With last week’s launch of IE7 (see the massive coverage here), and the recent improvements to Google Reader, I thought I’d do a little compare and contrast with these tools and Bloglines, my RSS reader of choice. Now I’m going to preface the whole article by saying I still feel RSS is a very young technology and has a long way to go before getting into the true mainstream population. In fact, as much as I as a “techie guy” understand how to leverage RSS for both personal and professional use, I still find my email newsletters are an easier way to digest news content. So disclaimer aside, let’s take a look at the state of these tools today.
Internet Explorer 7
In many ways IE7 is a significant improvement upon IE6, and is really a very usable browser (I’m not getting into a Safari, Opera, Firefox debate – use whatever you like, I picked IE and that’s that). Microsoft added a “Command Bar” which includes a Feeds option. Simply enough, when browsing a Web page with any RSS links inside, the Feeds button lights up. Click it, and you can fairly rapidly add the feed to your favorites feeds.
Clicking on this option brings up a new page, that shows you a preview of what the feed looks like, along with an option to subscribe. Personally, I found this option pretty unnecessary, and could be accomplished much faster with a popup dialog. When you do subscribe, a simple dialog appears to sort which folder you want this new feed added to. I think this two-step process should definitely be merged into a single interface.
Once added, it appears as one of your favorites, when you choose to view your favorites feeds. Which you unfortunately have to do manually. In the favorites feeds view, all you can see is the number of new items and when it was last updated, and the only way to even see this much information is by hovering your mouse over the feed. The last option with IE7 feed support is a properties dialog:
Microsoft decided to treat Feeds roughly the same as Favorites, which I really dislike. Ultimately, it’s a sign to me that, for whatever reason, Microsoft either isn’t taking RSS feeds seriously or they just don’t get it. If I were grading them on it, I’d give them a D-, it’s a totally unacceptable mechanism for dealing with an emerging technology. I wish I had two more hands so I could give it four thumbs down.
The last time I tried Google Reader it was a pretty poor experience. Everything was too techie and too clunky, basically it had that “built by engineers for engineers” Google-ish feel to it. With their most recent upgrades, I found it was a lot friendlier to get started, you are immediately prompted to enter a URL or term and off you go.
Once you’ve added a feed, the reader displays a view of What’s New (which shows you, well, what’s new with the feed(s) you are subscribed to). I added in a few of my favorites, and had a pretty easy to understand view that showed the feeds together. Also, on the right side of the screen was a display of the various keyboard shortcuts available while using the reader, which I’ll address in a moment.
Google Reader has a nice variety of viewing and display options, and I was easily able to set the view to default to a list display, in date/time order. Everything was looking good, so I decided if I wanted to put it really to the test, I’d need to use my whole list of feeds (which at ~40 is already a ridiculous amount of incoming discussions, but that’s another topic). I exported from Bloglines and imported into Google, a process that took literally under a minute and worked flawlessly.
The interface (shown above) for configuring a larger number of feeds was fairly unpleasant to use, but thankfully I didn’t really need to do anything else at this point. Where Google Reader really started to shine for me was several hours after I had imported my blog/RSS list. At this point, the list view made it very easy to see all the headlines aggregated together chronologically.
As I mentioned before, Google implemented a ton of keyboard shortcuts for quickly navigating the feed display. For advanced users, this is pretty neat (Robert Scoble loves it), but I still feel their interface is missing the mark on getting average users up and running with RSS. Google is often praised for their simplicity in interfaces, but frankly I find both Reader and GMail ugly and overly complicated. There is nothing to usher in a user’s learning process, it’s more like being thrown into the deep end of the pool and then being chided by all the kids who already know how to swim. Overall, I’m granting Google Reader a solid B (but I feel they already have the features necessary to get up to an A, so it’s up to the UI guys now. they do have a few, don’t they?).
Bloglines was actually my second attempt to integrate RSS into my world (my first was Attensa 1.0 for Outlook, which I didn’t like at all, although I hear v2 is better). For a long time it was really Bloglines vs using bookmarks/favorites, and even now I still just run through links about 25% of the time. The actual clincher that got me to adopt Bloglines was their mobile integration, which gives me access to all my feeds from my PPC6700, which I’ll discuss in a moment.
Adding a feed to Bloglines is pretty easy, and one nice feature is all the options you’d want to have accessible are present as you add the link. Once added, Bloglines uses a simple framed layout to present your subscriptions on the left side of the screen (complete with icons to represent the pages, using the favicon standard), and the right side is your “reader” window. Click on a feed, see the results on the right.
That’s it, couldn’t be simpler. Also, the company added a piece of technology to integrate Bloglines as an option when adding feeds to IE7 (here’s the link to the plugin):
Only thing is, now that I’ve tried Google Reader, I’m really wanting to see an “Aggregate View” option within Bloglines. Other than that, I find Bloglines a great option. It also has a ton of features I’ve never even dabbled with, including integrating to your own blog (I’m trying it now with this post) as well as clipping services. Overall, it gets a B+ (yes, I prefer it to Google Reader for now).
Just wanted to touch on getting to mobile subscriptions. Both Bloglines and Google Reader have integrated mobile access into their readers, and both have similar feature sets. I found the Bloglines version was much easier to read on my 2.2″ phone screen, but again I think Google’s got a slightly more compelling feature set. It’s probably a bit of a toss-up as to which one I’d ultimately go with if your priority is mobile (but you can definitely rule out IE7).
Clearly RSS is here to stay, and clearly it’s way too complex to hit the masses yet. As I’ve said before, technology needs to become invisible to get mass acceptance (in other words, adding and viewing RSS feeds should be as clear and easy to use as bookmarking and viewing Web sites). For now, I’d have to say Bloglines is my “mass viewer” recommendation, and Google Reader is my “power user” recommendation. And IE7 needs to get back to work on integrating RSS into the browsing experience.