With the impending loss of Google Reader on July 1, 2013, a mass exodus of loyal users went off in search of their new RSS messiah. Enter Feedly.
But what is it?
Feedly is a news feed aggregator – or in friendlier speak – your personalized online newspaper. Over 50 million websites and blogs that have RSS or Atom feeds can be added to Feedly. If you are looking for a replacement for Google Reader, this is it. If you are looking to read and keep track of your favorite sites all in one place, keep reading.
A personal case
I’m a RSS feed junkie. It has been years since my unread count was below “1000+.” In fact, most of my folders and even several individual subscriptions say “1000+.” Google Reader tells me I have 281 subscriptions, and that I’ve been a regular user since March 19, 2008. I’ve read a total of 186,042 items.
Sounds unproductive. But perhaps my use of Google Reader is a special case. If I find a blog in which I might be interested, or a topic I am researching, I subscribe. It may be months before I revisit it, but in this instance Google Reader acts as a sort of “live bookmark” engine for me. I’ve truly grown to rely on it as my daily information and news source.
For many, Google Reader isn’t necessarily how they digest their news. However, it is the central hub that serves up their feed collection to a number of other readers. Losing Google Reader doesn’t just mean losing an app, it means losing your feed list. It’s how you keep all that news in sync across many devices and other services. It’s not like you can just choose another service, when all the other reader apps you’ve tried sync with Google Reader. Feedly is the first to address this.
By the numbers
I’m not the only one who switched to Feedly. A March 15 blog update revealed over 500,000 Google Reader users had joined Feedly within 48 hours of the shutdown announcement. That’s huge. 68% of users who try Feedly end up converting into weekly active users. Today, Feedly’s homepage states that more than 3,000,000 Google Reader users have switched to Feedly since the shutdown notice.
Why I chose it
Having tried the Android app back in Summer of 2011, I had an early taste of it on both tablet and phone. It was pretty solid then; certainly a novel idea to use a “magazine” style to browse my news feeds, a la Flipboard or Google Currents. A 10-inch screen is just begging for that type of visualized content. You can view your feeds in list view, but “magazine” is where it really shines. I actually find it faster to digest content this way when mobile. It’s a much more graphical way to read your feeds.
On the phone, I thought it was nice, but not nearly as nice as on a tablet. So I stuck with my old one-two punch: Google Reader and Pulse. Pulse is very similar to Feedly on mobile, but it allows you to swipe through multiple feeds on the same page. It’s great for a quick overview of your entire reading list, but is lacking in overall control. The web version of Pulse is also not for me. Feedly has grown up a lot since then, and all for the better.
Here are some of the reasons I went all-in with Feedly:
Use it on the Desktop, Phone and Tablet. The desktop version is an add-on for the Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Safari browsers. I’m okay with there not being a standalone app, but that may be an issue for some who already use several extensions in their browsers, or use Internet Explorer or Opera. Multi-platform support is the single most important thing I look for when deciding on a new service of any kind.
2) Consistent experience, across all platforms
The mobile app interface is the same on both Android and iOS. Consistency is important to me. The design guidelines mesh well between the desktop and mobile versions, including tablets. One of the best parts of the mobile app are the gestures – they make digesting content extremely quick and easy: short (center) swipe from right to left across an article to mark it as read, left to right for unread. Long swipe to mark the page as un/read (a page has 1, 5, or 6 article titles depending on your view). There are four view options: Title Only, List, Magazine, and Cards. Essentially, each view adds a picture or a little bit more information – perhaps the first sentence or two of the article. Even better, you can choose the view independently for each feed and folder. You can also set a default view for all feeds, and then adjust the ones you want.
3) Choices, once again
Feedly just announced a free service for select 3rd-party apps (currently Press, Reeder, G Reader, Nextgen, and Newsify). You can now use Feedly as your new central hub. The scariest part of Google Reader going away is now of little concern. I really like Feedly’s app, but choice is something on which we can all agree is a good thing.
Everything is synced in the background. Seamlessly go between phone, tablet, and computer without having to find your place.
5) Keyboard shortcuts
Feedly uses the same keyboard shortcuts for core navigation, and similar ones for other functions as Google Reader. There are less total shortcuts available than in Google
Reader, but the ones available should cover the bases.
5) Sharing integration
Save articles to read later within Feedly, or use a third-party app such as Pocket, Evernote, Instapaper, Pinterest, etc., as well as share with friends to all the major social networks.
6) A customized experience
Change your theme, change your view. Make your own categories, pick specific views for each feed and folder. Browse by feed or by folder. Now, even choose your app.
7) Committed to its new flock
The Feedly team has nearly bent over backward to support its new users in far more ways than expected. After the shutdown announcement, they provided tips to make Feedly “less pretty” and more like Google Reader to bring back the familiar feel.
8) Continuous improvement
Feedly has only gotten better since I’ve begun to use it. A small quirk in the Android app was that it didn’t providing proper situational queues. I would often “back out of” the app from feed view, then have to reload it. It now opens your category list before exit, which is a welcome fix. There are regular updates to the web and mobile apps, and Feedly often surveys its users for what types of features they want (such as more robust sharing, and a full-service web app that doesn’t require a browser extension).
9) First counts for something
Feedly was one of, if not the first, to announce that it was working on its own replacement for the Google Reader API. As such, they are able to give all users (who log in before July 1) a seamless transitionary experience from Google Reader. What this means is “all your feeds are safe.” In a time of short-burst panic, having a company say “don’t worry, we’ve got you covered” is comforting. As the first to release the API, they’ve positioned themselves as the market leader. Don’t just switch to Feedly for the fantastic apps, switch for the freedom of choice.
As it stands right now, most sites don’t have Feedly integration built into their RSS buttons. However, you can add those sites directly through Feedly, through its fantastic search tool. Also, there is no offline support – you can’t save your feeds for offline viewing. Feedly says offline support is the next big feature they are working on. This may be a deal breaker for people who commute on trains.
Better safe than sorry
Feedly works for me, and it’s my new go-to. But it may not work for you, and that’s OK. At the very least, your feeds will be safe because you logged in and tried it. So here is my advice to you: if you are considering trying a different reader before July 1, and it offers to import your feeds, do it. Do it now. Do it with all the apps in which you might have an interest. It’s better to save your options now than to have to manually add your hundreds of feeds later.
To be doubly covered, go to Google’s Data Liberation Front and export your feed data to a XML file so that you may import that into any other reader that supports it.
But do we need simply a replacement, or is there more?
In looking for a replacement, I’ll admit – I wanted something as close to Google Reader as possible. I was comfortable. But worse, I was comfortable with stagnation. Google Reader has not changed much over the years, aside from two notable updates: 1) A UI overhaul, and 2) the removal of its robust sharing options in favor of Google+ sharing. While familiar and usable are a good thing, Google Reader was more of a snapshot of when an app was ahead of its time. And then time caught up. Not only is Feedly a suitable replacement to Google Reader for me, but it is a superior replacement. It has features I never knew I would like because I was so comfortable. It has a more modern and functional design, better use of space, rapid updates, and shortcuts galore. The mobile apps are a dream to use, and best of all, it’s all one service. There is no weirdness of cross-service syncing that would happen when using other apps. Luckily, there is still the option to use other apps with the service. I think Feedly will take the crown as the new king of RSS.
How about you? Leave your thoughts in the comments!