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Bill Brown

A complicated man.

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I've recently switched to Google Reader for all of my feed reading needs. This is the latest iteration in a long line of trying to find the perfect feed reading experience. Here's what "perfect" means to me in this context:

  • Readily available so that I can polish off a few items whenever I have a spare minute
  • Enables me to clear out a batch of unread items easily
  • Fast
  • Navigable by keyboard for faster reading
  • Native applications for whatever platform I'm on plus a Web application backend
  • Sync between work, home, and phone

I subscribe to 250 feeds presently so the primary consideration is staying on top of them. There is a real cognitive weight to having 1,593 unread items and I strongly dislike declaring "feed bankruptcy." So I have spent the last few years testing different options.

For most of that time, Bloglines was my go-to solution. It was fast and fairly efficient. But I was never satisfied because it was Web-based, lacked decent keyboard navigation, and required an Internet connection to access at all. I tried Google Reader when it first came out but it left me cold. Since I spent my working life on a Windows XP machine, I resigned myself to a Web-based application.

Then I got a Mac at work and suddenly all of the great Mac OS X feed reading applications were available. I again tried all of the ones I had evaluated at home: NetNewsWire, NewsFire, Shrook, and some others that I can't remember now. I settled on NetNewsWire because of the NewsGator syncing, the native iPhone application, and decent keyboard navigation. I still wasn't completely happy with the set up because the NewsGator Web application is terrible: no keyboard navigation, slower than you'd think possible, and hard to mark items as read.

As I said earlier, Google Reader is my current solution and I think it's going to stick this time. The Web application has matured substantially since I looked at it four years ago. It lacks a native Mac OS X application but I found a way around that earlier this week, which I chronicled in this Super User answer:

  1. Download
  2. Save this PNG image (or this higher-resolution one) to your Desktop.
  3. Open and use the Google Reader URL, name, and newly-saved icon.
  4. Launch the Google Reader application from your Applications folder.
  5. Buy Byline or use the really good mobile version of Google Reader (you can save it to your Home screen to boot).

This setup is very fast, feels native ( even displays the unread item count as a badge on the Dock icon), syncs between all environments, has great keyboard navigation, and is always available. I've gotten my total unread item count down to 8 and kept it in double digits for the last week, something I haven't done since I started feed reading.

It's refreshing to have that load off my mind.