Comparing online newsreaders

Today I will talk about some tools I’m using daily, namely feedreaders. It is likely that at least a good half of the people with whom I’m working use these readers in order to browse among dozens, if not hundreds of feeds. For the readers of this blog who don’t use such tools, here’s a quick description of the benefits they bring. I know they are not immediately obvious to the people who do not regularly use feedreaders. In a few words, you can fetch in one interface the content of the websites you’re visiting on a daily or weekly basis and read this always updated content (through RSS or Atom feeds provided by those web sites). Now how this is supposed to work better than the « old way » of browsing pages on the web? To be fair, it is only useful if you’re like me and many others, browsing hundreds of articles and dozens of website throughout the day while working on something else. Otherwise, feedreaders’s advantage will have little value in comparison of your good old bookmarks.

The section on fundamentals will stop here. What I would like to talk about now is not the feedreaders themselves, but the online feedreaders. Although I happen to use feedreaders myself, (on my Mac, I occasionaly use Vienna, a BSD feedreader for Mac with multiple themes and a clean , yet elegant interface) I mostly use online feedreaders. Why?

Mostly because I don’t have to open yet another software regardless of how small its footprint would be and I can find it directly in my browser window. Another benefit is that I’m free to browse my feeds on other computers, although desktop feedreaders are obviously better in an offline mode (See my point on Google Gears further below). As it turns out, I am now using three on line feedreaders. If you care to ask why in the world I would use three of those, my answer will be simple: 1) because I’m weird 2) because I still can’t decide the best among those three. So here’s what I’ll do now: I shall discuss the merits and drawbacks of those three services below and ask interested readers to provide me here with their opinion and feedback on this matter.

Blorq : Blorq has been my first online feedreader I’ve been using. I happen to talk once in a while with its founder. I believe Blorq is the cleanest and simplest reader I’ve ever seen, but several issues bother me. First, it only works with Firefox (all versions) but not with other browsers such as Safari, Shiira, and Omniweb (I don’t remember if it works with Opera though). Second, Blorq is at this stage very much a project on hold. I’d love it to become sustainable though. On the up side, it is quite clean and fast, and it does one thing right (feedreading and aggregation) and while social features are present (through the use of « Sets ») it does not bug you with anything that is not feedreading.

Rojo : Probably one of the oldest online feedreader/aggregator, it sports the most beautiful interface (different shades of blue and red on a white background), at least according to my taste. It is very simple to use, puts more emphasis on social features through the division of one’s personal pages and tags and the aggregation of every pages making up for the Rojo publicly available aggregated content. It also works with every browser I have used so far. But there is a big minus: Quality. The service can sometimes be slow, or simply break and it does so often.

Google Reader : I have been wary and very critical of one of the most famous online feedreader for a long time. At first I thought the service was slow, its interface simple but not elegant and generally speaking behaving poorly. Also, I found Google Gears to be more of nuisance than anything.

However, all this changed almost imperceptibly in less than 6-8 months. Although I still find the interface to be too simple for my own aesthetic tastes, the performance of the service is now much better than both Rojo and Blorq. In short, Google Reader is fast. The configuration is also very easy, features are added almost every day and I have not explored all the shortcuts available. The feeds suggestion is also very good (probably even better than with Rojo) but given the fact that I am using mostly Firefox 3.0 beta versions I was not able to use Gears with the service in order to test its offline capabilities.

So to summarize things bluntly: Blorq goes for simplicity and purity, Rojo for Beauty, and Google Reader for performance. You choose. I can’t.

Last but not least, I didn’t want to end up this post without pointing to some useful RSS/OPML tools:

  • Xfruits : is a set of services churning RSS feeds, web content and OPML files (xml files storing a group of rss feeds listing) in and out websites, emails, blogposts, and even mobile. In fact, it could also be used as an RSS reader but you have to enter rss feeds manually instead of being able to import full OPML files as it’s the case with Blorq, Google Reader and Rojo. It’s a nice and useful service that does many things (although I believe their creation of OPML has a few glitches) made by a nice French company from Corsica.

  • Feedblendr: another online set of tools around RSS. You can do less things with Feedblendr than with Xfruits, but it might be very helpful and is simple enough to use by everybody.

Comments welcome!

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