Categories
Applications

You don’t need Facebook News to keep up with news

Facebook News (or, rather, a Facebook News tab), is rolling out in the USA, and there are valid concerns about this already, for various reasons.

Whether you’re in the USA, or not, you don’t need (and may not want to rely on) Facebook News to keep up with the news. Instead, there is a tried, tested, and widely available alternative that you can configure to suit your preferences right now: feed readers.

Advantages to using a feed reader

Feed readers have been around for decades, and use RSS or XML feeds that most news sites (and virtually all blogs) publish to syndicate their content. They aren’t exactly the Hot New ThingTM these days, but they’re still going strong. They also have a few advantages over options like Facebook News:

  • You have a wealth of choice when it comes to selecting your feed reader;
  • You can choose which sources to follow, and you’ll receive all the updates from all of your sources, pretty much as they publish them without relying on an algorithm to share the updates in your feed;
  • If you don’t like using your current feed reader, you can usually export your feeds, and move to a new feed reader.

Feed reader vs feed aggregator

When it comes to choosing a feed reader, you’ll want to make two decisions: which feed aggregator you want to use, and which feed reader you wan to use to read your feeds. Some feed readers are standalone feed aggregators, and you can use them to subscribe to your feeds on your local device.

Most feed reader apps (like the ones I mention below) will do this.

The real magic is when you have a feed aggregator that syncs between your feed reader apps. They’ll all enable you to subscribe to your preferred feeds. All you’ll want to decide is which one to use. There are a couple services to consider:

  • Feedly – I consider Feedly to be the spiritual successor to Google Reader. It’s a web-based service that has both Feedly apps for iOS and Android, and you can also use a variety of 3rd party feed readers to subscribe to your Feedly feeds;
  • Feedbin – Feedbin is similar to Feedly in that it’s a feed aggregator, and integrates with a variety of 3rd party apps on multiple platforms; and
  • Inoreader – This is another popular service that has mobile apps for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone.

Feed reader and service recommendations

Here are a few great feed reader options to consider:

  • NetNewsWire – This mainstay from a decade or so ago is back, and is being actively developed as an open source feed reader for macOS. It’s contributors are adding more and more integrations and functionality at a rapid pace;
  • Reeder – Reeder is a paid macOS app that I’ve been using for years. It’s packed with functionality, including a decent Pocket reader;
  • FeedReader – If you’re a Linux user, this nicely designed app is a good option to consider. It seems to have borrowed it’s design from a macOS app I like, Reeder, and integrates with services like Feedly to give you a desktop option for your Feedly feeds;
  • WordPress.com Reader – If you’re a WordPress.com user, you can also use the included Reader as a feed reader;
  • Nuzzel – If you prefer to receive your news updates on Twitter (Twitter is pretty well suited for this), then Nuzzel offers a great way to collate news updates, especially when you use it in conjunction with curated Twitter lists that you populate with your preferred news sources; and
  • Thunderbird – You may remember Thunderbird as Mozilla’s email app. It’s still being developed, and includes a feed reader too. Thunderbird is free, cross-platform, and open source, so it’s a great option too.

When it comes to keeping up to date with news, and the sites you’re interested in, feed readers remain a terrific way to do it. There are many options available when it comes to both aggregators, and feed readers. Make your own choices, and subscribe to the content that matters most to you.

Featured image by Roman Kraft
Categories
Applications Blogs and blogging

A feed reader that lets me comment and like?

I use Feedly to subscribe to sites that I follow. I was just reading through some of the feeds, and I realised that I don’t seem to have a way to give feedback on posts, from Feedly.

For example, if I read something that I like, I’d like to, well, “Like” the post, or leave a comment from my feed reader.

The only feed reader that has this capability is the WordPress.com Reader, and that’s pretty much focused on WordPress sites.

Do other feed readers do this too? 🤔

Categories
Semantic Web Social Web

My Feedly wishlist

Richard MacManus wrote about the state of feed readers as he saw it in his AltPlatform.org post titled “The state of feed readers”. He mentioned a couple things in his Feedly wishlist that prompted me to think more about what I’d like to see added to Feedly.

Feedly – ye olde feed reader for the Information Age

If you haven’t heard of Feedly, it is a feed reader. Yup, those old fashioned services that use RSS to subscribe to new blog posts and other content available through RSS and then present it to you to read through at your leisure.

Many people have announced that RSS died with the advent of Twitter, Facebook, Flipboard or any number of other “Web 2.0” services. They are wrong.

While feed readers may not be as popular as they once were[1], they remain one of the best ways to receive the updates you care most about.

I loved using Google Reader back in the day and I switched to Feedly when Google killed Reader off. I still don’t understand why Google did that. Thankfully Feedly stepped into the void that Reader left behind.

It’s where my stuff is

I really like using Feedly. I think I’ve been using it since about 2008. Twitter is useful for breaking news but when I want to go through the content that matters most to me, I generally go to Feedly.

Like MacManus, I am a Feedly Pro user and it’s been worth it. I probably couldn’t tell you what all the Pro features are but I’m happy with the end result so I keep renewing my subscription.

I was meandering through some dusty directories on my Mac recently and I came across a Feedly benefit that I completely forgot about. It turns out that Feedly has been backing up my OPML files[2] to Dropbox since 2014 (possibly when I started paying for Pro).

Feedly has a “read later” feature but I haven’t really used it all that much. I have preferred using Instapaper or Pocket for that.

I also realised that I forgot that Feedly has also been saving articles I marked to “read later” using its native tool as PDFs in my Dropbox folder. This is a pretty useful feature and it probably would have been even more useful if I remembered that I had enabled it!

A more recent Feedly feature is the ability to highlight text in feed items rendered in Feedly itself. This only really works when you subscribe to full feeds and doesn’t extend to pages that open from Feedly.

I love this feature in Instapaper which I started using as a research tool because I could highlight text as well as annotate it with comments. Feedly doesn’t go quite that far but it has real potential.

My Feedly wishlist

As much as I enjoy using Feedly, I’d love to see a few more features added. For one thing, I’d really like text highlights to be made portable somehow.

I can definitely see myself using Feedly as the research tool I thought Instapaper may become (for me at least) but I’d need to be able to do more with those notations. Here are a few ideas that, if implemented, would make Feedly so much more useful to me.

More useful highlights

I’d like to have the ability to capture text highlights into some sort of text file that preserves the context/source of the highlights (in other words, the article title, source and perhaps even highlight timestamps). IFTTT doesn’t have access to highlights so that isn’t an option at the moment.

It would also be great to be able to share highlighted text coherently and contextually through 3rd party services including to blogs, perhaps using IndieWeb tools.

Better sharing options

On a related note, imagine if Feedly baked IndieWeb functionality such as Micropub that enables users to share highlights or some other form of marked up content outside Feedly?

In particular, I’d really like to be able to share a highlight or even just a post I like directly to my blog on my phone.

I can already do something like this in my desktop browser. Sharing to WordPress from my browser invokes the WordPress “Press This” functionality, which is great.

At the same time, I find that I use my phone more than my laptop and given how many people use their smartphones as their primary computers, it makes sense for Feedly to make mobile a first class citizen.

Perhaps this could take the form of a pre-formatted share directly through the WordPress app or an intermediary step with a text file.

Feedly doesn’t even seem to offer an option to see my highlights in one place like Instapaper does.

Instapaper notes
Instapaper highlights and notes view.

I’m not sure what is possible, technically. At the same time, I’d like to be able to select something I have highlighted and share it on my blog with the contextual data about that highlighted text preserved, much like you can see in this screenshot of some of my Instapaper notes.

You could even take that further and enable other Feedly users to highlight that text and capture it into their own profiles almost like Amazon enables people to see what other readers have highlighted in Kindle books and add those highlights to their own collections.

Doing more with Feedly Boards

Feedly has something called “Boards” which are basically lists of articles you save to pre-defined lists. I’d really like to be able to share an RSS feed of my boards on my blog, for example.

Feedly board example
An example of a Feedly board.

Fortunately, I can use IFTTT to capture the articles I save. Still, I’d like to be able to create a sort of link roll based on my Feedly boards as an option from within Feedly.

I imagine I can do something similar to this through IFTTT but this is something that would probably work better as a native Feedly feature.

Just putting the thought out there

As I watch this IndieWeb thing gather steam, I’m hopeful that the ethos spreads not just throughout the online publishing world (aka the Blogosphere vx.0) but also to services like Feedly.

There is a lot to say for social media services. In many ways they have connected the online world in a way that Humanity hasn’t experienced. At the same time, we desperately need independent services like Feedly that empower us to consume the information we choose the way we prefer to do it.

My suggestions may not be even remotely on Feedly’s roadmap so I’m not expecting them to be implemented. At the same time, if they are, the result could be an even better service that we have at the moment.

Featured image credit: rawpixel.com


  1. Thinking back, I don’t think feed readers ever actually had mass appeal, just a dedicated core group of users who saw the value in customisable content streams.  ↩
  2. OPML stands for “Outline Processor Markup Language”. My OPML files are basically lists or indices of my RSS subscriptions. They are a great example of data portability in action because you can usually import OPML files into new feed readers and retain all your content sources.  ↩
Categories
Design Mobile Tech Social Web Web/Tech

Feedly, Google Currents and how we read

Google launched Google Currents and released Android and iOS apps. I installed the app and it is a beautiful app but I couldn’t help but notice its similarities to an app that has been around for a while: Feedly. Take a look at these two videos which demonstrate both services’/apps’ functionality:

and

Feedly is more explicitly a service which uses Google Reader as its content source. Its similarities to other feed readers pretty much stops there. Feedly doesn’t use the classic “subscription” and “feed” terminology. It talks about “following” content sources and gives you the ability to share widely using services like Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and save content to Instapaper, Evernote and other services.

I tend to use Reeder for my feeds (I still refer to them as feeds, I am that retro) but Feedly is my next best choice. Currents is a beautiful looking app (to my layperson’s eyes) and worth exploring. It emphasizes Google+ sharing but you can also share or save to other services like Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instapaper and Pinboard. I’ve seen a couple tweets about Currents being a Flipboard challenger but I think a better comparison is with Feedly. Flipboard is more of a discovery service where you read whatever other people have chosen to share. With Currents and Feedly, you choose your sources. You just don’t get into RSS-land, at least not explicitly.

What I find interesting is that services/apps like Currents and Feedly show that we still want to read our “feeds” but we just don’t want to deal with the geekier feed-related terminology or formats. We prefer a nicely designed interface to the classic Google Reader interface but we want our sources and our content just the same. Thank goodness. For a while there, I thought Twitter really would become the only way we read content.