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September 14, 2010, 08:00 AM ET

RSS Readers: What Do You Use (if you do)?

RSS iconDespite the fact that the ProfHacker RSS feed at the Chronicle is, shall we say, less than desirable [but we can't do anything about it], ProfHacker is a huge fan of using RSS feeds to increase productivity.

Mark has discussed Hacking Your Library's Catalog [Using] SMS and RSS, it's part of Amy's methods for managing multiple class blogs, guest author Matt Thomas uses RSS for Managing Twitter Favorites, guest author Lincoln Mullen uses RSS for Keeping Up With Journals, and I know at least one post later this week will discuss RSS in relation to the job market.

But that's not all! In September 2009, Jason wrote a simple, informative, and quite popular post on RSS itself: Keeping Up Online: an Intro to RSS. In Jason's post, he (rightly) notes that in order to read RSS feeds, you need a feed reader (or a "news aggregator"), of which there are many options. One of those options is Google Reader, which Amy has previously written about. But what prompted this post is the recent news that Bloglines will shut down as of October 1st.

Bloglines is (was) a very popular web-based news aggregator; I vividly remember when it first burst onto the scene, and then just how many of my friends used it—a fact I was reminded of when the shutdown was announced and those same friends lamented its passing. While the end of Bloglines is itself interesting and warrants a post soliciting user opinions as to RSS readers to replace it in one's workflow, also interesting is the statement that "RSS aggregator usage has slowed significantly, and Bloglines isn’t the only service to feel the impact.. The writing is on the wall." That writing, one presumes, is a note that RSS is Dead.

So that brings to mind two questions:

  • Do you think RSS is dead? Or, more to the point, how do you use RSS and has that use changed with the advent of [insert other system or service]? Personally, while I still follow a couple hundred blogs in Google Reader, I follow 600+ people on Twitter, and quite frankly there's very little that I find in my reader that I haven't already heard via Twitter.
  • If you use an RSS reader, what RSS reader or news aggregator do you use? I used to use the Sage add-on for Firefox, but a couple years ago switched over to Google Reader. I admit that I don't even have a feed reader on my Droid, and I use my smartphone a lot.

How about you? Let's share in the comments, shall we?

[Creative Commons licensed photo by Flickr user Rafa[EU]]


1. phdeviate - September 14, 2010 at 08:18 am

I've been dissatisfied with the RSS options out there. I've used to read RSS, and various other things. For now, for the RSS I want to keep track of, I use the ability to aggregate the blog posts of the sites I want to read. I don't like google reader's format, and the feature they offer is not perfect, but I like being able to my own site to be able to see when things were updated. It's not dissimilar from how some people use their blogroll, but I didn't want it on a sidebar or menu where it would be visible from every single page. I do with Google offered the option to capture a snippet with the title. Or even other metadata, (date and time of the post?)

If anyone has a better system, I'm really interested in hearing it!

2. george_h_williams - September 14, 2010 at 08:21 am

I've never used RSS feeds much (except to incorporate feeds from other sites into the design of a particular site), so I don't really feel qualified to weigh in on the question of whether or not RSS is dead. Whenever I've tried to keep up with information via RSS I find myself overwhelmed when I see that a few hundred articles have accumulated in my queue since last I checked my reader. For some reason, I feel a twinge of guilt if I don't read through them all (which I hardly ever do).

That said, I recently started using Apple Mail as my RSS reader simply because I already use Mail pretty regularly (for, you know, my email), so it's an easy way to incorporate RSS into my existing workflow.

3. chapmandw - September 14, 2010 at 08:31 am

I use Google Reader on both my PC and Droid; it allows me to scan the headlines of my feeds and see what may be interesting. Within the reader, the blogs that provide most (or all) of the article with their feeds are most helpful (for example: Mashable provides most/all of the articles, but MSNBC provides only a sentence or two)

However... the number of feeds I have is, admittedly, a little unmanageable, so the headlines have to be eye catching or I'll shoot right past. I really need to figure out a better way.

4. kcfeminist - September 14, 2010 at 08:40 am

I use Google Reader with a ridiculous number of feeds (including ProfHacker!). I find it useful for keeping up on topic areas -- I use my iPad to browse the feeds in the evening or on weekends on the sofa after dinner (this was in fact the main reason I bought an iPad).

We also set up an office account so that our student bloggers can look through the feeds to get ideas for blog topics. I've been trying (unsuccessfully) to get my first-year seminar students to use an RSS feed to keep up with the class blog so they can stop emailing me with questions that could be answered by reading the blog.

All that said, you have to be willing to be ruthless about hitting "mark all as read" when things pile up or you'll easily get overwhelmed.

5. smharrin - September 14, 2010 at 08:40 am

I used to use Sage, but lately have been using google reader, which isn't perfect, but suits me fine. I have to admit that I was surprised to get the "death of RSS" point in the Bloglines announcement--I had no clue that RSS was on its way out. Most of the bloggers in my RSS feed don't post their posts to twitter (I never do--I think this has to do with the fact that my blog is pseduonymous and my twitter feed is a mix of pseudonymous connections and RL connections, and I'm still thinking through the relationship of my blog to RL readers, which is another topic).

But I'm thinking that there's a lot of variance in the overlap of people's Twitter and blog feeds (and FB). For me, they are distinct enough that I still rely on RSS considerably.

6. robbmcc - September 14, 2010 at 09:09 am

I feel like the web is becoming less and less RSS friendly. Many blogs that I used to subscribe to with RSS no longer provide an RSS feed, or provide a lousy RSS feed (i.e., titles but no content). It's as though the paid-for-by-advertising Web has figured out that if people read the web with an RSS feeder, then they won't see the ads and that's bad. I think most blogs today try to force readers to link to the original site in order to read the content.

7. heatherwhitney - September 14, 2010 at 09:38 am

I was a longtime Bloglines user, but after a period a few years ago where there was a lengthy outage with no word from them on status, I switched to Google Reader. Maybe that outage was a harbinger of things to come, because Bloglines recently announced its end. But I'm really happy with Google Reader. Except when blogs don't have full feeds.

8. meaganr - September 14, 2010 at 10:09 am

Google Reader on my computer and my iPod Touch. I've used it for a long time and continue to be happy with it.

9. jrstrang - September 14, 2010 at 10:29 am

I follow a couple of hundred of blogs using Google Reader. I use Gruml (Mac OS) as a desktop client and Newsrack as my client on my iPhone.

I've started coverting certain Twitter feeds into RSS ones because of the ease of archiving RSS and because I tend to miss things in my Twitter feed which is always zooming by me!

10. alissawilkinson - September 14, 2010 at 10:57 am

Google Reader (couldn't live without it), and Byline on my iPhone, which has two-way sync with Reader but can be accessed offline.

11. james_f_mcgrath - September 14, 2010 at 11:09 am

I use Google Reader, and I don't see how anyone could think that RSS feeds are dead. Do people actually still meander from blog to blog, typing in each one's address and check if there's anything new?

To use Google Reader effectively, one has to create folders and organize feeds into ones that are "must read", "if there's time" and "rarely/never". Otherwise it can quickly get out of control.

Google Reader works differently/better on some devices/computers than others, in terms of how easy it is to browse headlines and mark ones you're not going to read as "read".

12. slkeeth - September 14, 2010 at 11:35 am

I use Google Reader as well. Some sites don't have an "add to RSS feed" button easily visible, so I use AddThis in Firefox to easily add feeds.

The one thing I haven't figured out is how to "grandfather in" some of my private Yahoo Groups. If anyone has a tip about how to do that, I'd love to hear it!

13. jason_b_jones - September 14, 2010 at 12:39 pm

The backend is Google Reader, but I use NetNewsWire on desktop/laptop machines and Reeder on my iPad. I don't read feeds on my phone, though, when I did, I used Byline, like @alissawilkinson.

NetNewsWire provides a more Mac-friendly UI to RSS. (Although I'm going to look up Gruml, per @jrstrang!) And, like @james_f_mcgrath, couldn't imagine the web wtihout it.

14. amahoney - September 14, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Google Reader for me, though I'm *seriously* annoyed that it constantly complains that my browser is "out of date." I'm far too busy to muck around with software upgrades every other week -- aren't most of us?

15. sheepeeh - September 14, 2010 at 05:12 pm

GoogleReader, but if I want to save something for later/offline reading, I'll throw it into Opera's built-in feed reader. I like GReader primarily for the social aspect -- lots of good shares and comments, and very little duplication of links already passed in my Twitter/Facebook feeds.

I don't think RSS is dead; I get irritated when sites I frequent don't offer one, and was quite pleased when GReader added the "generate a feed for this site" option.

I'd also be dead without the tagging/foldering options, especially the one labeled "Too many posts," which allows me to kill all the extra prolific feeds in one swoop if I've been away from it for a bit.

16. bpimentel - September 14, 2010 at 05:34 pm

I also use Google Reader, but always with the "Next" bookmarklet. That way I can use Google Reader to manage subscriptions, but quickly and easily read blog posts on their home websites.

Look for it in Google Reader > Settings > Goodies.

17. cosmosis - September 14, 2010 at 07:04 pm

I am clearly in the minority here, but I have always found Google Reader to be too overwhelming and entail far too much clicking around to actually take advantage of it as a reader.

Personally, I prefer Netvibes as my homepage/landing page for my most critical RSS feeds. It updates automatically throughout the day, offering a snapshot view of the title and first sentence of an article, and allows click-through to the full article either in Netvibes itself or to the site. Plus, they recently implemented a new feature to toggle between the traditional "start page" view or a "reader" view, a la Google Reader (which, as you can tell, I never use).

I also like the fact that I can keep my task list on my homepage so most of my critical work/reminder info is kept in one place.

18. kheenan - September 14, 2010 at 08:05 pm

I've been using Google Reader for years; I can't imagine living without it. I have too many feeds and often end up marking "all read," but having the feeds helps me keep up on what journals are publishing, what friends are posting on their blogs, on ProfHacker, on all things newsie, and on third-pard software apps for my Mac

Periodically I go through all my feeds and delete ones I rarely or never read. If there's something I want to read later, I usually post it to my delicious account.

19. nubianwed - September 14, 2010 at 11:36 pm

Google Reader made me crazy. It was information overload. Instead I love Feedly. I've been using it for a few weeks and it gives me new information in an easy to navigate format. And I can add other feeds pretty easily.

20. jrlupton - September 15, 2010 at 07:17 am

I haven't used RSS much, but the posts are encouraging me to try Google Reader, since I am now using Google for a lot of other services, including my calendar (just switched from AirSet). Currently I rely on Twitter and on news alerts from the Chronicle, the Times, Planetizen, and other favorite sites.

21. mattcardin - September 15, 2010 at 07:35 am

Like many others here, my answer is: first, Google Reader. Then, Google Reader. And finally, Google Reader. It's just a wonderful tool.

I also find iGoogle to be useful for its version of the personalized homepage/startpage approach, but usually I find myself not really paying attention to it, since I'm innately inclined toward rapid scanning of large amounts of material in a search for what's interesting and relevant to my needs and interests, and Google Reader would seem to be tailor made for such an inclination, with its almost instantaneous rapidity and efficiency in enabling one to amass large amounts of headlines and post/story titles from a vast variety of sources.

22. infogoon - September 15, 2010 at 07:38 am

What's the word? Thunderbird!

23. michaelnelson - September 15, 2010 at 08:38 am

I used to use Bloglines and still prefer it to Google Reader except for one thing: I find Google Reader easier for synchronizing with the readers I use on my iPod Touch.

So I recently made that switch, even though I dislike the clunky way Google Reader looks.

24. lexalexander - September 15, 2010 at 09:04 am

I was a longtime Bloglines user despite its occasional, and sometimes lengthy, service outages. I follow more than 120 blogs combining both personal and professional interests (down from about 300 when I worked in media), and I prefer to have the full texts of the blogs all in one place in a web-based app that I can access from home, office or mobile.

With Bloglines' demise imminent, I'm experimenting with Google Reader. I'm also using an application called Feed on Feeds, which is housed on the server on which a real-life friend of mine houses his blog. FonF has one feature I have found I like a lot: You can sort feeds in a number of different ways, including by which ones have the most new posts.

Unfortunately, neither GR nor FonF is as readable on my Droid as Bloglines was.


25. wfiske - September 15, 2010 at 10:29 am

Google Reader - but since they have quietly dropped offline support (, FeedDemon for those times when I know I am not going to have Internet access.

26. tbdiscovery - September 15, 2010 at 05:15 pm

I use Google Reader and receive 1,000s of items per day. However, I'm able to manage them through Desktop Google Reader.

27. kfoxt11 - September 16, 2010 at 10:00 am

I'm using Google Reader mostly. Saw this post the other day and I thought it was useful:

Also, I sometimes use Feedly. It's basically another viewing platform for Google Reader accounts.

28. derekbruff - September 20, 2010 at 02:05 pm

I'm a Google Reader user, too. I put most of my feeds into six different categories, and I've set up widgets for each category on my iGoogle page. So everytime I load up my browser, I get a sense of at least how many updates are in each category.

I use Google Reader on my Droid, too. Since I don't always want to read something very long on my phone, I tend to look for new posts that I know will be quick reads. This kind of triage keeps my "unread" list from getting too long.

As for RSS versus Twitter, many times I'll see a link go around Twitter that I know will be in Google Reader. Since I'm often checking Twitter when I don't have time to do much reading, I'll just make a mental note to check the link out in Google Reader when I can sit and read. So Twitter often functions as a "coming attractions" for Google Reader for me.

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