In which we grouse about RSS readers

So Google Reader is going away in 20 days, which is troubling. I’ve been a big fan of it for a long time, but — like Gmail — I only use it as a back-end service. Just as I never log into Gmail to read mail, I never log into Reader to read sites. I use nice, native clients way cooler, nicer, and more fully featured than a web app. GR just provides the back-end sync.

For most of my life with GR, I used the Reeder app on my Mac, my phone, and my iPad. It’s really, really great. A while back, though, the Mac version developed a problem where it wasn’t able to sync with GR anymore. No idea why, or if I was the only one with the problem, and I got no support from the author, so I fell back to using the venerable NetNewsWire on the Mac (which can sync with GR) and kept using Reeder on my iOS devices. I do most of my reading on the iPad anyway.

Except now I have to change, and change nearly always sucks. Especially in this case, as it turns out that my use case is that of a power-user, and nobody wants to take my money.

Following the glowing coverage, I looked first at NewBlur, and was about ready to make the jump until I discovered something troubling: Apparently, NewsBlur quietly and automatically marks any item more than two weeks old as read, and there’s no way to change that. Hope you weren’t saving that! That’s a serious dealbreaker — I leave items unread all the time as ticklers for later action — but at least I discovered it before I signed up for an annual subscription. NewsBlur is also wasting time and money (from my point of view) building out a sharing-and-discovery featureset I find utterly uninteresting. I’m already on Facebook and Twitter, and I post here. I don’t need to have a dialog with other users in my feedreader, and I don’t need to “train” my reader to find sites for me. Just work the list I give you, and be done with it. I have American money. I’ll pay you.

Then I looked at Feedly, which is one of those high-concept things. The first troubling aspect is that it’s apparently free, and I’ve been burned on that before (and in fact I’m being burned by that RIGHT NOW). Secondly, the app is just a disaster of overdesign. Where Reeder is quiet, minimalist, and fast, Feedly is cumbersome and too pleased with itself by half — really, I just want the text. I don’t need you to reformat the stories into a facsimile of a magazine, for Christ’s sake. Feedly also appears to be just a browser, not a reader that grabs your subscription updates and presents them to you locally. This matters, because sometimes, I don’t have a network connection. Also troubling: Feedly is built to use Google Reader, and while they’re working quickly they still haven’t launched their in-house sync back-end. The end of the month could be a very messy time for them. No thanks.

Finally, I looked at Feedbin, which is probably the most promising option since it’s the one the Reeder author is working towards, and if he gets done I’ll be back with the right apps again. However, at present there’s no acceptable way for me to USE it — the Reeder author has only completed the Feedbin port for the iPhone version, which is my least-used client. Feedbin itself has a web interface, but it’s pretty crappy. The only iPad client is something called “Slow Feeds” that insists on sorting your subscriptions by update frequency, not by subject, which seems utterly useless. (The stated point of SF is to keep the rarely-updated feeds from being lost in your subscription list. This is a problem I never, ever have with Reeder, because its default mode is to show you ONLY feeds with new stories. This seems like a much better way to solve the problem.)

As of now, I’m assuming that Reeder for Mac and iPad won’t be ready in three weeks, and that I’ll be back to running NetNewsWire on my Mac (which can’t sync with anything but GR, but is still a workable stand-alone reader) and not reading news at all on my phone or iPad, at least until Reeder finishes with the ports.

Just like 2004. Yay! Giant steps backwards!

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