In seven days Google pulls the plug on its popular Google Reader service, the feed aggregator that acts as the backend for most of our popular reading apps such as Reeder and Mr.Reader. Several new aggregators have been announced, including a new offering from AOL, but there isn’t one that gives us everything we are used to.
Not wishing to be caught with my pants down on July 1, I have just signed up for a one-year subscription to Feed Wrangler which has been highly recommended by Federico Viticci of Macstories. Based on this respected opinion, I thought I would take a flier. I have fourteen days in which to reclaim my $19 from Feed Wrangler if I don’t like it.
Before turning to Feed Wrangler I opened accounts with Feedly and AOL, just to see how they worked. Both had quite impressive UIs but, for some reason, all I could achieve was a link to my existing Google Reader account. AOL, as usual, was intrusive, asking all sorts of personal details and forcing me to sign up for a “screen name.” I thought I had heard the last of that over ten years ago, so I was not impressed. Maybe I missed something, but I was unable to run either system independently of GR.
Meanwhile, I signed up to Feed Wrangler yesterday and have had only 24 hours to play. I was impressed by the ease of set up and I quite like the minimalist approach to both the web view (a Mac app is due soon) and the free iPhone/iPad apps. There is one disappointment for me. Unlike other systems I tried (such as Feedly, AOL and existing apps such as Reeder), Feed Wrangler does not import Google Reader groups and there appears to be no way of sorting the long, muddled list of feeds that appears as soon as you input your Google credentials. Again, I imagine this is something that will be added later.
Up to now I have been obsessing about finding an aggregator that would sync with Reeder. I use Reeder apps on Mac and both my iOS devices. They have an excellent interface and an impressive list of features. As a result, in common with most users, I never accessed GR direct and relied entirely on supplementary reader apps for browsing articles and sending read-later stuff to Instapaper
I am now rethinking that. All I do in Reeder, for instance, is scan headlines, occasionally viewing the web version of a story that grabs my immediate attention, but mostly I just send interesting items direct to Instapaper. If you want only these functions, Feed Wranger excels. There is a big “I” for Instapaper button in the web view and both iOS versions have a “wrangle” view which presents headlines alongisde the Instapaper button. It couldn’t be simpler and I begin to wonder why I need an intermediary between the feed aggregator and Instapaper.
This morning was my first serious session dealing with the overnight news in one spot. Despite all my feeds, technology, news and photography being thrown into one list, I got through the task with no problems and found it quicker than I have been used to when using Reeder. In fact, I suspected I was missing some feeds so went back to Reeder, checked to see if there was anything I had missed, then back to Feed Wrangler to go through feeds one by one. Nothing was missing and all the feeds were working. It just appears to do the job in a quicker and more productive way.
Feed Wranger is very minimalist. There are no alternative views such as you are offered in Reeder, Feedly or AOL. Other apps offer tiling, headlines with summaries and other ways of viewing the feeds. FW offers a list of headlines and, when an item is selected, an excellent text view with options to email the article or share on social sites. This is enough for me, although I could imagine some power users feeling limited.
Feed Wrangler does offer filters and “smart streams” to permit a level of customisation but so far I have not explored further.
Off the bandwagon
At the very least, I am now off the Google Reader bandwagon and I do not have to panic at the last minute. Whether or not I have found my true home with Feed Wrangler remains to be seen; but it is certainly promising and does almost everything I want. The lack of a rigid folder¹ structure for categorising my feeds is the only thing I miss.
Before I commit, though, I am keen to try the new Digg Reader which is currently in beta. Since it issues from Betaworks, the new owners of Instapaper, there could be opportunity for more advanced integration between the two.
In the past Google has given little attention to Google Reader and has been content to offer a basic web interface and leave independent apps such as Reader to cream off the market for processing. Now we have more pro-active aggregators such as Feed Wranger and Digg in play, it is quite possible that there will be no room for intermediary apps. It makes sense, particularly for me when I analyse my daily workflow.
¹ Having explored the Smart Stream facility I now realise this can be used in place of a folder structure and, in some ways, is more powerful and satisfactory. I will report further on my experiences later.
Shortly after publishing this article I read that Oliver Fürniß’s popular Mr Reader app for iPad is supporting Feed Wrangler. Mr Reader was always my choice the the iPad but because there is no iPhone companion or desktop version I tended towards Reader in recent months.