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Top 5 online RSS readers February 24, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Blogging.
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Like many news junkies I read a lot of blog posts every day. But I only occasionally visit a blog’s web site. Most of the time I read the most recent posts in their RSS stream. I catch up on news this way with my laptop in my sofa in the evening, when I have a minute at work or in hotel rooms or air port lounges when I travel. I need a reliable and powerful online Web feed reader. Below are my five favorites.

What do I look for in an online RSS or Atom Web feed reader? What are the criteria I have used, sifting through all of the great alternatives available?

  • I am a busy guy, so I want a service that does not require a lot of muddling around to figure out.
  • For a reader to be considered, it needs to have reliable import and export capabilities, I want to bring my subscriptions with me if I find a better service.
  • It has to be easy to sort and browse the feeds and items.

These basic features are what I had my mind set on when I went looking for a new RSS reader. If a service offers other, more advanced features, I don’t mind, as long as they do not detract from the general usability of the service.

I have not considered start pages like Netvibes or My Yahoo. Often, their RSS capabilities are not powerful enough. And I am looking for an RSS reader for doing online research and I am steering clear of optional horoscopes, cartoons or celebrity news.

Google Reader > I have been using Google Reader for some months now. When it was launched, it had a confusing interface and not very impressive features, but that has all changed and it is now a good RSS reader. It took me a little while to figure out how to set up Google Reader the way I wanted. Once that was done, using it was fun. It looks good and does everything I want from it, except for some quirks which I will describe below.

My favorite Google Reader feature is that you can switch between expanded view and list view using two tabs in the upper right corner. There is also an option to share items easily. All you have to do is to click “Share” at the end of the item. You can find the URL to your shared items under Settings -> Tags. These shared items can also be added to your blog so your visitors can see your recent favorite news items. Andy Beal over at Marketing Pilgrim has included his shared items under the heading “Pilgrim’s Picks” in the right margin.

Google reader is a Google Labs product. This means that it is under development and hasn’t reached beta level yet. So be prepared for some quirks. I get a lot of messages saying “Oops… An error occurred. Please try again in a few seconds.” I also often see the Google Labs test tube logo, which is displayed when Google Reader needs some seconds to work on a request. This hasn’t improved and so I am moving my feeds to another reader, at least until Google Reader graduates from Labs and gets more speed and stability.

Bloglines > Ask’s Bloglines is the grand-daddy of online RSS readers. It meets all of the requirements I listed above and has a lot of additional goodies. Bloglines has uncluttered design and sports keyboard shortcuts for easy navigation, which is nice. The real strength of Bloglines, though, is that it offers several ways of sharing your finds. At the bottom of each item, you get the option to email it to a friend.

You can also choose to add items to your blog. This is easy to set up and you can choose to publish it or keep it private. A Bloglines blog isn’t exactly pretty, but it certainly works. And most importantly, it gives you an RSS feed of your chosen news items. Your Bloglines subscriptions get listed in the blog’s blogroll, but if this is info you would like to keep private, you can choose not to publish the blogroll. If all you want to do is save some items for later, without sharing them, you can save them to your clippings.

My favorite Bloglines feature is Recommendations, which informs you of other feeds you might enjoy, based on your subscriptions. If, like me, you already subscribe to too many feeds, be aware that this might lead to even more hours in front of you computer.

One thing about Bloglines really annoys me, though: Once I have clicked on a feed, all its items are marked automatically as read. It doesn’t require me to scroll through the posts or anything. And the next time I come back, the folder is empty. I then have to choose to display items from the last hour, day or week to get to view the feed. Or I can tick a box at the bottom of each item, telling Bloglines to “Keep it new”.

If you want to discuss your bloglines experience or are looking for support, head for the Bloglines Forums.

Rojo > Rojo was a breeze setting up. It took me all of 2 minutes to get an account and import the OPML file containing my subscriptions. Browsing the feeds is easy and there was is waiting around for the feeds to load. You group feeds by tagging them and editing tags or unsubscribing is easy.

Rojo does everything I want it to and then some. My favorite special feature is the menu item called History. It sits above your subscriptions and when you click it you get access to stories you have tagged, flagged, read or mojo’d.

Mojo is another favorite feature and requires a little explanation. It’s a social ranking tool similar to what you find on Digg, Reddit and Netscape. When you mojo a story you give it your vote. All other subscribers to this feed can see that someone has enjoyed it. If many people mojo a story, it finds its way to the Rojo front page.

Rojo has a set of convenient keyboard shortcuts. For instance, when you type 1, 2 and 3 you juggle between viewing full stories, summaries and headlines. This makes browsing large amounts of information so much easier. Rojo works if you need a powerful RSS reader, yet it is easy to use and the mojo feature adds a nice social flavor to it.

NewsGator > NewsGator is another powerful reader that is easy to set up and easy to use. Importing My OPML file was no problem and I enjoyed the option to drag and drop folders or feeds to organize my subscriptions. The most essential display options are available from a pull-down menu.

NewsGator has all you need for organizing and browsing a large number of RSS feeds. It also has some nice additional features. Below every item, you can click an icon to add it to your clippings. You can then choose to make the feed from your clippings public. You can also add comments to feed items. These comments can be read by other NewsGator users and gives the service a social aspect.

If you like sharing the gems you find while digging through your RSS subscriptions, you will love this: If you use an instant messaging service from Yahoo! or AOL, you can share items with your buddies directly from NewsGator.

NewsGator is my new reader now that I am taking a break from GoogleReader. It does everything I want it to and offers useful lists like “Latest Buzz”, “Today’s Videos” and “Today’s Podcasts”. It is a powerful tool headed for the future.

FeedShow > Another good alternative is FeedShow. It feels more like an application than an online service, sporting a folder hierarchy in the left margin that is quite similar to the Windows Explorer. Even though I am a Mac person, it still appeals to me, mostly because it feels intuitive.

All the options are clear visible all the time: Global options are available in a row of icons over the menu of feeds in the left hand margin. This is where you go to import or export feeds, manage your subscriptions or change between two-or three-pane view. You can also access your statistics to see what kind of feeds you read most.

The right hand part of the screen (top right if you choose the three-pane view) displays the feed you choose in the left hand menu. Above the feed items, which are displayed in full, you find a link to the blog that the feed comes from. From here you can choose the size of the text, which I am sure a lot of people will appreciate.

FeedShow also has lots of ways to save or share information: From the top of the main window you can save all the current items of the feed as a PDF-file. Below each feed item you can choose to email it, print it, save it as HTML or bookmark it in del.icio.us.

FeedShow is still in beta, but it works like a charm and I really enjoy the simplicity of it. There are no community efforts like Rojo’s mojo or NewsGators comments, but if you don’t mind, FeedShow is a good choice.

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