Web Worker Head to Head (to Head): Google Reader, NewsGator Online & Bloglines

My name is Judi Sohn, and I’m a feed addict.

Every few months I whittle my collection down, only to see it creep back to its present level of 650+ feeds. I’ve tried desktop applications like NetNewsWire and FeedDemon (both now NewsGator products), but in the end I prefer a web-based reader. No extra applications running and my subscription list is in sync no matter which device or platform I’m using.

This week’s contenders are the most popular applications for keeping up with all those RSS feeds in a browser window: Bloglines, NewsGator Online and Google Reader. [digg=http://digg.com/mods/Google_Reader_vs_NewsGator_Online_vs_Bloglines]

Bloglines has been around since 2003 and was among the first to keep a feed subscription list on a central server instead of a local drive. There was high hopes for something wonderful when Ask.com bought the application in 2005. Since then, not a lot has changed and the interface seems out of date against today’s richer, more visual apps.

Despite the ho-hum look & feel and often slow performance, Bloglines still packs some punch. According to the folks at FeedBurner, Bloglines is the #2 web-based aggregator behind Google. Not bad considering they don’t have a personalized home page to count into the stats. Like NewsGator, you can get a sense of how many folks are subscribed to the same feed. Bloglines will even tell you who they are and what other feeds they’re subscribed to, if they chose to be public about that information.

And as we pointed out a few months ago, Bloglines scores a resounding victory on its mobile feed reader which is far more usable than the competition’s offerings. While NewsGator Online and Google Reader also have mobile versions, they’re nothing to cheer about.

NewsGator Online is just one part of a much larger collection of applications from NewsGator for reading and managing feeds. If you primarily use one of the desktop applcations (NetNewsWire for Mac OS X, FeedDemon or NewsGator Inbox for Windows, or NewsGator Go! for mobile devices) and you only want to read feeds online on an occasional basis, then NewsGator Online scores a knock-out. NewsGator has invested a significant amount in its enterprise/business solutions, an area that Bloglines and Reader haven’t touched. With that in mind, NewsGator does an outstanding job of dealing with password protected feeds.

NewsGator has recently unveiled a new beta version of their online reader. It does feel quite a bit faster than the previous version did. While there are keyboard shortcuts, navigating without a mouse is difficult and not nearly as fluid as it could be, making the whole application feel slower. It’s also buggy (yes, it’s beta), especially working with a lot of feeds.

All the web-based aggregators have the ability to forward posts via email, or flag for later reading. Split decision here. A while back NewsGator introduced a star rating feature for individual posts that I’m surprised to see remains in the current beta. Does anyone actually use it? With 650+ feeds you would think I’d see a star on a post every now and then? Nope.

Google Reader started out slow, then came on strong and is now the market leader. Of the three aggregators, Google wins for speed. It’s also the easiest to navigate with only the keyboard.

Reader lands a solid right hook by allowing feeds to be categorized by tags. Maybe you have a “folder” based on a particular subject and another based on priority (ex: “daily reads”). In Reader, the same feed can appear in both places. Google’s sharing feature for individual posts is also the most intuitive of the three.

Google has a helpful trends page that lets you analyze your feed-reading tendancies and discard any that you haven’t really been reading. This feature is typically only found in the desktop aggregators. Bloglines is too dated, and NewsGator is too over-designed and feature-heavy. Somehow, Reader feels just about right. It’s also the aggregator that appears not to have an issue with non-updating feeds.

This round? Once again, it depends on priorities. If you read feeds from a phone or PDA, and teal is your favorite color, the point goes to Bloglines. If you prefer a desktop application most of the time, then NewsGator Online is a fine reader to add to the pile. Otherwise, Google Reader with its speed and lack of wasted features is the champ for the seriously addicted.

Your turn…what “feeds” your habit and why?

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