Jeromy Anglim's Blog: Psychology and Statistics

Friday, March 15, 2013

Google Reader Replacements: Feedly and The Old Reader

This post discusses the impending demise of Google Reader and configuring Feedly as a replacement.

Demise of Google Reader

I was very disappointed to read about Google terminating its Google Reader service.
Google Reader provided me with a great tool for following hundreds of blogs, journals, and assorted feeds. The interface was clean and efficient. I liked the keyboard shortcuts for navigation.
Some people are saying that Google+, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, email newsletters, and so on are a substitute for Google Reader. This is rubbish. Google Reader is an efficient way of consuming and scanning new content based on providers that I care about. None of these other tools provide anything like this.

For bloggers the concern about the end of Google Reader is that this is one of the major ways that people consume blog content. Even my own small blog has around a thousand RSS subscribers. The most popular RSS reader is Google Reader, and thus there is the concern that the closure of Google Reader may damage this connection between blogs and subscribers. As a consequence we might see fewer subscribers and then fewer incentives to blog and then less great blog content. Thus, I really hope that one or more high quality, trustworthy, multi-device, free web services emerge that continue to provide a great RSS reading experience. Hopefully, this is an opportunity for a service to emerge that is even better than Google Reader.


After an initial exploration I am having a good experience with Feedly. When you log into Feedly with your Google Account, it immediately synchronises with your Google Reader account. Supposedly Feedly will switch to their own backend when the Google Reader service ends. Nonetheless, I have still exported my feeds directly from Google Reader using the Google Reader export facilities.

I must admit that my first impressions of Feedly were worrying. However, a little persistence showed that I could replicate the Google Reader workflow.

First, Feedly runs both in the browser and on various mobile devices. One drawback is that it does require the installation of a browser plugin and an app on mobile devices. But given that I have admin privileges, this wasn't a major issue.

To configure like Google Reder see this blog post for a few tips.

After a few customisation steps I'm very happy. In particular: (1) I set tile view for each of my categories; (2) I saved a bookmark in my browser for feedly to be a particular category. I have my main feeds in a category called "core". This means that the default view when I click on the bookmark is like I'm used to in Google Reader. I find the default Feedly homepage annoying; (3) I learnt the keyboard shortcuts, in particular j and k for navigating between posts (I had to set an exception on Vimium). This was something that I really liked in Google Reader and it's great to see it still available in Feedly. Pressing question mark on the keyboard brings up available shortcut keys.
That said, it is early days and there are a lot of discussions about what service offers the best Google Reader replacement. I also need to build up trust when it comes to a provider of RSS services. I still need to see whether the migration from the Google Reader backend will be effective. I also don't yet understand feedly's business model and therefore wonder how they will provide the service in the longer term.


There's a discussion here of some of the alternatives.

The Old Reader appears to be a popular choice. It offers an interface nearly identical to Google Reder. It doesn't require a browser plug-in. The development seems friendly. It also did a better job of rendering a few posts with mathematics (e.g., posts from the Normal Deviate, which Feedly struggled with).

Anyway, it's nice that at the moment there are at least two reasonable replacements to Google Reader. Presumably much more will evolve in terms of the preferred option over the coming weeks and months.


  1. Jeromy,

    If you can find and alternative for the easiness of tagging, and also to export tagged items as new "curated" RSS feeds, then we are talking about real alternatives, at least for research groups such as the one I am participating.

    As far as I have tried both alternatives, none have such abilities - feedly has got a tag option, pretty cumbersome compared to GReaders, and no option to use it to generate new RSS feeds.

    Finally, even if just for showing discontent with that horrible decision of shutting down GReader, I encourage you and everybody who reads this to sign this petition (It's got almost 100,000 signatures in 2 days):

    1. Hi Rod,

      I hope the petition and general online hostility leads Google to rethink its decision.

      I've always had a really high opinion of Google and their services. I always felt that Google did a few things just for the greater good of the world and the Internet. Products like Google Reader and Google Scholar seemed to fall into that category. The decision to get rid of Google Reader seems more like the type of decision an everyday boring self-interested business would make.

  2. I went through this recently when Apple Mail discontinued the RSS feature with the release of Mountain Lion. Furthermore, the former "add to feed reader" button in Safari disappeared. I am surprised that those changes did not seem to make such an uproar as the Google Reader is now. It makes me wonder if there is something I do not know about Google Reader that I have been missing out on! In Apple Mail, I liked being able to see selected RSS feeds and my e-mail at the same time. I also liked being able to view all of it off-line and not worrying about which account I was logged into.

    1. For me there were many appealing features to Google Reader. In particular, a web based reader made syncronisation across multiple devices straight forward. I often check Google Reader on my phone when I'm otherwise doing nothing else (e.g., on public transport, waiting for a meeting to start, etc.). And as with most Google products the service was fast, reliable, and efficient to navigate.

      I also used to think that you could depend on Google. It was easier to understand their business model and assume that they were able to provide a free service for the longer term with minimal ads due to things like economy of scale and cross-subsidising of products. They also seemed to have a commitment to openness and making feeds accessible for exporting and so on. I've been forced to re-evaluate some of those assumptions in light of the Google Reader closure.

  3. I would use Netvibes instead. Have features like Google Reader but is better.

    1. Are there any particular features you like? I only had a quick look at NetVibes.

      I liked that Netvibes ran in the browser (i.e., didn't require a plugin) and used vi keybindings. I also liked the efficient tile view.
      However, I couldn't work out how to import my feeds from Google Reader in a way that preserved existing categories. I also couldn't work out how to delete all the built-in feeds. I was also a little worried that the no-fee version might be under-featured.

      That said, I didn't spend very long on it, because Feedly seemed to do the trick (assuming it can migrate to its own RSS server effectively, and stays free).