Many of you probably know by now that Google has pulled the plug on its Reader program. The move caused a lot of furor among hardcore information consumers and internet power users. In the wake of the decision, internet experts scrambled to plug the web with recommendations for replacements and predictions on the demise of RSS. Few stopped to look at the bigger picture, adequately summed up by a comment on one of my own Facebook statuses: “What the hell is an RSS?”
I believe that simple question sums up the reason that Google pulled its industry leading service. RSS is a niche market not worth the time and effort to innovate, improve, or even maintain. If more people used it, or were even aware of it, maybe the service would still be worth supporting for Google.
So what is RSS? Well the short answer is that it stands for “Rich Site Summary” although it has often been more accurately dubbed “Really Simple Syndicate.” Basically when you create an RSS feed, you’re telling the service to watch a list of websites, look for any new updates, and report them back to you when they occur. It’s supposed to be a “really simple” way of keeping up to date with sites without having to check them every single day. It’s a DIY newspaper or magazine built entirely around the internet that keeps a digital finger on the content you crave.
I fell in love with the technology through my addiction to webcomics. I currently subscribe to roughly 80 webcomics. Some of these are done and dead, some are on a long term hiatus, others update erratically, and a wonderful few update daily or regularly each week. Keeping track of the regular updates is usually easy until I find myself going three weeks without internet. Tracking the erratic or vacationing comics is even harder. An RSS feed does the leg work for me by providing me with a list of new content and allowing me to review it or save my place for later. The more advanced ones even allow a user to share content directly to Facebook or other social media outlets. Google Reader was ideal for all of these tasks. It provided a clean and simple interface. Because it was tied into my Gmail account, it was widely and easily accessible through any browser or through the mobile app. For news nerds, it’s a great way to aggregate news data to provide a steady stream of input.
For this column, I’m going to branch out a little and include some multimedia. I’m going to walk you through three different Google Reader alternatives, show you how to set them up and configure them, and then show you how useful they can be for compiling information so that you can start your own. I’ll end off with a few lists from my own feed to help you find your way.
First up is Old Reader:
Old Reader is a wonderfully simplistic RSS reader. The only real drawback to it is that it’s only available on the web right now, there is no mobile app and I’m not aware of any plans to add one. However if all you want is a simple, effective, and easy to navigate browser reader then it doesn’t get much better than Old Reader.
Next up we have Pulse:
This is one of the best looking Readers if you like your feed to have a more of a magazine feel to it. It has a pretty simple user interface, and it’s available on the web or through a mobile app.
Finally I look at Feedly:
This is by far my favorite Reader. It gives you the option of organizing and displaying your feeds in the traditional single line manner or in the more updated magazine view. It also has a mobile app.
The only thing that I have noticed with Feedly is that not all websites, particularly webcomics, are set up to have graphics display properly in the reader itself. For those you will have to click back through to the main site to read the comic. That’s not a terrible thing, since webcomic sites often rely on direct traffic to generate ad revenue.
There are also plenty of other options out there. Unfortunately many of these simply rely on Google Readers back end servers to aggregate the information and just give you a shinier interface. If you’re really nerdy, you can always set up a RSS server on your own personal website.
For the novice user, here are a few lists of starter sites to help you on your way, or to update your current feeds. The first link is to the site itself; the second will take you directly to the RSS link that you can copy and paste in your Reader. Additionally, you can look for the RSS Icon on any of your favorite websites.