Category Archives: RSS Readers
With the demise of Google Reader lots of users seem to have given up on RSS. Which is a shame as it's still the fastest, most efficient way to keep up with lots of news sources. There's a new breed of free news readers that are as good or better than Goggle Reader ever was. Here are five that work on the desktop and in at least some mobile browsers.
The readers were tested for cross-browser support in desktop Firefox and Chrome and with the Android browser and Opera Mini for Android. Cross browser support varied with the majority of the RSS readers having issues with one or more browsers.
InoReader (images above) is my current favorite mobile and desktop RSS/Atom Reader. It's lightweight, fast, stable and seems to do the best job of staying up to date with new items.
InoReader uses separate mobile and desktop templates. The user interface in both versions is similar to Google Reader's final desktop and touch mobile versions. But, unlike the touch version of Google Reader, InoReader works well in Opera Mini.
The Old Reader (image below, left) seems to have been inspired by Google Reader before before Google removed all the social features. It lets you follow other user's feeds and easy share content with other Old Reader users and on Facebook. After Google Reader shut down The Old Reader was my favorite until I found InoReader.
The Old Reader is probably the most popular of the current crop of mobile friendly Web based readers and it got badly overloaded right after Google Reader shut down. It was slow and offline a lot at first but seems stable now.
The Old Reader uses a responsive design which works well in the Android browser but has a lot of wasted space at the top of the screen. It's usable in Opera Mini but some features like marking items as read are broken.
The AOL Reader (image above, right) has a clean design and the ability to star favorite items and share or save them on a long list of services including Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Linkedin, Readability, Evernote, StumbleUpon and Weibo.
AOL Reader uses separate desktop and mobile layouts. It works well on the desktop and with the Android JellyBean Browser and Firefox for Android. But it locks up in the Android Gingerbread browser and the login form is broken in Opera Mini.
Curata Reader (image below, left) has what I think is the most attractive visual design of the five readers. I like that it displays items in expanded form rather than as headlines or excepts that you have to click to expand. However it only displays the 20 newest items with no way to see more.
Unlike most readers Curata doesn't keep of what you have read and can't show you only unread items. That might bother some users but it's not a big deal to me as I like to read feed items chronologically from the newest to the oldest. When I find myself re-reading something I've seen before I know I'm done.
Curata Reader has good social features. You can give flag items for latter reading, give them a thumbs up or down and share them on Twitter, Facebook or by email. Curata Reader worked in all the tested browsers.
Newsvibe (image above, right) uses a responsive design which unfortunately seems to work better on PCs than phones. The login form is truncated and unusable work in portrait orientation in the Android browser. You have to switch to landscape to log in and then pages don't reflow properly when switching back to portrait. Another annoyance in the Amdroid browser is that pages are formatted slightly wider than the screen making them tend to skew sideways when scrolling.
But the biggest misfeature of Newsvibe is that it only displays excerpts of items even if the feed contains the item's full text. That forces you to click through to the source site to read the rest wasting time and bandwidth . Newsvibe also seems slower than other readers to pickup new items.
Newsvibe worked in all tested browsers except Opera Mini where the log in form is missing.
In this age of Twitter I'm finding I use RSS a lot less than I used to. Most of the bloggers and sites I used to read in my RSS reader are active on Twitter and they always Tweet a link to their latest post. But I still use RSS, particularly to follow web forums and mailing lists. People who post to forums and lists don't usually tweet about it, but many forums including the My Opera Forums and Forum Nokia as well as mailing lists that use Google and Yahoo groups have feeds.
For me at least, the combination of Opera Mini and the mobile version of Bloglines was by far the best way to consume RSS feeds on a mobile phone. The great thing about Bloglines was its option to read the full text of all your unread items as a single scrolling page "River of News" style.
I know that doesn't sound very mobile friendly and it isn't in the legacy sense of 20 KB WAP pages. But Opera Mini is capable of loading huge pages very quickly even with a really slow connection on a basic feature phone. All the other mobile readers I have seen display a list of unread items and force you to click through to each one and then click back to the list to retrieve the next item. As far as I'm concerned that's two unwanted clicks, an unnecessary page load and at least 10 wasted seconds for each item.
Bloglines, which has been dying a slow death ever since IAC acquired it in 2005, is shutting down on Oct 31. That leaves Google Reader as the only remaining Web based RSS reader that I'm aware of that has a mobile version. As I've ranted about before, Reader's mobile and "iPhone" versions both have a particularly inefficient click each item and wait interface. And the desktop version of Reader doesn't seem to work at all in any mobile browser where I've tried it.
I was really dreading the Bloglines shutdown, but then I discovered a version of Google Reader for the Nintendo Wii. It's not perfect but it does let you view all your unread feed items as a single scrolling page just like Bloglines. I've really only used this extensively in Opera Mini (image top left) but it seems like it's also usable with the UC browser and with the surprisingly good Symbian browser on the new N8 where it looks particularly nice (image top right).
There's some initial setup you need to do the first time you use Reader's Wii version in Opera Mini.
- If you want to read a subset of feeds on your mobile, set up a Reader folder containing only the feeds you want to read on your mobile device. If possible, do this on a PC as the Subscriptions setup in Reader is pretty tedious to use in Opera Mini.
- In Opera Mini enable Mobile View, visit www.google.com/reader/view/?ui=wii and log into your Google account.
- Click the "Settings" link at the top of the page and change the following:
- Set "Start Page" to "All items" or to your folder of feeds you want to read on the phone.
- Uncheck "Confirm when marking all as read" as Opera Mini is unable to display the confirmation dialog.
- Don't click the "Go to Google Reader" link as this will take you to the desktop version!! Instead press back to return to the Wii version.
- Be sure "Show Expanded" is selected and refresh the page.
- Bookmark the page. Reader will retain your settings so the next time you visit google.com/reader/view/?ui=wii will open with all your unread items on a single page.
When using the Wii version in Opera Mini items are not automatically marked as read as you scroll through them. You have to scroll to the top of the page and click the "Mark all as Read" link. Scrolling through items does seem to mark them as read in the N8 Symbian browser.
I tried the Wii version in a bunch of other mobile browsers with mixed results. Besides Opera Mini and the N8 native browser, the Wii version works well with the UC Browser in its "adaptive" fit-to-width mode. It also works in the Android browser on an old HTC Magic running Android 1.6 but text does not re-flow when zooming. When zoomed to screen width, text is readable in landscape orientation but too small for my old eyes in portrait.
Browsers where the Wii version doesn't work well enough to be usable include:
- Dolfin on the Samsung Wave bada phone where the page displays perfectly but refuses to scroll past the first item;
- Bolt 2.31 where you also can't scroll past the first item
- The N95's Nokia browser which only shows the Google Reader Navigation menu with none of the links working.
- Opera Mini 3.1 - which displays "Loading..." but no items.
- Opera Mobile 10.1 for Symbian - Text doesn't fit the screen in in Desktop View. Mobile view is barely usable. The browser appears to be to be ignoring the CSS attribute "display:none". You can only read your feed items after scrolling through about a dozen pages of of text and menus that are supposed to be hidden.
I'd be interested in hearing what happens in other browsers especially the new BlackBerry Webkit based browser and the iPhone and Palm WebOS browsers. It you try the Wii version in another browser, please leave a comment letting us know.
Google doesn't really seem to promote the Reader Wii version. Maybe it's some Googler's 20% project. But I'd love to see Google someday rework the iPhone version of Reader to incorporate the Wii one's efficient UI.
I love what Google is doing for mobile; pushing the limits of device and OS capabilities with Android, championing HTML5 and the Web as the future of mobile applications and adopting a "mobile first" philosophy where new services are rolled out before or at the same time as their desktop counterparts.
But I do have a bone to pick with the way one of Google most popular web services, Google Reader, works on mobile. I really wish I could use Reader on my Android phone and in Opera Mini on my Symbian. BlackBerry and feature phones, but I can't, it's way too slow and click or tap intensive.
So what do I use. I know you will laugh at this but I'm still using Bloglines Mobile as my RSS reader. I know, Bloglines is dated, ugly, slow to post updates and unreliable with day long outages every few months. Google Reader is attractive, loaded with cutting edge AJAX slickness and the Reader back end webservice is fast and rock-solid reliable. So why do stick with Bloglines? Simple, it lets me read my feeds on my phones in half the time that it takes with Google Reader.
Why is that? With the standard version of Bloglines Mobile (bloglines.com/mobile), taping the "N Updated Feeds" link at the top of feed list (left image, above) loads the full text of all the unread items in all subscribed feeds as one big page. Goggle Reader (image top, right) shows a list of the titles and requires you to click or tap on each one in order to read it.
Lets say I have 100 unread feed items. On my HTC Magic Android phone, with Bloglines, it takes about 30 seconds and three taps to load those 100 items into a page. Then I just flick scroll to read them with no waiting time between items. Total taps: 3, waiting time: 33 seconds.
With Google Reader (google.com/reader/i/) it takes only a tap and about 3 seconds to load the titles of the first 15 items. But reading each item requires a tap and then a wait of approximately 2 seconds for the item's text to load. Every 15 items there's another tap and a three second wait on the "Load More items..." link. Total taps: 116, waiting time: 248 seconds
All those taps and waits add up. The actual time spent reading in the two apps is about the same, but with Google Reader I waste 400% more time waiting for the app and tap an extra 113 times to read the same 100 items. That's 38 times as much tapping and four times as much waiting!
Every time Bloglines goes down for more than half a day I swear I will never use that unreliable dinosaur again and switch to Google Reader. But after a few days of using Reader I get so frustrated with its inefficiency that I run back to Bloglines, warts and all.
If any Googlers on the Reader team are reading this, please do your users a favor and throw together an alternate mobile reader interface that simply loads the full text of all the user's unread items in a single page. I think it would make a great 20% time project. Or maybe release that long promised Google Reader public API, preferably in App Engine friendly Python or Java, so someone else could do it.
I got an email from Ivan at Wattpad.com announcing his new mobile service, FeedM8. What it does is create a mobile site from an RSS feed. There are other services that do this. But the only ones I can recommend are Mowser (review), Winksite (review) and now FeedM8. I like these three because they are the only ones of the dozen or so I've tried that split long posts into mobile sized chunks and deliver clean and valid markup that works on almost any phone.
The main differences between them are that Mowser and FeedM8 resize images while Winksite strips them. FeedM8's image handling is particularly nice. Images display as small, fast loading thumbnails. Clicking a thumbnail gives choice of viewing the image in four different sizes.
If you don't want advertising on your site, only Winksite is ad-free. The other two put ads on your content but both will share the revenue with you. All three services deliver xhtml-mp, the current standard in mobile markup languages. FeedM8 and Winksite also support wml, an older standard that is all that some phones support.
Many mobile developers and publishers discount wml as old and crufty, which it is, but there's still a considerable amount of traffic being generated by wml-only phones. In the developing world where the mobile provides the only web access for most people, used phones are the norm and more often than not they are wml-only. Even in the US both Sprint/Nextel and ATT still sell new wml-only phones. My Yeswap.com site actually gets more wml traffic than xhtml-mp. Using FeedM8 or Winksite is a painless way to add mobile support including wml to your blog
FeedM8 has some nice features for publishers, you can upload a logo for your pages and a description which appears in Feed9M's site directory. There's even a statistics page where you can track your traffic and ad revenue. Feed9M gives you a halfway decent url too, mine is fdm8.com/wapreview.
Besides being a tool for publishers to create an instant mobile site, FeedM8 is also a mobile portal offering a wide selection of content, in the form of mobilized RSS feeds, from major sites like The Economist, Reuters, Business Week, GigaOm, The Times of India and BoingBoing. Users can bookmark any of these feeds or add their own to create a custom home page.
Rating: Content: Usability: