My syndication lament

April 3rd, 2009  |  Tags: , , ,  |  2 Comments

I am pretty frustrated with the feed reader landscape. My requirements are not that esoteric; I need a feed reader that supports:

  1. Flagging, tagging, starring, or otherwise annotating items (organizing feeds is nice but not crucial),
  2. Offline reading (for airplane/car/whatever use) and archiving (for future reference),
  3. Synchronization among multiple devices, and
  4. Cross-platform operation (at least Mac and iPhone; Linux or web-based clients are a huge win here).

Finally, stability and scalability are important. I currently subscribe to 295 feeds (although many of them are low-traffic, like tracking price changes at Amazon.com, the police blotter in Madison, or machine and network statuses), which I suspect is easily within the realm of what a feed reader should be specified and designed to handle.

Alan Jacobs rightly points out that there are basically two games in town: Google Reader and NetNewsWire. And, indeed, I have at times been only somewhat dissatisfied with either of these. Each has certain commendable points: Google Reader has one of the most usable web interfaces I’ve seen for a feed reader; NetNewsWire’s built-in browser (and intelligent handling of tabs, with, e.g. undo for tab close), like the rest of its interface, is superb, and its integration with Instapaper and my weblog client of choice are great features. NetNewsWire also benefits from an accessible, responsive, and friendly developer (unlike certain other feed readers).

However, each of these falls short in some crucial way. Google Reader is not accessible offline and cannot sync with anything reliable that is. (I have been using Byline on the iPhone for about a month, but it is crashy, prone to leaving my phone in a state of hot, churning insomnia, and consistently logs me out of Reader and/or forgets what it has downloaded. I know of no offline Google Reader client for the Mac, but I haven’t looked very hard.) NetNewsWire only supports synchronization (or any iPhone use) through the NewsGator servers, which lag catastrophically behind the real world for many feeds, especially low-traffic or unpopular feeds. (This is certainly NewsGator’s prerogative, and they are justified in devoting limited resources to feeds that reach more users. However, many feeds that only I subscribe to have lagged 12 or more hours on NewsGator. Since many of these feeds contain time-sensitive data, this lag renders them useless.) In addition, the only way to get at NetNewsWire feeds from Linux is via the NewsGator web interface, which is far clunkier than Google Reader.

If you, dear reader, are happy with how you consume feeds, I’d like to hear about it. Until then, I’m considering the drastic and foolish act of adding a project to my overfull spare-time queue.