With the demise of Google Reader and a stay of execution looking highly unlikely at this late stage, those of us who appreciate the power and flexibility of RSS have been scrambling for alternatives. They exist, but when you’re a screen reader user, the alternative needs to be accessible.
First, a word about RSS in a Twitter world. RSS, or really simple syndication, is a standard offered by many news and blog sites. In fact you’ll find such a feed on this one. Subscribing to an RSS feed in a feed aggregator means that you can have all your favourite news sources in one place. You can categorise them by folder to make it easier to get at the information you want.
So why not just use Twitter? Using Twitter intelligently as an alternative to RSS is worth considering. Many blogs and news feeds are there, and you can emulate the grouping of RSS feeds into folders to some extent by organising your news feeds into Twitter lists. For example, you could have a Twitter list for political news, another for tech news, perhaps another for local news.
The reason why I still come back to RSS is primarily because of my ability to preview more of the article without having to click through to the full text. I subscribe to a lot of feeds, I’m a news junky. Sometimes, reading the first few lines of an article is all I need to do to get the salient points, or to realise that the article isn’t of interest to me. With Twitter, the 140 character limit means I would spend a lot more time clicking links and waiting for the page to load. It’s just less efficient.
The nice thing about Google Reader is that it is cloud-based. I can consume content on my iPhone, iPad, Mac and PC, and all my devices know about what I’ve already read. While there are some excellent stand-alone RSS readers out there, for me this ability to have everything in sync gives me the freedom to work on whatever device I want, where i want, when I want.
On the iOS platform, my favourite feed reader is Feeddler Pro. It’s very VoiceOver friendly, you can preview a good chunk of the article without opening it, and it’s packed with customisation features and the ability to share links to other places. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll see me tweet links to news stories I find of interest. Many of these come through the sharing features in Feeddler. It’s just so easy to do. It complements Newsrack on my Mac, and FeedDemon on my PC, all of which have integrated with Google Reader.
Feeddler 2.0 is now available. Apart from a few minor bug fixes, most of the effort in this release has gone into supporting alternatives to Google Reader. I’m sure it’s a big job, and at present, each of the options I’ve tried has its idiosyncrasies with Feeddler. One shows read articles even when you’ve asked only to see unread items in settings, one seems to choke on larger number of articles, etc. But these are rough edges that I’m sure will be smoothed out with subsequent maintenance releases, and it sure beats losing access to this great app altogether.
ONe of the services offered, Bazqux, has some accessibility issues that the developer seems genuinely keen to address. The issue is that one signs into the service with an existing account such as your Twitter or Facebook ID. Feeddler can’t work with this, and you need to go to the options on the Bazqux website to create a log-in. The options link isn’t accessible, but the developer created a log-in for me and we’re now talking about how to make the site accessible.
So how do you liberate all that content from Google Reader? It’s a pretty straightforward process. One of the alternatives I tried simply lets you log into Google Reader and it does the rest. The others require you to upload an OPML file. This is a recognised standard for the transfer of multiple RSS feeds from one service to another. To Google’s great credit, they make this a simple process through a service called Google Takeout. By following the simple steps, you can download a zip file containing your Google data. You’ll find a subfolder in that zip file called Reader, and the magic file you want is in that folder, called subscriptions.xml. Upload that to your new feed reader, and you have all your feeds back, complete with the folder structure.
So which service have I settled on? I haven’t made up my mind yet, and the determining factor will ultimately be if there are updates to Newsrack and FeedDemon supporting one of them. I want my cross-platform RSS back.
While not yet giving me as smooth an experience as Google Reader, it’s great to be able to access three other options on my iPhone and iPad, with the promise of more to come. Thanks to Feeddler for keeping the cloud-based RSS experience accessible, and alive.