The state of feed readers

feedreaders

In my continuing 2017 project to IndieWebify my website, so far I’ve upgraded my WordPress site with IndieWeb plugins and then installed a blogroll. I also began to explore what the indie blogosphere is like nowadays. Not that I ever really left the blogosphere, but – like most people – much of my attention had drifted to social media over the past several years. So I wanted to re-engage with blogs in 2017 and subscribe to a bunch of new people. For that I needed a capable, IndieWeb-friendly feed reader.

I should mention upfront that different people have different needs for a feed reader. Some people prefer the river of news style, which outputs a stream of content ordered by freshness. Dave Winer builds these kinds of feed readers and has many fans who enjoy them. Personally, I prefer a different kind of feed reader. I need a reader that enables more granular control of the content; such as the ability to organize your feeds into folders, have different view options, create filters, and more.

My current feed reader is Feedly, which I began using in earnest once Google closed down its Google Reader in 2013. Before Google Reader I was a fan of Bloglines, which in many ways invented the browser-based feed reader back in 2003. Unfortunately Bloglines got sold to Ask.com in early 2005, and it struggled to keep up after that. Bloglines’s demise opened the way for Google Reader, which launched in October 2005 and eventually reached a position of dominance. Which made it even more galling when Google ditched the product in mid-2013, because by then there were few decent competitors. Anyway, enough of the past.

I like Feedly and pay for the Pro version each year. But the UI is in need of a refresh (it’s difficult to re-arrange feeds and folders, for example) and it doesn’t yet offer OPML subscriptions. An OPML file is a way to subscribe to a group of feeds, such as Chris Aldrich’s blogroll of IndieWeb bloggers. While you can upload your own copy of Chris’ OPML file into Feedly, you can’t subscribe to the original file – which lives on Chris’ server. So any time Chris updates his file, which he is likely to do whenever he finds a new blogger to add, then your list in Feedly gets out of sync. So it’s a pretty important feature for a feed reader to offer, particularly as a way to subscribe to other peoples’ blogrolls.

Feedly

Feedly

As I say, I really like Feedly and they did a tremendous job shoring up the feed reader industry after Google abandoned it. So I’ll continue to support them. But I wanted to test the waters to see what other options were available…

I eventually came across Inoreader, which thankfully does let you subscribe to OPML. I started by adding Chris’ OPML file of IndieWeb bloggers, then I began adding other current interests of mine. I created folders for Art, Scifi, Music, Diabetes/Low Carb, Bitcoin, Future Tech, and NBA. I’ll no doubt add more as I keep using Inoreader. So far I’m enjoying the way feeds are presented and the extra options (such as subscribing to a “feed bundle” or a twitter feed). For a full writeup of Inoreader’s features, check out Marjolein Hoekstra’s Inoreader Notebook.

Inoreader

Inoreader

Time will tell whether I stick with Inoreader, or go back to Feedly. There are of course many other options for feed readers. Some of the newer, more intriguing ones are:

  • Brent Simmons recently announced his latest app, called Evergreen. It’s an open source Mac app. Given that Brent was the developer of NetNewsWire, one of the best Web 2.0-era desktop feed readers, Evergreen is one to watch. It’s pre-alpha.
  • Dave Winer’s Electric River is a fine choice for river fans. It’s a Mac app too and worked well when I tested it. You can also click his menu on Scripting News to view a list of browser-based rivers, such as his NBA one.
  • Woodwind seems to be the choice of leading IndieWeb developers, like Chris Aldrich. It offers read/write support for IndieWeb formats, such as h-feed and webmention. It was a bit too complicated for this non-developer, but if you’re more technical you may like it.
  • Unicyclic is another IndieWeb option, by Malcolm Blaney. I’ve signed up, but have yet to play with it.
  • Reeder is a leading iOS feed reader app and several people have name-checked it to me recently.
  • Unread is another iOS app and comes recommended by AltPlatform’s Brian Hendrickson.
  • I’m not an Android user, so I don’t know the best app there – but check out this recent list.

Overall, the feed reader market continues to be niche – and quiet – ever since Google Reader quit on us. But as you can see above, there are pockets of innovation happening and that’s encouraging. If the indie blogosphere is to compete for attention with social media, then we need feed readers to thrive once more.

Let us know in the comments (or via webmention) what your favourite feed reader is.

56 comments

  1. I definitly use Inoreader as a daily tool, because of it’s deeply powerful features like :
    – “outgoing” RSS feeds linked to folders or tags
    – filters
    – capability of following Facebook pages, Twitter searches, Google+ searches, a.s.o.

    But for some of my clients who wants to use open source solutions and/or don’t want to be in the cloud, I advise them to use Tiny Tiny RSS (https://tt-rss.org) as a feed reader and RSS Bridge to empower extraction features (https://github.com/RSS-Bridge/rss-bridge/blob/master/README.md)

    1. Thanks Serge, a couple of good alternatives there. If we get enough suggestions, I’ll make a list and append to the post as an update.

  2. Hi Richard,

    Love the mission behind Alt Platform. The concept of dynamically following someone else’s OPML in interesting. I remember David Winer being very passionate about this idea a few years ago. I will add this to our trello backlog.

    Your point about the organize experience needed a refresh is something that we have been hearing from a lot of users. We have been working on a re-design: https://blog.feedly.com/organize/ Happy to give you early access if you want to provide feedback to the design team.

    We have been investing the last 9 months on better understanding trends and topic graphs across the open web to be able to recommend and filter information more effectively. Would love to pick your brain on this topic next time we have the chance to connect.

    -Edwin

    1. Hi Edwin,

      Thanks for commenting. Good to hear you’ll put the opml subscription on your dev list.

      Also pleased to hear about the re-design. Yes I’d love to get early access and provide feedback on it.

      That would be great to meet up sometime and discuss trends etc. In the meantime, I will certainly blog about them here on AltPlatform 🙂

      Thanks for all you do with Feedly, as I said in the post I very much appreciate all the work you guys put in after Google dropped the ball.

  3. Richard, it’s early, but at last weekend’s IndieWeb Summit in Portland, a small group of us started tinkering on what we hope could be the Timeline of the Open Web.
    At this point, it’s wireframing and prototyping, but check it out! We call it “together” and you can find more information on it on the IndieWeb wiki – https://indieweb.org/together – and on GitHub – https://github.com/cleverdevil/together/
    I believe that the what users will want isn’t a traditional feed reader, but something more akin to the Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter timeline experience, but without nasty algorithms, ads, or surveillance capitalism.

    via cleverdevil.io

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