Feed Readers – librarian’s summary II

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I discussed the various parameters that can be used to help select an RSS feed reader in part I, in this part I’ll look at how these parameters — and some real-world parameters — can be used to select an actual feed reader from the list presented at Aggcompare.

The parameters I chose from part I were:

  • Cross-platform (at least Linux, Mac, Windows)
  • Free
  • OPML in and out
  • Integration with webbrowers

The Aggcompare list is quite extensive; a quick scan of the properties compared in the list adds a few additional “real world” parameters that can be used to select a feed reader, these include:

  • Does the feed reader allow users to add their own feeds
  • Does the feed reader feature desktop alerting
  • Are there any additional features that make a particular feed reader attractive

Add to this one final real-world parameter:

  • Does the service actually exist

What do you get when you apply these parameters? Removing the feed readers that a) don’t exist, b) allow users to add their own feeds and c) support all the commonly used feed formats leaves less than around 10 feed readers.

Of these, you end up with the following feed readers:

  • 24eyes
  • BlogBridge
  • BlogLines
  • Google
  • Gregarius
  • NetVibes
  • NewsAlloy
  • Rojo

Of these, unless you’re interested in a community reader, the feature set of BlogBridge and Bloglines cannot be beaten; some people swear by Google Reader, but its lack of live updating of feeds makes it basically inviable in my view (i.e. if Google’s feed cache is updated while you’re in Google Reader, it doesn’t update unless you press “Refresh”!)

Applying the criteria from part I, listed above, and looking at the general qualities of the remaining offerings — where, of course, each has its own merits — there are two feed readers that I can recommend:

Firstly, note that I’m not saying that these are the best for everyone — as you might need a specific feature that is not supported by either of these. Secondly, these applications differ greatly in one respect: BlogBridge is a desktop application, whereas Bloglines is a web-application.

The value of a desktop applications is that it isn’t going to just disappear, but on the other hand, it is fixed to a single machine. BlogBridge is a Java application, and as such it feels like a non-native application on whichever system you use. I don’t mind that feel in applications I don’t use on a regular basis like administration tools, but a feed reader is in regular use and I’m not sure that this is appropriate. There’s another thing that occurs to me: are RSS feeds conceptually compatible with desktop applications? In this Web 2.0 world, isn’t it more appropriate that feeds be read by a web-based feed reader? BlogBridge is however a fine product with many good features that you could well just not do without (especially if you’re working with OPML).

Bloglines is a web applications that features a lot of Web 2.0 technology — even more so if you use the Beta version — which is in keeping with the idiom. Bloglines is a strong all-round feed reader with a good feature set; the process of adding feeds is helpful, removing them easy and the customizable interface is a breeze to use. On the other hand, OPML work is tedious because you don’t get anything beyond bare bones (you can export your feed list, but not — as far as I can see — subparts of it), and you don’t get any tags in the OPML output, even if they were there when you imported OPML.

In conclusion, choose Bloglines if you just want to read feeds, if you need more specific functions check out BlogBridge and then the others. Bloglines together with BlogBridge (for OPML export) is currently the winning combination.

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