How do you follow blogs?

RSS IconAs some of you may know, Google has decided to terminate Google Reader as of July 1st. This announcement was bad news for Robin and me, as we’ve been loyal Reader users for years. I also thought it was an ironically timed decision, occurring just two months after the death of Aaron Swartz, one of the creators of RSS (the web protocol used by feed readers). Google claims that Reader has been losing users, but I don’t think this explains its demise. The power of feed readers (aka RSS readers, blog readers, news readers, news aggregators, etc.) is that they allow users to directly control their content. You pick your subscriptions and read what you like. Detailed content is encouraged. Clicking an entry takes you directly to the source. Supposedly competing services such as Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Google Now and so forth use computer algorithms to decide what you want to see and target their advertising. The death of Google Reader is a loss for the open and free web as envisioned by activists such as Aaron Swartz.

I realize most of our readers are not affected by the end of Google Reader. This post enumerates some alternatives for those who are affected and requests some feedback from those who are not.

“What’s a feed reader?”

If you follow blogs by manually visiting each site, I have a helpful suggestion: get a feed reader! It will save so much time. A feed reader is a program or web service which lets you define a list of blogs to follow, and then it automatically monitors the “feeds” and notifies you when new content is published. The interface is often reminiscent of an e-mail client, with new entries shown in bold until you view them. You can subscribe to any site which publishes RSS, so that includes ordinary blogs like this one but also less obvious sources such as online news feeds or even local Craigslist searches.

The next section suggests some feed readers to try.

“I use Google Reader — now what?”

If you use Google Reader regularly, your first step should be to visit Google Takeout and download your reader data before July 1st, 2013. That link will select the required files for you. Just click “Create Archive” and then “Download” on the next page. Some alternative feed readers will allow you to import this data to more quickly set up your subscriptions.

The most obvious successor for Google Reader is another free online feed service: Feedly. Feedly formerly depended on Google for much of their functionality, but they’ve invested in a lot of new gear over the past 3 months and are now a completely standalone service. If you sign up for Feedly before July 1st, they can automatically import your blog list from Google. By default, Feedly provides a magazine-style interface, but you can switch your feeds to the new “Title Only View” to restore some of that Reader simplicity. I’m pretty happy with Feedly.

I have also seen recommendations for these feed services, but I haven’t tried them:

If you’re leery of online services and would rather not share your list of favorite kitten blogs with the NSA, a desktop feed reader might be better for you. These fall into two categories: browser plugins and true desktop applications.

If you use the Firefox browser, there are at least two popular feed reader plugins:

A plugin makes a nice feed reader because you never have to leave the browser. There are feed reader plugins for Safari, Chrome, Opera, and Internet Explorer but I don’t use these browsers.

As far as dedicated desktop applications go, we only use Linux at home so I can’t make recommendations for Windows or Mac users. I know the RSSOwl reader gets good reviews and works on all three platforms, but it might not be the best choice for your operating system.

If you also use Linux, other feed readers to try include Liferea and Akregator. Both should be easily available through your desktop’s install tool. I plan to import my subscriptions into all three and see if they offer any advantages over the web based services.

Am a missing a feed reader you love? Let me know in the comments.

“I don’t use Google Reader”

Perhaps you use the subscription system built into Blogspot, one of the services listed above, or something else entirely. For all of you, is there anything we should add to our site which would make it easier to follow? We plan to update our theme in the coming months with more social tools, so any feedback is welcome.

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14 Responses to How do you follow blogs?

  1. Ray Collins says:

    I can recommend NewsBlur. It is past the growing pains caused by all the people like myself bailing out of Google Reader, and has continued to improve. It was recommended to me by Drs. Frakt and Carroll of The Incidental Economist, so you can check their blog archive for their take.

  2. Momwithaprep says:

    Feedly.com has become my reader of choice since the announcement. It has some ability to customize the feed look, but is basically just a fancied up version of Reader.

    • lee says:

      I’ve experimented with Feedly off and on since the announcement too, but it still hasn’t clicked for me. It’s prettier than Google Reader, but noticeably less reliable. I hope that improves with time.

  3. I wanted the feeds to be ready right away, and I didn’t want to rely on another service that could just tank out, so I decided to set up my own RSS server for myself at my own domain.

    After trying out 4-5 popular programs built for independent webserver use, I decided upon RSS lounge. https://code.google.com/p/rsslounge/

    You can check out my setup above, I’ve de-password protected it for a couple of days. The interface was great, the setup not impossible, and the program works great. We’ve been using this for 4 months now, and I’ve done 5 different installations for family.

    • lee says:

      Thanks for the suggestion! This is a great idea for people who already host their own sites. I’d heard of private RSS servers, but I hadn’t really considered them before. I never managed to log into yours, but the screen shots on the official project page look clean and simple. If the interface renders well on Android it will definitely go on the “possibles” list.

  4. Ali says:

    I too am bummed about Reader’s demise. I’ve set up Feedly, but I liked Reader’s interface. Damn progress!

    • robin says:

      LOL! I just now moved my favorite blogs over from Reader. I was pretending it wasn’t really happening until the last minute.

  5. ShimFarm says:

    I use Blogger’s Reading List on the dashboard, but I also have you bookmarked under my “Blogs” heading. That’s my favorite way of accessing blogs, sort of ritualistic way of starting my day off, or finishing it up. I just scroll through the list and see what catches my eye…

    I guess I’m a Luddite, eh?

    • lee says:

      Well, you write and follow blogs, so I’d say that alone disqualifies you from Luddite status. ­čÖé Blogspot seems to be the most common free host for blogs, so my guess is that a lot of people use the Reading List feature on the dashboard.

      If you use Firefox, you might try one of the feed reader plugins. I know at least one of them just pulls from an ordinary list of bookmarks.

  6. Benita says:

    I keep a list of links to those I read regularly on my website. Not only can I just go down the list and read, but other people can find new-to-them blogs this way. This is how I found most of those I read – from other people’s blog lists.

  7. John Aschim says:

    Dear Farm Folly folks,
    Stumbled over your web site trying to research the proper sort of pig house to build. My wife and I live in the Yoncalla area, about two miles south of town. Elevation 375′ and on the southern side of the Elk Creek drainage. Your postings indicate you are enthusiastic and enjoying the homestead life.
    We are trying to do the same thing where we live, but there are a few problems that need solving. One is gathering up a little more money, as this little farm we’re on is not going to be paying the bills until A LOT of infrastructure is repaired, mostly the fences. Another is maintaining a relationship with others who are interested in the rural lifestyle and who are having success with their efforts.
    My question is, do you ever have open houses where you invite the public in to take a tour? If so, I would like to put in for one, and I would expect you’d like to know some basic facts about me or anyone who might be coming to visit you. I would be happy to fill out a “fact sheet” about myself and this farm, and provide an address and phone number, if you’d like.
    I’m 60, and a Luddite, but I still use technology whenever it doesn’t create more problems than it solves. I look forward to your reply.
    Sincerely,
    John Aschim

  8. EGB says:

    I had been using Google Reader via RSS..Feedly always had issues when I first switched to it so I abandoned it.

    So how do I read blogs now? Slowly..I should be up to 2014 on this blog by 2017.

    • lee says:

      Feedly is vastly improved. I tried it when it first came out and gave up, but the death of Google Reader brought in a lot of new users and money. I’m pretty happy with it now. I much prefer an RSS reader which shows me the whole feed versus all the social-media solutions which filter out posts based on my habits (or based on who paid for attention).

      2013 and 2014 were the slow years on our blog. 26 posts and 45 posts respectively.

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