By Stephen Hackett
August 31, 2016 2:09 PM PT
RSS isn’t dead, and here’s the proof
Some may say that in the world of Twitter lists and Facebook Instant Articles, RSS is dead. After Google Reader shut down in 2013, many people believed that it may live only as the underlying technology for subscribing to podcasts. Consuming website content over RSS suddenly seemed very old fashioned.
However here in 2016, the landscape for RSS services and apps is still robust. While Google Reader dominated before it was shuttered, today users have lots of options to mix and match to create their own experiences.
I think that’s great. It means that today, I can read my favorite websites and blogs via RSS just like I have for the last decade: in a dedicated client of my choosing.
The core of the RSS experience is the service, and there are lots of good choices. These seem to be the most popular:
- Feedly — Free; $5/mo for a professional account with more sharing options and IFTTT support
Feedbin – $3/mo
Feed Wrangler — $19/year
NewsBlur — Free; $24/year for an unlimited number of sites and additional features
The first two options are pretty similar to Google Reader in look and feel. They have solid web apps and Feedly offer native apps for iOS, with Feedly also having an Android app. Both have pretty universal support within third-party iOS and macOS apps.
Feed Wrangler’s UI isn’t as polished as Feedly or Feedbin, and while it is supported in third-party apps, its own iOS app is top-notch. Like the others, it supports smart folders and searches to help triage incoming articles.
NewBlur is an animal all unto itself. It’s for RSS power users. It can be trained to filter our stories even highlight ones that should interest you. It offers an iOS and Android app, as some of its features are hidden from regular RSS clients.
There’s also Fever, which is a web app that requires your own server. While it can be used to read every article from every subscription you have, it works to combine repeated stories and present them as one “hot” story. This means when Apple news breaks, for example, you can see a collection of stories and links about it one place, as opposed to having similar content clog up your entire timeline. Fever is nice, but as it requires a server, isn’t for the average user.
Out of all of these, I use Feedbin. I like that the $3/mo allows the company to be sustainable, and I find it to be the the most comfortable in terms of UI on the web. Feedly is a little flashy for my tastes, and Feed Wrangler a little too odd in places.
Most of these services offer their own first-party apps, but there are several Mac and iOS apps that do a better job at collecting, reading and sharing RSS items.
On the Mac, the two big names are Reeder and ReadKit. Both support a wide range of RSS services, can fetch items in the background, format them nicely for reading, and offer a ton of ways to share content to social networks, email and more.
I think that Reeder, while on a fairly slow development cycle, is slightly nicer than ReadKit. In my experience, ReadKit is harder on the CPU and lacks a little bit of polish in the corners.
On iOS, the landscape is more varied. Unread is very simple, and based all around gestures. Reeder is fiddly, but doesn’t use system services like the iOS Share Sheet. Mr. Reader is incredibly customizable, but is iPad only. Slow Feeds attempts to divide feeds with higher volumes of content from those that have slower, less frequent updates.
My go-to on the iPhone and iPad is Unread. It’s quick to use on the go, and the gestures mean it’s easy to use one handed, even on my 6S Plus.
Since I’m signed into Feedbin on both Reeder on my Mac and Unread on my iOS devices, the articles I’ve read and unread all stay in sync, just like email. It’s easy to go back and forth without losing anything between the cracks.