Google Reader Closes: Alternative Feed Reading Applications to Reader

By Published March 15, 2013 at 10:02 am

RSS feeds have been around since Netscape was still a thing -- nearly 14 years since its official release candidate -- and they've managed to retain their relevance as the web has grown exponentially. The objective of an RSS feed is simply to pool articles from multiple desirable sources in one place, reducing the amount of websites you'd need to individually visit in favor of one content aggregator; the source for an individual feed can be a certain author, making it easy to stalk them across the web, a website, a forum, or even a photo gallery. The use of RSS as a framework itself has largely become irrelevant as web applications have become more intelligent in their interpretation of content, but feed reading and content aggregation is as alive as ever.

Until recently, Google Reader has made up a large portion of the userbase for feed aggregation, but the company announced just yesterday that they'd be shutting down the service officially on July 1st, 2013. The shutdown means many users are looking for web-based and desktop RSS alternatives to Google Reader -- this article showcases a few of those.

We'll start with two of the rising stars in the web space, then move to a simple desktop reader.

 

Key Features of Google Reader 

Google's RSS feed reading application had a lot of major features driving its support, but the institution of Google+ functions in 2011 alienated a good deal of the userbase (and some of our own staff). Including the favorable items that were removed in the 2011 update, here's a list of some of the key features that supported Google Reader (let us know if we missed any important ones in the comments below):

  • Aggregation of subscribed content (authors, websites, blogs, etc.) in a single page format, with a clean layout for navigation.
  • Search functionality to browse all feeds.
  • Statistics tracking of the total number of read items.
  • OPML and XML import/export protocols for transitioning between services.
  • Offline reading using browser extensions (deprecated).
  • Share and Like options that made for easy sharing between friends via email and easy content sharing via hidden web pages (deprecated).
  • Commenting and "starring" of favored items.
  • Many more!

 

Using the above list and other assorted features of Google Reader, we can narrow the search to only the most useful and similar applications to the discontinued Google feed reader.

RSS Feed Web-Based Alternatives to Google Reader 

We've found a few other web-based RSS feed readers like Google Reader out there, but there are certainly dozens more -- feel free to add to our suggestions in the comments below.

Google has been kind enough to provide users of their Reader application with a 3-month period for data transition, and have further supported refugees by supplying an export script to output all the pertinent feed data into a few different XML and JSON files:

  • List of people you follow.
  • List of people that follow you.
  • Items you have "starred."
  • Items you have "liked."
  • Items you have shared.
  • Items shared by people you follow.
  • Notes you've created.
  • Items with comments.

 

This data can be exported by using Google Takeout, a subsidy of Google's Data Liberation efforts, found here. The XML and JSON files spat-out by Takeout can be then imported into other services, though theoretically most of the services are still working to integrate complete compatibility with the file formats.

NewsBlur: Web RSS News Reading Alternative #1

This is the one we think will skyrocket to the top out of the chaos Google has created. NewsBlur offers many of the same features as Reader, but also uses a clean browser-driven interface that is fully capable of importing any Google Reader information. The tool also supports batch uploads in XML/OPML formats.

NewsBlur has a couple of different ways to stay on top of news: First, the utility offers standard (RSS) feed functionality and will accept any feeds the user inputs; the feeds can be sorted by category and subcategory, will display user-highlighted stories, create notifications for unread stories, and offers share functionality among friends and the global community. NewsBlur is also capable of following writers (as Reader did), making it easy to track favorite journalists across multiple websites and subsites, as well as using intelligent filters (that you train) to determine what news is most relevant for you.

Further supporting the community aspect of news sharing and reading, NewsBlur has similar follower and friend features to Reader's old interface, and makes sharing entire swathes of news posts with friends.

A fair note: NewsBlur does presently have some limitations for free accounts, but it's really not unreasonable. Free accounts are limited to 64 sites for news filtration, site updates are slower, and it is not possible to share privately with friends (only publicly) without paying. Paying, however, is honestly worth it for any avid news reader -- it's $1/month. If that means they'll stay online and if you enjoy the service, it's worth it.

Check out NewsBlur here.

Feedly: Web RSS News Reading Alternative #2 

Feedly is a beautifully laid-out, well-constructed, simple, personalized content aggregation utility. It's capable of feeding any site into what becomes a custom portal to the internet -- putting you in the position of "editor" for your own magazine, so to speak -- and that includes forums, twitter, facebook, articles, blog posts, YouTube channels, photo galleries, etcetera. This is the one that I personally use.

The project was initially built upon Google's Reader API (now deprecated), but we were happy to see that Feedly has updated and built their own custom framework to allow seamless transition from Reader into a new "Normandy" system (read more here). This means it's not going away any time soon; in fact, Feedly had to upgrade their servers to support the flock of refugees from Reader.

Many of the features are similar to other feed readers, but Feedly presents everything in a semi-customizable, very clean format -- easily its strong point. The actual page layout can be tweaked for a few different content layouts (see the below image line-up for examples), colors can be changed, and the reader will even intelligently interpret webpage content to determine which items are featured. This is demonstrated by Feedly's ability to determine our top three featured items on GN right now.

feedly-magazine feedly-list feedly-cards

 

Feedly has basic categorization and sub-categorization, allows a site to be stored under multiple simultaneous categories, and has great archival and search tools for content storage. To provide a use-case example, I'm subscribed to several game company blogs and hardware blogs so that I can rapidly report on new releases; these items are marked as "must read" in my feed reader (so they will overshadow news from editorial sites) and can be saved for later viewing. The history tool also supplies an easy method for sorting content and finding old articles you've read, but for which you can't recall the source.

Feedly is fully compatible with mobile devices. We highly recommend this one -- go sign up here. It's not quite as fancy in the social/sharing aspect as NewsBlur, but does its job very well.

Feedreader: Simple Desktop RSS News Reader

If you don't need all the fancy features included in NewsBlur and other advanced aggregate utilities, Feedreader offers a fast, organized, and simple RSS platform for desktop-based browsing. Feedreader's primary objective is to serve news to your application (system tray and desktop notifications are optional) from feeds that you've given it. It doesn't try to intelligently filter incoming news, doesn't have advanced sharing features, but it does allow basic "starring" and saving of articles for later use. Custom tags and titles can also be set for important articles that need to be accessible at a later date.

feedreader

Feedreader contains a webpage wrapper that enables viewing of introtext on sites, but will also load the full article and site into a frame within the application for viewing; the reader can then follow a link to launch the site in the browser, if desired. You could get away with never opening a browser if desired, though.

Feedreader is available for download here. It is by far the most trimmed-down option of the above three, but great for simple desktop viewing and portability.

Let us know about your favorite feed aggregation tools in the comments below!

- Steve "Lelldorianx" Burke.

Last modified on March 15, 2013 at 10:02 am
Steve Burke

Steve started GamersNexus back when it was just a cool name, and now it's grown into an expansive website with an overwhelming amount of features. He recalls his first difficult decision with GN's direction: "I didn't know whether or not I wanted 'Gamers' to have a possessive apostrophe -- I mean, grammatically it should, but I didn't like it in the name. It was ugly. I also had people who were typing apostrophes into the address bar - sigh. It made sense to just leave it as 'Gamers.'"

First world problems, Steve. First world problems.

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