloglovin' you're locked in to using their app and if it sucks that's tough (you could move, but think of the bother). Feedly on the other hand do have an API - points for them!
Now the real selling point of Bloglovin' is its social-media-type framing of everything - blog owners can "claim" their blogs, while Feedly does "magazine-style" layouts. I'm not particularly fussed about either of those but you might be?
Any reader worth its salt will allow you to import your subscriptions from a file (clicking that Learn More link will get you there) and/or import directly from Google, so it's not whether or not it does this that you should judge a reader on, it's whether the internet is full of complaints about it not working.

A couple of other options I've come across are new readers made by Digg and AOL - and I think Yahoo have majorly missed the boat by not coming up with their own.
Digg Reader, which launched yesterday, seems alright if a little slow at present. Their aim was to make a direct replacement for Google Reader and then develop it from there. They've not been on top of their game for years but I really liked the sound of the project and their attitude. They're addressing the people (like me) who just really want Google Reader to carry on as-is.
AOL I haven't investigated properly, but having grown up with their hideous bloated browser/screen name system I'm none to keen to go back there. I do still have an account so I might have a poke about and see what it's like. The landing page actually looks encouraging and they too have an API. Plus it's blue, bonus points for that too :p

The "Next" button (and the subscribe button!)

Time for one final moan - I've seen people complain that they don't like readers because they take posts out of context, and claim that such-and-such-a-reader is better because you can click through to the articles. Both of these make me sad inside. Any reader should let you click through to an article and see it in context, and many bloggers (especially food ones with lots of pictures e.g. Smitten Kitchen) use shorter previews in their RSS feeds to encourage you to click through (and on their main sites so you don't have to scroll so far) so this complaint makes no sense!
Google Reader transcended this whole issue with the "Next" button. It lives in my favourites/bookmarks toolbar and when I click on it it takes me to the next unread article in my reader, in situ on the page it was published on. Beautiful and under-appreciated (although a bit hidden in the settings). It would have been even better if there was a version that went in oldest-newest order. It even had an easter egg - when you were down to 0 articles unread it would take you to a page congratulating you on reaching "the end of this internet" and offer you a link to look for another, which lead to the wikipedia page on interplanetary internet. Geeky & pleasantly real.

Oh Google Reader, you shall be missed.

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Yay :)