I have restricted myself to free RSS readers, because I am a skinflint, and to online ones, because that saves me from having a clutter of old articles on my own hard drive. RSS readers are a varied bunch with good and bad features and if you are a perfectionist like me, you will probably find that none of them is quite perfect, despite the panegyrics lavished on them by their fans.
The free online RSS reader that most people will be familiar with is Google Reader. It has some good features, which I will come back to later, but also some annoying features which caused me to look elsewhere. For example, when I am logged into Google Reader, if I want to comment on a Blogger blog, I am – or was, before the recent changes – automatically logged in as my Google identity which wasn’t the identity I wanted to use. Not a big deal, you might think, but it annoyed me nonetheless. So I sought a different RSS reader that wouldn’t treat me in the same way.
I tried Bloglines, which is possibly the next best known dedicated RSS reader (as opposed to sites that carry your RSS feeds as one among many of their facilities). I didn’t like it much, especially its tendency to mark an article read as soon as I looked at it. Then along came Bloglines Beta, a new version under development which I found was much better but not quite up to snuff yet. For one thing, it seems to take a long time to pick up on some new articles. For example, one article that my other readers picked up yesterday was not collected by Bloglines Beta until this morning. I subscribe to Le Figaro, the French newspaper, and didn’t receive any articles in Bloglines Beta for a day until I re-entered the subscription. OK, it’s a beta version and maybe these problems will be picked up.
For quite a while, I have been using RSSReaderLive. You can use this like an ordinary Web reader but is is very basic, not to say primitive, and its main virtue is (or maybe I should say “was”?) that you could get it to send you new updates by email. You would click on the link in the email and see the article on the original Web page. Then on Monday, the emails stopped coming. I haven’t had any since then (today is Wednesday). I emailed support but haven’t had a response. The articles are being updated on the site but the email service has ceased, whether permanently or temporarily remains to be seen.
So I had another look at Alesti. This reader has a lot going for it but it is still under development and there are bugs. I think it will be very good once these are sorted out. It provides several viewing modes, including showing the article exactly as it appears on its site. Unfortunately, it too seems slow to catch up with some updates. Also, it has difficulty displaying the title of articles. Sometimes it does it right, sometimes it just displays the name of the feed and sometimes it displays some other detail from the article such as the file name of a picture. Also, there doesn’t seem to be a way to tell it how you want to sort the articles. That might not be so bad if it displayed all in the same order. It doesn’t. For some feeds it displays them in ascending time order and for others in descending time order. Confusing. A good little reader… almost.
Then there are the feeds available in browsers. There is Firefox‘s native RSS reader. My verdict on that is: forget it. Opera, on the other hand, has quite a nice RSS feed. Opera’s feeds are simple: there are no folders, so the list is flat. You can set the polling time for each feed individually (down to every 5 minutes). The display is simple but quite pleasant. I find I can read articles there and the URL is given so you can click out to the original site if you wish. You can specify how long articles should be kept (from “today only” up to “forever”) and sort them in ascending or descending time order. The advantage for the Firefox user is that you can run Opera more or less as a standalone RSS reader!
Which am I going to use? I can’t give a final answer yet. I may even go back to Google Reader, dammit, because I can now use a Typekey OpenID when commenting Blogger posts so my Google login doesn’t obtrude quite so much. Google Reader has a couple of good features too. Firstly, it doesn’t mark an article read until you tell it to do so. That is the right way to proceed, in my view. Automatic status-changing is a no-no. Secondly, it has that nice little “Refresh” button. Pump that at any time to see if there are any new articles in the offing, which is a sight better than waiting on the vagaries of a reader’s inbuilt and secret polling policy. Much as I love to hate Google, I have to admit that Google Reader has some good features.