Today my RSS reader NetNewsWire reseted itself, I lost all the feeds (500+) I’ve been collecting in the past years. I don’t know what happened, but all I get was the default feed list: mac.com, BBC, Wired etc. First of all, I said bye to NetNewsWire and removed it from my computer. Although I like its clean and fast interface, I can’t take this serious error.
Then I started to look for new feed readers.
Google Reader. Well I use it sometimes, but it is very slow for my reading. Also it manages the feed list really badly. For example, it uses RSS icon after RSS icon to represent the feeds, very bad. I can’t scan them easily. I think Google Reader developers are just lazy, why not just use feeds’ own 16×16 icons like many other readers do. Share, share with a note, star, tag are necessary for large-scale conversations (Greg Smiths’s post). But these features overlap with the services I already effectively use: Del.icio.us, Twitter, etc.
Attensa. Works quite fast, but it has a poorly designed visual interface that I don’t want to stare at much. Attensa’s AttentionStream technology combines content (e.g, authors, titles, tags) with your attention to provide a relevancy ranking. Sounds exciting but the interface does not surface this “underlying” technology well. Place of the numbers, color saturation, contrasts, and font size are all poorly composed I think. It may get better if I use it more, but current prioritized lists are not relevant to my interests. If you do machine learning, please show it, show the progress, what you learn about me.
NewsGator. Slow and poor information design. It has some filtering through AideRSS, which ranks feed items based on comments, Del.icio.us history, Diggs, Tweets, etc. But this filtering does not make much sense to me, because the popularity based ranking models can not match my diverse interests well. Also I read my favorite feeds just in time, so as a paradox, items are probably being ranked after I read them.
Fav.or.it. Tried a little bit, its interface is just confusing. Too much unnecessary information here and there. Comment reading is good. Integration with existing sharing services (Del.icio.us, Twitter etc.) is good. Reading experience is bad.
FeedEachOther. Many features, poor information design. Comment reading good, friend connection good, feed list (OPML) sharing good, readability bad. I don’t care much about feed recommendations, because I already find interesting and related feeds as I use the web. Again locked in sharing, no integration with existing services.
There are many readers out there, these are the ones that I found interesting enough to give it a try. There are also custom home pages (Netvibes, iGoogle, Live.com etc.) that act as readers, I just can’t touch those at all. Every reader has one or two unique feature that is good, but none of the readers is good enough to help me deal with the complex information flows. If you use something good, please post it in the comments. For now, I think I will stop reading feeds.
Update: Checking some of the console based unix feed readers on this list.
* Images above are shots from a sketch based on a flocking algorithm that I was playing with recently.