High Variance

A Google Reader Replacement: The Nerderati Have Spoken

For those readers who didn’t know why it was a big deal, Google Reader was two really cool but distinct things. First, it was a web site where you could specify a large number of other web sites (aka “feeds”) that publish articles you might want to read. It would then present those articles all together in a neat list. It would keep track of what was new, what you hadn’t read yet, and what you’d already read. And it was far far more efficient than going from site to site hitting refresh like a rat pressing a lever for another hit of crack. This is especially true for people (like me) that read a lot of sites that don’t publish very often or can go through long dry spells.

I found the Google Reader web site kind of clunky and ugly, but you didn’t actually have to ever visit it to experience the benefits. Google Reader also provided a service so that third party apps could access the same data and keep your subscriptions in sync if you used apps on different PC’S or post-PC devices. This is what I used to do, and it was fantastic. I would use the beautiful/fast/powerful Reeder app on my phone, Mac, and iPad to browse my feeds wherever I was. I even used the Google Reader website occasionally.

And then Google announced they were shutting it all down on July 1. Panic ensued, but the nerderati told us to be patient–they promised even better alternatives would quickly blossom to take its place. It took a few months, but they were right. Unfortunately, I’ve had a busy spring and summer and haven’t had the time to try them all to find the best one. Luckily, lots of other folks have invested their time and I think there’s a decent consensus for a winner.

David Sparks at MacSparky, Federico Vittici at MacStories, Shawn Blanc, Marco Arment, and Dr. Drang have all settled on Feed Wrangler. It’s a service that offers all the features Google Reader did. It costs $19.99 per year, but that’s a small price to pay for stability. With paying customers, they won’t have nearly the temptation to just turn it off if they don’t feel like running it anymore. They won’t be shoving ads down our throat either which I always felt was just around the corner with Google Reader.

Feed Wrangler has a web site for reading and also provides free client apps for the iPhone and iPad. The iPhone client has some serious flaws. It’s definitely slower to sync new stuff than Reeder was. It doesn’t support gestures to mark things read or unread. And worst of all, the default (unchangeable) font size is too small for me to read unless I’m wearing my reading glasses. Thank goodness my old standby Reeder will be supporting Feed Wrangler soon. I don’t read much on my iPad, but Mr. Reader already supports the Feed Wrangler service.

Perhaps the best part about Feed Wrangler is the two things it does that Google Reader never did. Smart Streams let you define “collections” of articles based on keywords and sources. It’s much more powerful than a folder and will let me sip from the high volume feeds that I would normally stay away from. Filters are the opposite–you can define key words that will cause an article to be automatically considered read and thus ignored. This way I can subscribe to the ESPN feed and never have to read another story about hockey or NASCAR. Bill Simmons’ ESPN Outsider has arrived!

Google Reader is dead, but it was stagnant for years. I’m legitimately excited about a new era of innovation. Feed Wrangler has just won round one.