Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Finding a useful Google Reader alternative: what I've learned and what I've tried.

I was pretty disappointed to learn that Google Reader will be shut down and no longer usable by July 1st 2013. To me, Google Reader was the perfect blog reader interface, and it completely changed the way I read blogs. It made my previously huge and un-useable list of bookmarked blogs manageable, and I read blogs on a daily basis.

The best features in Google Reader, that I found most helpful, were:
1. The ability to easily categorize blogs into multiple topics/folders. This meant I could have the same blog labelled under "favourite" and "food" or "crafts" and "scrapbooking", so depending on my mood I could either look through a very specific set of blogs, or through a more extensive, general list.

2. The subscribe bookmarklet. This was a simple feature I added easily (think it was drag and drop) to my browser toolbar, that allowed me to subscribe to a new blog with a single click. This meant when I was reading a message board and came across a great blog of a fellow scrapbooker, I could start following it with one easy click instead of opening new tabs, loading Google Reader, copying/pasting the new blog address, and adding it to my list. 

3. Related to number 2 above, the "next" bookmarklet. This completely transformed my enjoyment of reading blogs! This simple drag-and-drop button added to my browser toolbar meant I could easily click my way through my reading list of blogs that I subscribed to in Google Reader. I was able to visit and read blogs in a browser tab, rather than through the reader interface, which meant Pinning ideas and leaving comments involved just one click. AND I got to see each blog in it's "native state", with sidebars, background, etc, rather than in the blank background of Google Reader.

Also, notice in the screen shot above that I added (and used!) next buttons for each of my most-read blog categories.... one for all of the blogs I followed, one for JBS related blogs, one for scrapbooking blogs, and one for all of the Cocoa Daisy girls! How awesome is that feature!?

I've tried three different blog readers that were highly recommended as Google Reader replacements: Bloglovin, The Old Reader, and Feedly.

First, Bloglovin.
Once you've registered and logged in, your Bloglovin' homepage will look something like this:
Importing blogs from Google Reader is super easy and only involves one click. My blog categories did not import into Bloglovin'.

Categorizing blogs in Bloglovin' is pretty simple: 
Click on the blue heart and select "manage blogs you follow" from the drop down menu.
You can create a new group to add blogs to, and then add blogs by selecting a group for each blog from a drop down menu.

The settings section is easy to access; it is also found under the blue heart drop down. Here you can select whether or not you receive an email with a daily summary of posts from blogs you subscribe to, if you want to associate your account with Facebook, and you can also access the import feature from this page.

If you click on one of the truncated posts from your Bloglovin' homepage (see top picture above), it will open the blog but in a Bloglovin' frame. 
1. This means instead of visiting the blog at it's real webaddress, you are visiting it through Bloglovin. 
2. The Bloglovin' frame comes with it's own next button, so you can easily click through your list of subscribed blogs.

You can also access your entire blog list from the Bloglovin' frame via the drop down menu under "all unread posts".

Unfortunately the Pinning capabilities from the Bloglovin' frame completely suck. If I wanted to Pin that great livingroom from the blog above, no matter what I did, only the (also lovely) frame vignette shown in the green heart showed up as a possible Pinning image. I don't want to have to click in a blog to re-load it to Pin something!

Ultimately, I chose not to use Bloglovin' because:
1. I could find no easy way to add a subscribe button to my browser for adding new blogs. I am lazy and cutting/pasting web addresses, going back to the reader, and adding is too much work for me.
2. Pinning from within Bloglovin' is pretty much impossible and I don't want to open a new tab for the blog and reload the post to Pin. Again, I am lazy.

Good points:
1. Categorizing blogs is easy. But can only put each blog in one category.
2. Importing blogs is easy.

Then, I tried The Old Reader.
The Old Reader homepage once you've registered and added blogs looks something like the above.

1. You can import blogs from other readers including Google Reader by clicking the Import button and following the instructions. This was NOT an easy one click process, and involved going to Google reader, navigating through the settings menus/submenus and dowloading a file, then returning to The Old Reader and uploading the file. It wasn't HARD, it just wasn't super one-click easy.

But, my Google Reader categories DID import properly into the Old Reader, which was a big bonus.

The Old Reader has some helpful keyboard shortcuts that make browsing within The Old Reader a bit easier, but still not as easy as the within-browser system of Google Reader. There are links to open the keyboard shortcut menu on The Old Reader main page. You can also press the ? on your keyboard if The Old Reader is open on your browser to bring up the shortcuts.

The Old Reader homepage (click TOR icon on the top left of your screen) has a link to "how tos" for The Old Reader that includes topics like how to add blogs, organizing and categorizing blogs, different methods of reading posts, etc.

Organizing and categorizing blogs in The Old Reader is a HUGE PAIN! You have to click on a blog title from one of your drop down menus, and then drag it to the very bottom of all of your folders, and then let go. This puts the blog in a new folder. You can drag-and-drop a blog title into a pre-existing folder. BUT, each blog can only be in one category. I have been unable to rename any of the new folders I tried making, and frankly, it was such a pain that I only tried making two and then gave up. 

The Old Reader has excellent active user forums. Access these links via the Community Resources link on your The Old Reader homepage. You can go to The Old Reader UserVoice page and search for help topics or suggest a new feature. Adding features by The Old Reader is based on user voting popularity, so if you have a feature you wish added, vote for an already popular one instead of starting a new suggestion thread.

I was able to add a subscribe button for easy one-click adding of blogs to The Old Reader. I went to the User Voice page and searched for "subscribe bookmarklet" and followed the instructions at the bottom of this page for using a Google Chrome RSS Subscriber extension.

The Chrome RSS subscriber extension added a little orange box to my Chrome address bar. When I am visiting a new bar I can click it and select which RSS feed I want to subscribe to, and it will add the blog to The Old Reader.

Ultimately, I chose NOT to use The Old Reader because:
1. Categorizing blogs was a PITA.
2. No useful/helpful "next" button for in-browser blog reading. The suggestions offered in the User Voice forum did not work.
3. To open a blog post in a browser window so I can Pin and/or comment, I have to scroll back UP to the top of the blog post within The Old Reader, and then click on the blog post title to open the blog in its own window. Then when I am done at the blog and return to The Old Reader to continue jumping through blogs, I have to scroll back down or use the next item button within The Old Reader to go to the next blog's entry in my subscription list.
4. Importing blogs was a PITA.

Good points:
1. I was able to add a subscribe button to my browser, although it took a lot of searching and fussing initially to figure it out.

And finally, Feedly.
This is one of four possible styles of the Feedly homepage, once you are a registered user. 

Importing blogs from Google Reader was super easy and maintained the categories I had created.

Organizing blogs in Feedly is also very easy. Click the "organize" button on the left menu and current categories show up in easy to find menus. You can drag and drop blog titles between categories or click to create a new category.
Unfortunately, it appears each blog can only be filed under one category.

You can Pin images directly from within the Feedly reader! Hover your mouse over an image and the Pin It icon pops up -- click on the image and you can Pin it! And, it actually Pins to the correct and proper blog entry address, not the blog homepage and not just a url that loads only the jpg. Brilliant!

If you don't Pin or want to disable this feature for some reason, you can easily do so under the preferences option on the left menu.

Feedly also has an excellent User Voice page.  Search here for help or suggest new features.

I followed the instructions on this page to add a subscribe bookmarklet to my browser toolbar.

The subscribe bookmarklet means that when I find a new blog I want to add to Feedly, I click on the subscribe button I added to my browser toolbar, and then this window pops up and I can add the subscription to Feedly. 

A fun little feature found under themes in Feedly on the left side, is the ability to change the background colours in your Feedly reader. I decided to go with Bug. :)

Feedly also comes with a handy set of keyboard shortcuts. To bring up the shortcut menu, press the ? on your keyboard while in the Feedly reader. There is also a link at the top of your blog feed. 

So far, I've found these shortcuts useful:

v: view original in new tab. This means that I can press v on my keyboard at any point in reading a blog post in Feedly and it will open that blog post in a new tab. Using this feature makes leaving comments a bit easier, since you don't have to scroll to the top of the blog post in your feed and click the post title to go to the blog entry. Then, when you return to Feedly after commenting at the blog, you are exactly where you stopped scrolling and you can continue on reading -- no need for jumping to next/etc.

j/k: inline next/previous article. This means if I am reading within a category and want to skip to the next blog post WITHIN that same category, I can press j on my keyboard and it will load the next blog post for me. Instead of loading the next one from ALL of my subscriptions.

Ultimately, I'm sticking with Feedly for now because:
1. I was able to easily add a subscribe button to my browser toolbar.
2. Importing from Google Reader with categories intact was super easy.
3. Organizing and adding new categories is very easy.
4. I find Feedly the cleanest/easiest to read out of the three blog readers I tried.
5. The in-reader Pin It option is amazing and ALMOST makes up for not having an in-browser next bookmarklet.
6. The keyboard shortcuts are useful and I especially like v for opening the blog post in a new tab. Again, NOT as good as having in-browser capabilities, but almost as little work as the next button (remember, I am lazy).
7. The custom theme colours get Feedly one bonus point.

Here is a summary of this very long post!


Natalie Elphinstone said...

Awesome post! I also tried Bloglovin and Feedly and settled with Feedly. But there were a couple of things that still frustrated me about it (that I never bothered to try and figure out) like the susbscribe button that you've explained brilliantly! Thanks so much.

Jennifer Grace said...

Great post Ashley! I have been using Bloglovin simply because I found it first. I had signed up to Feedly but not played around with it yet, after this good review I shall try it out more, as the thing of not being able to pin when reading via bloglovin has been driving me crazy too! Thanks! x

betsy (pharmgirl) said...

Love this post Ashley! I use Feedly and love it, but there are things I didn't know about that you just showed me! Thanks!

Oh - you can organize your blogs into more than one category. the way I do it is copy & paste the url, add it with + button and then a pop-up comes up and you can pick multiple categories ...

betsy (pharmgirl) said...

and it does look like you can pull a blog up in feedly - click edit - and then the same pop up comes up and you can choose multiple categories

Unknown said...

I ended up choosing Feedly too, and I love it! I find it's even easier for me to add a blog than it was with Reader. I'm not sure how I got it, but I have this little Feedly icon on every web page, and if I want to subscribe to the blog, I just click on that to add it! I LOVE it!!! No more looking for an RSS reader button!

Jenny said...

I so wish there was a NEXT button for the toolbar. That was the only way I used Google Reader. I don't know what I'll do without it. LOL!