What I want out of a web-based syndication feed reader

March 14, 2013

In light of Google Reader's impending shutdown I've started thinking about what I'd want out of any replacement to it that I switch to. I don't use Google Reader as my primary feed reader (that has always been Liferea); instead, my use is for three somewhat contradictory things:

  • feeds that I want to be able to browse from more than one place.
  • casual reading feeds, where Google Reader's slow expiry of old unread entries is a feature.
  • feeds that I don't want to get lost in the black hole that my Liferea feeds have turned into.

(Unless I really care about a feed, adding it to Liferea usually insures that I then ignore it; I just have too many things in there. I should probably remove most of my current Liferea feeds but I can't get up the willpower and I can't quite abandon the idea that I'll read those worthwhile entries someday.)

This leads me to think that a number of features are important to me (besides just being web-based in some way, even self-hosted):

  • not a 'river of news' interface where all entries from all feeds are dumped on me at once. A Planet-style interface may work for many people but it doesn't work for my casual reading; I need to be able to pick and choose what I'm going to read at any given point.

  • a notion of unread and read entries where I don't have to read a feed in any specific order; I can skip around, read some entries, and leave others for later (even leave entire feeds for later).

  • unread entries need to expire after a while. Ideally not really fast; say, a month.

  • meaningful visibility of entry contents while I'm browsing things (ie the way Google Reader does it). I don't want to see little snapshots of web pages or anything like that, I want to see some (or all) of the text of an entry.

  • efficient use of space that does not slice things up into a squeezed multi-column layout. I read one entry at a time; I do not need to see two or three columns of them on the screen, forcing the one I want to read into a tiny skinny box.

    (I think I've seen this sort of bad layout called a newspaper like layout, presumably because of a newspaper's multiple columns.)

I'm relatively indifferent to whether or not the feed reading presents entries as simple, readable text (as Google Reader and Liferea do) or whether it makes some attempt to make entries look like they do on the real site (as some other web-based feed readers apparently do). Terrible formatting will just cause me to unsubscribe from a feed, which should be no major loss given what I'm theoretically using this for (mostly).

Unfortunately all of this is a sufficiently complex set of wishes that it implies a web application instead of just a website (although I'm willing to self-host the web app if I can).

(In theory I'd also be happy with a good graphical feed reader program that synced things between multiple machines using some backend. In practice I'm not sure there's any such program whose interface I'd like and that runs on Fedora.)

Written on 14 March 2013.
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Last modified: Thu Mar 14 00:55:35 2013
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