Feed Reading: Today and Tomorrow

When I was using Google to sync my RSS subscription list, my setup was NetNewsWire on my Mac and Reeder on my iPhone and iPad. As Google Reader was shutting down, I ported my subscription list to Feed Wrangler, Feedbin, and Digg. A little time with each and Feed Wrangler was the one I landed on. Two months later and I’m still using it.

For apps I use Mr. Reader on the iPad, ReadKit on the Mac, and Reeder on the iPhone.

Feed Wrangler

The backbone for my RSS subscriptions is my favorite of the whole bundle. I’ve been more than content with the service, and my original stance on Feed Wrangler still stands: it is the most “future-Shawn proof” of the feed reading syncing services out there.

Because of Feed Wranglers use of Smart Streams and filters, it’s the one that I expect to best accommodate my changing habits and interests over the years. The feeds I read today aren’t necessarily the feeds I’ll be reading tomorrow, and my interests today aren’t guaranteed to stay the same.

Feed Wrangler’s foundation is built on catering to flexibility and letting the service do as much of the heaving lifting of sorting your incoming news for you as it can.

When porting my feeds from Google over to Feed Wrangler, I didn’t keep my old folder structure. Instead I just sort of started over organically creating new folders and streams based on my needs.

I have 3 smart streams that show me all the unread items within a selection of feeds: my “Faves” stream has the handful of sites I enjoy reading every single day; my “Photo” stream has the handful of photography-based websites I follow; and my “Too much!” stream has all the high-volume tech-news sites I don’t pay attention to.

I also have some search-based smart streams. Currently one for the term “Mirrorless” and one for the term “iOS 7”.

After a few months of regular use, I’ve also come across some workflow pebbles I’d like to see improved in Feed Wrangler:

  • For one, I’d love to see an easier way to add a new feed and pipe it into a smart stream immediately. Currently that workflow is a bit convoluted.

I pretty much only ever add feeds using the bookmarklet. Click that link from any site with a valid RSS feed and Feed Wrangler will add it to your master list. However, once you’ve added a new feed to your Feed Wrangler, you’re then put you then left at the “add new feeds” page.

You then need to click on the smart stream you want to place your new feed into. Then click “Edit” in the upper right corner, find the new feed, and check the box to the it to the stream.

  • The second pebble is with marking a whole stream as read. It doesn’t actually mark all as read, but only the items currently in view. When viewing a smart stream on the Feed Wrangler website, it displays the 50 most recent unread items, and after clicking “Mark All Read” just those 50 get marked as read, but if there are more than 50 items in my smart stream then the page refreshes with the next batch.

Suppose I’ve got a smart stream with 2,000 unread items in it. To mark the whole thing as read requires 40 clicks of the “Mark All Read” button. This, however, is only a limitation of the website itself. When marking a stream as read from within one of the 3rd-party apps I use (such as Mr. Reader or ReadKit), then the whole stream is marked as read.

These pebbles, however, are just that. As a service, I continue to be impressed with Feed Wrangler’s reliability and speed. I have high hopes for what it could look like down the road.

ReadKit on Mac

ReadKit is a seriously feature-packed app. It’ll sync with Instapaper, Pocket, Readability, Pinboard, Delicious, Feedly, NewsBlur, Fever, Feed Wrangler, Feedbin, your kitchen sink, and it can manage it’s own local copy of an OPML subscription list as well.

Currently, ReadKit has the monopoly on Mac apps that sync with Feed Wrangler. I mostly check my feeds from my Mac, and prefer using a native app instead of the Feed Wrangler website. ReadKit is a nice Mac app that’s been in very active development over the past several months.

For $5 on the Mac App Store, ReadKit is one heck of a bargain. But I don’t yet love it.

My biggest quibble is that I can’t launch ReadKit without it sending my Mac’s fans into hyperdrive. Also, the app takes a fair amount of time to sync my 177 feeds (Mr. Reader on my iPad syncs in about one-third the time). And so I usually try to check my feeds as quickly as possible and then get out so I can reclaim some CPU cycles.

As I said, it’s a pretty good app, but it’s not yet amazing. I still think there is room for a few truly great desktop RSS apps that are fast, polished, feature-rich, and easy to use. An app like that takes time to build, but I believe the market will be found waiting.

Reeder on iPhone

Though this is one of my all time favorite iPhone apps, it is, ironically, the one I use the least now. Though Reeder for iPhone works with Feed Wrangler, it doesn’t support Smart Streams. Which means I only see a single list of all my individual feeds. This

Reeder also works with Feedbin, Feedly, and Fever, and it supports folders for these services.

Mr. Reader on iPad

This is the best 3rd-party Feed Wrangler app among my trio of Mac/iPhone/iPad apps. It’s fast, feature rich, and has native support for Feed Wrangler’s Smart Streams. Not only can you view the smart streams, you can add new ones and edit existing ones.

The Future of Feed Reading?

The transition away from Google Reader hasn’t been nearly as rocky as I thought it would be. As a reader I’ve experienced very little inconvenience — the biggest pain point has been learning and using new apps.

I’m hoping it doesn’t stop here though. Google’s retreat opened up the RSS syncing and news aggregation market all over again. And I hope this means we’ll see innovation and new services in this space.

There is so much great stuff being written and published every day. We’re subscribing to some of the sites and writers who are producing it, and we’re trying to read what we can, but a lot of great things to read fall through the cracks every day. And a lot of dumb stuff gets much more attention than it deserves.

When we ask our inboxes and communities what to read, usually the answer is whatever the newest or most popular item is at the moment. And how often are those the best two metrics for deciding that something is going to be interesting and worthwhile for me?

What if there was a different and deeper approach to “automated news aggregation/recommendation”?

Suppose I was willing to give a service access to a broad scope of data points related to my reading and consumption habits. Things like what articles are in my Instapaper queue, what articles I’ve “liked” in Instapaper, what URLs I’ve bookmarked in Pinboard, who I follow on Twitter and the URLs they link to, what RSS feeds I’m subscribed to, what books and gadgets I buy on Amazon, what apps I buy from Apple, what albums are in my Rdio collection, what movies I’ve liked on Netflix, etc.

This sounds like a lot, but it actually isn’t all that different from what I’m already doing. ReadKit has my login credentials for FeedWrangler (all my RSS feeds), Instapaper and Pinboard (so I can send items to there) and Twitter (so I can share articles). My Rdio listening habits are already public info for anyone who follows me there because that’s the nature of Rdio’s social network, and so the only bits left to share would be what books I buy from Amazon, what movies I like on Netflix, and what apps I’ve downloaded from the iOS and Mac App stores.

And so, could this hypothetical service take all that information, put it into a database, and then find and recommend things for me to read? I think yes. That’d be the easy part. The hard part is if the service could pick out articles for me as well as Pandora can at pick out songs, or as well as Netflix can pick out 4-star movies. Now, wouldn’t that be something?

Feed Reading: Today and Tomorrow