30 June 2013

Looking for the new Google Reader? You should check out Feedbin

I tested – and reviewed – several apps trying to find the best replacement (or shall we say the one that sucks less) and Feedbin is one of the better options. It was launched just a couple of months ago, almost at the same time announced the death of Reader. Unlike other services I tried, it’s a paid service for either 2$/month or 20$/year, but that seems like a small amount compared to the time wasted searching a new service and migrating (some) data after Google Reader closes, so hopefully this won’t happen here.

The design is very spartan – and that’s a good thing! – with muted colors and a classical inbox-like layout: the subscription list to the left, the items in the selected feed in the middle and the current article on the right. I would prefer the two-column layout of Google Reader and its clones to have more space for reading the article, but on wide screens that’s not such a big issue. You can also resize the columns when needed. As with Digg’s Reader I would like to see more color in some places, especially to highlight active buttons or options (for example stars should be more prominent for starred articles), but this can be easily fixed either by the developer or by myself with a custom CSS style.

Feedbin feed view with sharing and taggingFeature-wise Feedbin is mostly standard: you can star items and mark them as unread, organize feeds with tags, display only the unread items or all. Unlike Google Reader, you can mark all items as read and then mark something as unread again. I like that Feedbin imports many more items from feeds compared to other services and presumably doesn’t mark them as read after some time – otherwise I wouldn’t have more than 15,000 unread items now. As with any other alternative currently available, search is lacking and you need to manually update the read status on feeds – or maybe just start fresh… The keyboard shortcuts are nearly identical to Google Reader and you can export your subscriptions in the standard OPML format – unlike many other services. Sharing is very flexible because it implemented the system Google Reader used, adding sharing services though a custom-built URL. This way anybody can add only the services they use regularly. A list of supported sharing services is available on the github-support page and you can add basically any service that worked in Google Reader – I have a couple of old articles about that as well. There is no integration with IFTTT, but Feedbin does offer a feed for your starred items that you can use as an IFTTT trigger – I used this in Google Reader to save all starred items to Delicious.

There are some nice bonus features nevertheless: for partial feeds Feedbin can load the original page inline using Readability, a common request in Google Reader that was probably deliberately ignored to avoid problems with publishers and advertisers. The developer is also working on a setting to make this feed-specific, so it will automatically load the full text when you open each item. Feedbin can import your Google Reader starred items from the Takeout .json file and that worked fast and reliable in my experience – unlike Digg who imported only 20-30 items from the couple hundreds I had. This makes me wonder if I could import other files into Feedbin, for example the shared items. Even if they end up in the same starred feed, it’s still better than a cryptic text file on my local desktop. Unlike Feedly, there is no limit to the number of items, just to the size of the imported file. Mine was about 1.7MB; I think very few people will cross the 75MB file size limit.

No app is really complete without mobile support and Feedbin already offers an API for third-party developers. Currently there are three iOS apps using Feedbin as back-end service, including the popular Reeder. Personally I prefer NewsIfy and I would rather not change both my site on the web and my mobile app, but Reeder is currently free and seems decent enough. I had some problems logging in from Reeder on Friday, but that seems to be solved now. Feedbin was migrating servers for better speed and reliability, so this could have been the cause.

I saw some reviews mentioning the app is rather slow, but for me it was pretty responsive in most actions, from switching feeds to marking all as read. Videos and iframes are currently stripped because of security concerns, but that could change in future releases. Also some images don’t load, especially in image heavy feeds, which is annoying, but probably related to the same restrictions. The only major downside I see right now is the lack of support for Internet Explorer – Feedbin simply refuses to load in IE10 – probably not a priority for most people using RSS, but you never know when you end up in a place where you can’t use alternative browsers.

Bottom line: despite being relatively new and built by a single developer, Feedbin is one of the best feed readers available, even if some of the manual setup steps could put some people off. I know this is pretty late, but I’m still trying to decide between this and Feedly – which has the sole advantage of being supported by NewsIfy…

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