Feed Wrangler’s Smart Streams

As the dust settles, my feed-reading service of choice continues to be Feed Wrangler.

Feed Wrangler has been out for a few months now, and I’ve been an advocate of the service on this site, on Twitter, ADN, and to just to anyone who asks.

There are two main reservations I’ve heard from people regarding Feed Wrangler, and they are: (1) that the iOS apps and website are ugly; and (2) that Feed Wrangler doesn’t support folders.

Well, I can’t argue with the first point. And I don’t think David Smith (the developer behind Feed Wrangler) would argue with you either. His goal with the apps was simply to have something that worked with the service. His primary goal with Feed Wrangler is to build a killer syncing service with a full-featured API and get the best-in-class 3rd-party apps to support it.

And so far, that’s exactly what’s happening. Just yesterday Mr. Reader for iPad was updated with support for Feed Wrangler. This morning, ReadKit for Mac was updated with Feed Wrangler support. And we know that an update for Reeder is in the works which will also bring support for Feed Wrangler.

So the concern about how Feed Wrangler looks has been, and is being, addressed.

As for the reservation about Feed Wrangler’s use of Smart Streams instead of folders, let me explain how I use these streams and how they can be set up to work like folders.

The Smart Stream

What sets Feed Wrangler apart from so many of the other RSS solutions is its Smart Streams.

As I’ve given accolades to Feed Wrangler over the past weeks since its launch a while back, I’ve received quite a few emails that people don’t fully grasp what all you can do with a Smart Stream.

I, too, had the same hurdle when I was initially beta testing Feed Wrangler, and it took some chatting with the developer behind it, David Smith, before I grasped just how awesome the Smart Streams can be.

Streams as Folders

To set up a smart stream as a “folder” do this:

  • Under the Smart Streams box on Feed Wrangler’s sidebar, click “Create”.
  • Enter a name for your new stream.
  • Leave the search filter blank.
  • Check: “Only include unread”.
  • Uncheck: “Stream should include all feeds?”.
  • After unchecking that last option, you’ll get a list of every RSS feed that’s in Feed Wrangler. From there you can select exactly which feeds you want to be in this stream (a.k.a. folder).
  • Once you’ve selected all the feeds you want in this stream, click the “Create Stream” button and now you’ve got a Smart Stream that acts like a folder. Showing you all the unread items from all those feeds.

Smart Stream Setup in Feed Wrangler

I currently have three “folder” smart streams: One for my favorite sites which I read just about daily, one for photography related sites, and one for Apple news.

Though, in truth, these are not so much traditional folders as much as they are smart collections. Because the same feed can exist in multiple Smart Streams, and read status of items will persist across multiple streams if you have crossover.

Streams as Streams

You can also build a stream based around a topic or keyword. Create a new stream just like outlined above, but this time enter in one or more search terms and your stream will be populated with only articles that match your search criteria. You can set the scope of this stream to cover all your feeds, or, like above, you can pick only certain ones.

I create Smart Streams unreservedly. They are a great way to stay on top of certain hot topics (like iOS 7) as well as more narrow topics I’m interested in (like Mirrorless Cameras).

Leading up to, and then during WWDC, I had a “WWDC” Smart Stream. I used it to see all the sites I follow that were talking about the event. Then, when WWDC was winding down, I deleted the stream. I’ll likely do the same with my iOS 7 stream later this fall.

Filters

The brother to the Smart Stream is the filter. Filters will search your feeds for a keyword you specify, and if that term shows up then the item will be marked as read so you don’t ever have to see it.

In the Feed Wrangler sidebar there is an option to “Manage Filters”. From there you can create your filters. Note that Filters are global — you cannot select which feeds they apply to or don’t.

Some people, I suspect, would use a Filter for the same topics I used a Smart Stream for. Supposed you’d heard enough about WWDC or iOS 7. Just create a filter for it and those topics will, more or less, be muted from you RSS feeds for as long as you leave the filters active.

* * *

So far, most of the Google Reader alternatives I’ve seen and tried seem to be, more or less, a copy of how Google Reader worked.

As I wrote in my link to Feed Wrangler back in April, its Smart Stream versatility is exactly the sort of forward-thinking innovation I hope we’re going to see more of in a post-Google Reader world.

Anyone who has been subscribing to RSS feeds for longer than a few months will know your subscription list regularly needs pruning and adjusting. Well, I want my RSS reader to help me with that task.1 Smart Streams can help by making it easier to wrangle my feeds based on more than just which website they came from. I expect in the long run that they will prove very accommodating and useful as my interests change and as my attention ebbs and flows.


  1. One of the things I loved about NNW 3.x was the Dinosaur list and the ability to sort by attention. These lists would show you, respectively, which feeds hadn’t updated in a long time and which feeds you opened the most and clicked through the most. It was great for unsubscribing from sites that were “retired”, and for re-sorting your folders and subscriptions based on the actual usage data of which feeds you were interacting with.
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