Living Without Google Reader

Living Without Google Reader image google reader croppedLiving Without Google Reader

This warning needs more red. Blaring sirens would help too.

If you haven’t heard the news yet, Google is pruning its product portfolio to better unify its product suite. Well. Sort of. It’s really trying to compete with other social media networks like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. All of these services are walling off portions of their services to ensure that they control (and can monetize) the user experience.

I’d bet most people, save for some techies, don’t get news via a RSS reader, so let me briefly describe what it is and what Google Readers shuttering means to them.

So…what is RSS again?

RSS stands for Real Simple Syndication. RSS was great because it let you read hundreds of websites a day without having to actually go to the websites – sort of an inbox for the websites you really care about. RSS has two components:

  1. The website creates the feed
  2. The client (aka reader) consumes the feed

What are your options in a life without Google Reader?

So in killing Google Reader, Google is killing the most popular RSS client. If you’re a die-hard RSS fan, you should look to apps like Feedly to become your new RSS client.

However, the death of Google Reader is a good time to think about how you get your news. RSS was born before social media and one of the reasons Google Reader was marginalized was because social networks have become a more popular way to get news. RSS just isn’t the only game in town any longer.

For me, the perfect news reader would:

  1. Alert me to hot stories, even if they are outside of my normal interests
  2. Allow me to follow specific topics like: social media and the Boston Bruins
  3. Still allow me to follow specific sites via RSS – in some cases I want to see every article on a site
  4. Be intelligent enough to show me more of what I read and less of what I don’t

The *NEW* news readers:

With a thought that it’s time for a change, I’m reviewing 4 news aggregators in terms of usability and features:

  1. Flipboard
  2. Zite
  3. Pulse
  4. Google Currents

Note: All testing is on an iPad2. You’re experiences may vary, especially on Android systems.

Important!

If you don’t want to read the detailed reviews, click here for my recommendations.

Flipboard

Flipboard was the first news aggregator to really make a splash on the iPad tablet.

Overall Grade: A-

Flipboard is a solid choice for replacing Google Reader. Flipboard is also a good platform for interacting with all your social networks. Sharing could be made more straightforward and I wish it allowed me to follow topics too.

Usability

  • User Interface: Flipboard is the original visual news aggregator so it gets extra credit for setting the standard. The interface is straightforward and relies solely on horizontal flipping. Adding new content is not as simple as it should be – you’ll likely end up clicking on the wrong option at least twice while trying to find the page where you can add/remove content. Flipboard is Ad supported, but they don’t tend to be terribly annoying.
  • Platforms: Android & iOS
  • App: The feeds can feel slow to refresh when not on WiFi. The app uses roughly 90MB of RAM which is roughly 20% of totally memory – it’s a hog.

Features

  • News:
    • Hundreds of publications are available across a wide range of topics.
    • Has a “What’s Hot” content stream that let’s you see the stories that are generating a lot of buzz and might have missed otherwise.
    • Interaction: Allows you to review each of your social networks in one place and you can use the native social interactions (+1, Like, ♥) right from Flipboard.
    • New feed test: You can add a RSS feed via search. Searching for refford.com provided me the option to add this site as a feed.
    • Search test: Searching for “Boston Bruins” provides the ability to add the Bruins Facebook page, Twitter account, Youtube channels, Flickr groups, etc. However, it does not single feed for all things related to the Boston Bruins.
  • Sharing:
    • I find it Flipboard sharing somewhat limited and cumbersome. Too many clicks and when you cross-share., say from Twitter to Facebook, it loses basic information like the title. I find this annoying.
    • You can share to the social networks that you’ve connected to Flipboard (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc). So connecting your social networks serves as both input to the reader and sharing options.

Zite

Zite – it learns what you like and provides focused topical coverage.

Overall Grade: B+

Choose Zite if you are more interested in following specific topics than following publications. Zite would be a first choice for replacing Google Reader if you could add specific feeds. It’s still the best choice for following specific topics.

Usability

  • User Interface: Simple horizontal side swiping to advance see more stories. A swipe up “Likes” a story. A swipe down “Dislikes” a story. More than once I’ve accidentally liked/disliked a story. Adding new content is pretty easy. You ♥ topics and they’ll show up as one of your featured topics.
  • Platforms: Android, iOS & Windows
  • App: The app feels spry and benefits from only consuming ~15MB of RAM.

Features

  • News:
    • Zite is personalized to you. As you use it it notices what you read and what you don’t and by “learning” shows you content that your most interested in seeing.
    • Zite is driven by topics. You pick a few topics and you’re off and running. You can also add publishers and website feeds if you’d like; I found any major publication I could think of.
    • Zite has a “Your Top Stores” which are individualized based on the content you read and like. Within that section it has “Popular on Zite” and “Headlines” features that highlight news you might have missed.
    • Interaction: Since you’re not connecting your social feeds, you can’t Like, +1, ♥, etc.
    • New feed test: Fails the test. You can not add a website RSS feed to Zite.
    • Search test: Topical searches is where Zite shines. My “Boston Bruins” search brought up a curated feed of various sources across the web – some I had heard of, some I had not. Selecting ♥ put this feed in my favorites.
  • Sharing:
    • Sharing is okay. The experience would be improved by reducing the number of clicks required to share.
    • You can share to Evernote, Twitter, Facebook, Instapaper, Google+, LinkedIn & Pocket.

Pulse

Pulse is ready to import your feeds from Google Reader, but do you want to?

Overall Grade: C

Pulse isn’t a bad choice for replacing Google Reader and their import tool makes it easy. Yet, the clunky interface and limited sharing options shows that there are better options available.

Usability

  • User Interface: It’s easy to add content but each time you do, it asks you to name the content category, I wish it would categorize the feeds for me. Yet, some may like that flexibility. Otherwise the interface is clean and easy to use with standard horizontal swiping to move between stories. Unfortunately the app shows you the story briefs, not the fully story. When you want to read the full story you have to click and wait for the page to load. Other apps handle this much more elegantly and don’t need to load the full webpage.
  • Platforms: Android, iOS & web
  • App: Pulse loads and refreshes content quickly. It uses 60MB of RAM, a considerable, yet not obscene amount.

Features

  • News:
    • Pulse is jumping into the void left by Google Reader with an import tool. I tested the import process and it went smoothly. However, some of my Reader folders have a lot of feeds it. Pulse had to break them into groups such as: Bloggers, Bloggers 1, Bloggers 2 …. Bloggers 6. It’s also presenting posts that I’ve already seen, some of the content is months/years old. Ideally it would only present new/unread content.
    • There appear to be a few hundred publications to select from. Again, having to organize the content folders is an unnecessary chore.
    • Pulse doesn’t provide a single view of “What’s Hot”, but it does provide “Best In Category” content feeds for news categories such as: Sports, Business, Technology, etc.
    • Interaction: Although you can connect your networks (Facebook, Twitter, etc) and services (Instapaper, Pocket, Evernote, etc), Pulse doesn’t seem to leverage the content very well. Two examples… I can add Facebook and see updates from friends. I could comment but not “like” posts. Even though I connected Pocket and Evernote, I could not send stories to either one of those sources for reading/reviewing later.
    • New feed test: Yes, you can add a site RSS to Pulse.
    • Search test:Just like Flipboard, searching for “Boston Bruins” provides many options for subscribing to feeds that cover the topic, but it doesn’t aggregate them into one feed the way Zite does.
  • Sharing:
    • Very limited sharing capabilities: Facebook, Twitter and email.

Currents

Hey LOOK! Another Google product sitting alone in the corner. All by it’s lonesome.

Overall Grade: B

The great user interface and sharing options make this a strong contender. Yet, I wish it had more focus on topics and important news stories.

Usability

  • User Interface: Currents interface is more complex than other offerings yet it is still easy to use. Swipe horizontally for new publications. Swipe up for more stories from that publication. Currents uses the same fade-in style used in the Google+ app – quite attractive. Stories rely heavily on images with different sizes that keep the reader engaged. Within the publication there is navigation that let’s the reader jump to different sub-topics. Adding content is easy and you get the added bonus of seeing how many other subscribers the feed has. Currents also grays-out the images of posts you’ve already read a nice feature.
  • Platforms: Android and iOS
  • App: Currents loads and refreshes content quickly. It uses 60MB of RAM, a considerable, yet not obscene amount.

Features

  • News:
    • Hundreds of publications to choose from. Currents does let you manual import your feeds from Google Reader and it wouldn’t take many clicks to import your feeds (unless you have many hundreds of feeds).
    • Readers can add Breaking Stories for News, Business and Science & Tech to keep abreast of “What’s Hot”.
    • Interaction: Currents doesn’t connect to your social networks, therefore you cannot interact with them.
    • New feed test: You can add a site to Currents via RSS.
    • Search test: Like Flipboard and Pulse, a search for “Boston Bruins” yields feeds that cover the topic but it doesn’t create one feed for the topic.
  • Sharing:
    • Currents has the best sharing of all news apps reviewed. Clear and simple.
    • Currents provides the ability to hide networks that you don’t use. For example, I don’t use Instapaper so it’s nice to be able to remove it from the sharing options.
    • Share to: email, Facebook, Google+, Instapaper, Pinterest, Pocket, Tumblr and Twitter.

Recommendations:

Choose…

if you want to manage all your social networks in one spot. You get a social and news aggregator in one attractive package.

Choose…

if you are more interested in what is getting said than who is saying it. Zite is smart and lets you follow the topics you care most about.

Choose…

if you if intend to share a lot of content. Google Currents has a great interface that has simple sharing capabilities.

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