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January 2014

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You should be using RSS.

I started using an RSS aggregator in earnest once Google Reader showed up. I'd used other RSS readers before that, but they were all clunky, slow, annoying... well, they all sucked. Liferea and Thunderbird were "OK," but not OK enough for me to completely drink the RSS kool-aid.

Some RSS readers are stupid. They set off alerts or bells or stuff popping up on your screen. They're useless.

Google Reader, on the other hand, basically redefines how you access the web - it essentially takes everything you tell it to and puts it in ONE place. It can handle dozens, hundreds of feeds. You can put every site you ever check in there. And then, when you feel like it, you can see what's been added and read it without leaving the reader UI. No flash ads, no javascript, no navigation menus, no extra sidebar crap - just the post content. It doesn't shout at you. It doesn't yell at you. It just sits there, collecting interwebs for you.

Google reader is a hosted web application, accessible via any modern browser with javascript enabled. This makes life as an end user really simple - you don't have to maintain your feed list on multiple clients. Your clients don't have to do all the work of aggregation themselves (which, when you have a few dozen feeds checking every 10 minutes, starts to become an issue). You can access it from any system with a modern browser.

Google reader is more than that, though - it's also got the best UI of any aggregator I've seen.

By default, reader will only display items that are non-empty - so feeds that have no unread items just get out of your way. This sounds pretty basic, but in practice it works really well. There's no UI penalty for adding a site that's updated every 3 months - most of the time, it's not in the UI at all, but when it *is* updated, you'll know it.

Reader has categories. You can dump all of your friends' weblogs into a "friends" category, and instead of accessing each feed individually you can access them all simply by selecting that category.

Once you select a category or a feed, all of its unread items (by default) show up in their entirety in the right hand pane. You can navigate through these items by vi keybindings, which works REALLY well - so even though a long item consumes the entire pane, you can skip it very quickly just by hitting "j". I was skeptical of this method at first, but it actually works much better than a traditional "list" view (which reader also supports).

The downside to google reader? Well, google now knows almost *everything* about your web usage, even more than they could have gleaned by their existing tracking mechanisms.


Nitin Dahyabhai @ Wed Aug 06 11:55:39 -0400 2008

Plus, it works great on almost any phone.

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