- I need a front end that shows me the contents of the blog posts - preferably on both a computer and on my phone
- I need an online database of what feeds I've subscribed to and what stories I've read
The second point is important because to date, many alternatives to Reader (to name just one example, Newsrob which I used for a while) provided custom front ends but behind the scenes they synced with Reader's database rather than maintaining their own. That approach will soon stop working.
I began with the Lifehacker article where I first heard about it. A desktop app would be cumbersome for me, so I started with the four online services they named: Netvibes, Feedly, Newsblur, and The Old Reader. Here are my first impressions:
- Newsblur has a nice look and feel, and it has the functionality I'm looking for. It also has some nice spiffs (scroll down to "the next three months") such as the ability to "learn" and afterwards filter or prioritize posts for you. It's a one-man operation staggering under the load of something like 30X growth in one week, so it's throwing a lot of errors right now. The free version is limited but I'm willing to pay the $24 a year if it stabilizes.
- Feedly came highly recommended (to be precise, by 65% of respondents to a Lifehacker poll). But for some reason they require users to install a browser plugin (see below). I was a bit put off by such a brash request, but I went along with it. Then I discovered that you cannot create a Feedly account without providing login credentials to either Facebook or Google. You can't just make up a new username and password and be anonymous. Maybe I'm paranoid but allowing a company to see everything in my web browser and have access to my Facebook or Google account made me fear I might be leaving myself open to identity theft. Not necessarily from Feedly, but maybe from somebody who hacks them, or buys them.
- Netvibes appears to be oriented towards social media professionals, that is, marketers. What they call a "basic" account is free; they charge for things like analytics for brand management. This is a very nice feedreader considering that it's built for people who read for very different purposes than I do. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised it's good, since marketing people actually get paid to read the internet all day.
- The Old Reader was actually patterned after a previous design of Google Reader. You might recall the teething pains of the last few years as Google rolled out its "MOAR WHITE" look-and-feel. The implementation of that look on Reader was particularly ugly and difficult to use, so some folks coded up a new site that looked like, well, the old Reader. When Google stripped the "sharing" functionality out of Reader a year and a half ago, The Old Reader retained it. Encouraged, I went to the site to create an account, only to discover that they too demanded that I log in either with Facebook or Google credentials. Since I already had two good alternatives at that point, I declined to open my kimono to another stranger.
Reader's death sentence has created a power vacuum, and some growth-minded dotcoms are stepping in. Digg has announced they're working on a reader, so I've filed that away to keep track of. If you want to read more, the Google Reader tag on Lifehacker has been busy. You can also visit the Google Reader Users community on Google+. In fact, there is so much being said about the passing of Reader that I'm confident you could spend the next three months reading it all and not have any time left over to actually do anything about it.