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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=]

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 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 Since then, not a lot has changed and the interface seems out of date against today’s richer, more visual apps.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?

29 Responses to “Web Worker Head to Head (to Head): Google Reader, NewsGator Online & Bloglines”

  1. I use both Bloglines and Google Reader, but I profer Google Reader because it appears on my iGoogle home page. However, Bloglines allows me to share all my feeds with anyone simply by giving them the URL of my public account. This way of sharing is missing in iGoogle. The sharing seems to be more restricted.

  2. Laura

    I’ve been using NewsGator Online for quite a while now. I use it at home and work, so web-based is the way to go, for me. I think if I used something that was integrated with my email, I’d just get distracted. I prefer to have to make a conscious choice to click to the feed reader.

    (I only have one gripe with it — when I right-click a feed and choose “Mark All As Read,” I actually have to do that *twice* for it to work. I just work around this by left-clicking the feed name (which displays the list of posts) and then choosing “Mark All As Read”.)

  3. I am currently using google reader. I love it, withone exception: organizing feeds. Can we get some drag and drop functionality here? I also love netvibes, but haven’t found a good way to use it for ~100 feeds. Any suggestions?

  4. I’m a Bloglines user myself. Tried Rojo, Google Reader, but came back to Bloglines, like the prodigal son. From Lifehacker’s posts it seems like there’s a lot you can do with Google Reader if you’re on Firefox. I’m not–I use Opera and find that Bloglines works best with Opera. None of that fancy-shmancy Web 2.0 stuff which isn’t the best for my not-so-fast Internet connection.

    Bloglines could do with a few improvements to make life easier though.

  5. Admin

    I’ve been using Google reader, it’s very fast and very simple to use. Also the integration with the personalized google homepage is a plus.

  6. For online, Google Reader and Bloglines win (well, at least I use them). I like the Greasemonkey hack that allows me to use Google Reader in Gmail. Very nice!! I also like to see my feeds on my iGoogle accounts. Nice, too.

    However, all of this being said, I still prefer the desktop app Omea Pro ( ). It’s FANTASTIC!! So many useful features, much better than either Google Reader or Bloglines.

  7. I’ve settled with Google Reader after being frustrated with some of the others. I’ll admit it: I’ve only started to read feeds consistently since Google Reader. But the reading experience took a greater ease when I installed Better Gmail application, available as an add-on via Firefox. I’ve only checked the Gmail+GReader option and now am reading email, G Talking, and reading feeds all from the same window.
    Sometimes, updates are not instant – I know from checking if feeds from my own blog have updated. Typically, I’ll select ‘All items,’ scroll down to the last high-lighted feed and scan thru using the K key. That’s all I use, unless I want to go forward – J key.
    If I like a post and want to read further – meaning I may write about it on my blog – I’ll star it and come back to it later.

  8. Daniel Lucraft

    I tried Google Reader after hearing how great it was from everyone, but there’s one BIG downside: they broke the back button! I often hit back when reading feeds, often because I’m clicking through fast and then I want to go back. Bloglines remains top for me.

  9. Bloglines is still the only service that allows you to share your public feeds in a nice OMPL format. Others can impost/export opml, but none provide a URL you can use to add your feed list to your homepage. I also find Bloglines Keep New feature very handy and easy to use.

    I have not been happy with any reader’s “clip/share/etc” feature. I would like a reader to allow me to add a short paragraph why I’m sharing the item, and then have a link to the real article (not a reader landing page).

  10. I’ve used Feed Demon and NewsGator for a long time now and would never go back to a free service.

    Paid beats free for features, service, innovation and support … every time.

  11. Like others here, I was a big desktop client fan for years, I used NewsGator Inbox and FeedDemon on the PC and NewsFire on the Mac (tried NetNewsWire and, unlike most Mac folk I know, didn’t care for it). The whole syncing thing just wore me down. I switched to Google Reader at the beginning of this year and I’m sold. It gets better all the time, is accessible on both my Mac and Tablet PC and on my mobile devices. The recently improved “e-mail this” feature is great – I just wish it was integrated into my Gmail so the items I sent from Reader were saved in my Sent folder (yes, I have sent in a feature request).

  12. I’m addicted to Bloglines.
    I don’t need a fancy inteface. I only need something efficient, that works.
    And Bloglines does this perfectly (There are rare downtimes and glitches in feed updating, though).

    The interface has keyboard navigation and asynchronous (AJAX) updates.

  13. I’ve used desktop apps – and among them I must say that NetNewsWire is by far the best – well, the best with my mac. But, because I travel between computers (as well as between OS’s), I have to use an online reader – And Google’s is by far the best. It’s shortcuts and speed, as you said, put it head and shoulders above its competitors.

  14. gjosefsberg

    I use Google homepage. It’s nice and it allows me to sort and categorize my feeds plus include a few useful tools in there too.

    Question though, does Feedburner track NewsGator subscriptions? It was a bit hard to tell from the article.


  15. Dennis

    I used Vienna for a long time after the NewsFire stopped being free. Just recently greader came into play since I started using Google Apps for my domain. At any rate, I didn’t like greader at first, but have come to really enjoy using it.

    I just need to learn those blasted key commands ;)

  16. Google Reader (by a long shot.) Ease of use, keyboard navigation, and an excellent interface. (Not that I’m trying to be picky, but I avoided even trying Bloglines for the longest time because what I had seen of the UI, in my opinion, looked rather unattractive… at least to the point where it would impact my desire to use it with any regularity.

    I’ve often wondered if I’m alone in thinking this…?