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For news geeks, it might have seemed like the end of the world when Google Reader announced it was shutting its doors on July 1, killing a product that was much-loved by its fans but apparently not by Google’s business department.
While most people were bemoaning the news in March, Instapaper founder Marco Arment wrote that actually, it was great for fans of the service:
“Now, we’ll be forced to fill the hole that Reader will leave behind, and there’s no immediately obvious alternative. We’re finally likely to see substantial innovation and competition in RSS desktop apps and sync platforms for the first time in almost a decade.”
And that’s just what we’ve seen. Since Google’s announcement, there’s been a burst of launches of some variation of an RSS reader or new reading app. Many of the apps are quite similar to the old Google Reader — to a certain extent, if you’re just doing a basic replication of Google Reader, there’s not much to think about in terms of design.
But there are some key differences among the RSS options — including mobile options, development resources and cost. So we decided to break down some of the leading options to help you figure out which one is right for you. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s an overview of some of the most popular or interesting choices out there.
Have a favorite, or disagree with our verdicts? Leave a comment below and let us know.
Overview: The fast-growing Feedly (it’s now up to 12 million users) has emerged as the most fully fledged alternative to Reader: It’s operating in its own cloud (rather than using Google Reader’s backend); it has browser, mobile and desktop apps as well as a web-only version; and it’s partnering with companies like IFTTT — as well as various other RSS readers — that are creating separate apps using it. If you desire, you can make its interface look quite similar to Google Reader’s by selecting the “Titles Only” view; you can also choose a more magazine-like view.
Feedly is also gradually building in some curation features and metrics — a little icon appears next to posts showing how many times they’ve been shared on Feedly, Google+ (s GOOG) and Facebook (s FB); hopefully it will soon include tweets. A monetization program for publishers is coming, too.
One headache: If you’ve grown accustomed to Google Reader’s keyboard shortcuts, some of them are the same on Feedly — and, irritatingly, some of them aren’t (Shift-A for “mark all as read” becomes Shift-M in Feedly), and you can’t customize your own.
Best for: Users who want a Google Reader-like experience with a lot of other features, and who want to be fairly sure they’re using a product that isn’t going to be shut down any time soon.
Mobile options: iOS and Android apps; Chrome, Safari (s AAPL) and Firefox apps; web-only version.
— Laura Owen
Overview: For a few years, Reeder has been a popular RSS reader for iOS and Mac; it synced with Google Reader to provide a nice mobile reading interface. The company has said Reeder will continue after July 1, but it’s not updating all its platforms at the same time: Right now, the iPhone app supports feedbin.me and standalone RSS, with the company saying “the plan is to add more services you can choose from in the next weeks and months.” (Feedly and Feed Wrangler are two of the services that will be supported.)
The iPad and Mac clients haven’t been updated for a post-Google Reader world yet, and it’s not clear what the timeline for that is.
Best for: Users who are devoted to Reeder already and primarily use it on their phones. Once July 1 rolls around, the Mac and iPad versions are going to be useless until Reeder updates them to work with services besides Google Reader, although the company says support is coming.
Mobile options: iPhone, iPad, Mac
Price: $2.99 (iPhone), free for now (iPad, Mac)
— Laura Owen
Overview: Digg’s product doesn’t launch to the general public until Tuesday. We wrote extensively about NYC-based incubator Betaworks and its quest to remake Digg, and how the RSS reader fits into the company’s social news ambitions. The product is still in development, and has a lot of features in the works. That’s exciting, but it means you might run into bugs here and there.
It’s exceedingly simple to import your existing Google Reader feeds and get started with Digg reader (no going over to Google and downloading a zip file). There’s no magazine view, but you can toggle between list and expanded view. The web version of Digg will launch along with iPhone and iPad apps, and you can save your articles to Instapaper, Pocket and Readability, in addition to sharing them to social networks or giving them a “Digg.” The “Popular” tab shows which of the articles in your feeds are most popular with other readers.
Plus, we’re excited for upcoming features like IFTTT integration (get certain articles added to your feed from non-RSS sources, like URLs tweeted from a Twitter user), the ability to perform a search on all the articles in your feeds, and article popularity by geographic region, just to name a few.
Best for: High volume readers who want a no-frills design and speedy functionality, as well as early adopters who don’t mind testing out new features.
Mobile options: iPhone and iPad available Tuesday at the product’s launch, and Android coming in 3-4 weeks.
Price: Free, with paid options coming at some point in the future.
— Eliza Kern
Overview: A freemium RSS product with a number of handy features, NewsBlur’s interface is fairly similar to Google Reader’s, but it looks wonkier — and it includes some clever additions. One of NewsBlur’s best features is the option to view just the text of a story (no images and formatting), or to read a post as it appears on the original site. (Users of the old Google Reader plugin “Super Full Feeds” will love this.) A feature called “Blurblogs” lets your friends read the posts you share on Newsblur, along with your comments about the stories, even if they’re not NewsBlur users themselves. And you can rate stories as you go, teaching NewsBlur about the content you like and don’t like.
Best for: Users who are willing to pay up for more features. The premium edition of NewsBlur is $24 a year, and while a free version does exist, there’s currently a long waiting list for it. Even if you could access it, the free version is limited: You can only subscribe to 64 feeds and read up to 10 stories from each, for example, and the feeds aren’t pushed out as often. I definitely wish NewsBlur offered a free trial period: You can test a free version with a pre-selected set of content, but you can’t do a free trial with your own content.
Mobile options: Web, iOS, Android.
— Laura Owen
The Old Reader
Overview: The Old Reader has been in beta for about a year. Once you import your Google Reader feeds (which you have to do using Google Takeout; The Old Reader can’t do it automatically), the bare-bones interface looks pretty similar to Google Reader, and thankfully, most of the keyboard shortcuts are the same.
The Old Reader intends to replace the in-app sharing features that Google Reader had before Google killed them. Since The Old Reader hasn’t emerged as a leader in the RSS reader space, though, few of your friends are likely to be using it. That means sharing within the service isn’t very useful, and you can’t share to outside services like Twitter and Facebook.
Best for: Users who want an interface that looks very similar to Google Reader, and who want to be able to use the same keyboard shortcuts. Be warned, though: The Old Reader’s creators have repeatedly stressed that this isn’t their full-time job, and they’re relying largely on user donations, so it’s not a great idea to pin your hopes on this as a service that is guaranteed to be around for a long time, and you can’t expect it to be updated on a regular basis.
Mobile options: None
— Laura Owen
Overview: Feedbin is a paid service that works pretty much like Google Reader and allows you to import all of your feeds. Feedbin has the muted aesthetic of apps like Reeder, and a similar layout and keyboard shortcuts to Google Reader. While some users might not want to pay the subscription price for Feedbin, it’s a popular product and is continually adding features.
Users of Reeder’s popular iPhone app will enjoy Feedbin support, meaning you could use Feedbin on the web and Reeder for iPhone.
Best for: People who also want to use the Reeder apps, and people who don’t mind paying for a reliable service with advanced features.
Mobile options: While it doesn’t produce mobile apps of its own, Feedbin’s API allows other developers like Reeder, Press, or Slow Feeds to provide syncing experiences for your feeds.
Price: $2 per month or $20 per year.
— Eliza Kern
Overview: Pulse, which LinkedIn (s LNKD) acquired earlier this year, is an image-heavy news-reading app (for iOS and Android) that’s more similar in interface to tablet magazines like Flipboard and Zite than to Google Reader. You select the news sources you want to subscribe to and can also choose from curated selections like “Best of Technology.” Then you view the headlines in a graphical grid. Sharing to LinkedIn (s LNKD), Facebook and Twitter, as well as by email, is easy.
Best for: Users who like the experience of Flipboard and Zite but want to make sure they don’t miss any headlines from a given source and don’t trust algorithms to surface content for them. If you’re someone who relied on Google Reader to do your job, though, Pulse likely won’t fit the bill — it’s not easy to skim through headlines quickly.
Mobile options: iOS, Android, web.
— Laura Owen
Overview: Bloglovin is another RSS product from Betaworks (the team behind Digg), and it targets a fairly specific audience: people who read a lot of visually oriented content. It has a huge following among fashion bloggers, in particular. It’s quite easy to import your existing feeds into Bloglovin, and it provides you with tabs for both your own blogs and blog posts that are popular with other users right now (similar to Pinterest’s trending topics.)
Bloglovin doesn’t look much like Google Reader, and if you’re reading mostly text-based articles, it might not be a good fit. But if you follow a lot of fashion, design or photography blogs, it’s worth checking out. For each article, you can mark them as “read,” like, or share to social networks and read-it-later services. The company just launched Android and iPad versions in May, and has 4.5 million unique visitors per month. One fun feature allows you to read the articles on their original page, and tab through your articles in a Bloglovin bar that sits at the top, giving you the original blog’s experience along with RSS organization.
Best for: People who follow visually oriented blogs on topics like fashion, cooking, design, or photography. Also great if you’re looking for new reading suggestions in these categories.
Mobile options: Apps for iPhone, iPad, Android
— Eliza Kern
Overview: Now this is unexpected: AOL has launched an RSS reader, jumping on the bandwagon even if the company isn’t really known for attracting news nerds anymore. Starting Monday, the company will let users import their feeds and begin reading.
The downsides are that you have you go into Google and download a zip file of your current subscriptions to import your feeds. While I figured it out, it’s certainly a multi-step process that isn’t as easy as integrating some of the other RSS readers. There is also a large ad on the right-hand side of the feed that you can’t get rid of.
But it gets ths job done — it’s a pretty basic RSS reader without too many frills. The product is free to use and it’s optimized for mobile, although it doesn’t have native apps yet. (Plus, it prompted me to create an AOL email address, which was a fun throwback to my 90’s childhood.)
Best for: Current AOL users and people who want a basic, free experience.
Mobile options: Web versions are optmized for mobile, but no native mobile apps yet.
— Eliza Kern