23 March 2013

Switching feedreaders.

When I hop on the Internet, most of my time is largely spent on four sites: (1) My email, of course. (2) More Christ. (3) Facebook, which is where far more people respond to my blogging than on the blogs themselves. (I used to rig More Christ to take Facebook comments as responses, but you can’t moderate them, so I switched to Disqus.) And (4) my feedreader.

Lots of folks don’t know what a feedreader is. Most websites use either Real Simple Syndication (RSS) or Atom, both of which produce “feeds”: It’s a file which lists everything that’s posted to the site. This blog, fr’instance: Whenever I post something, the new post (and a snippet of it) is added to the Atom feed. Newspapers and newsblogs add a lot of items to their feeds. Well, a feedreader “subscribes” to feeds: When I punch a feed’s web address into my feedreader, it’ll let me know whenever something new has been posted to it. And if I want to read that new item, I don’t even have to go to the website: I can read it from my feedreader. So, instead of visiting 25 sites to look for new material, I can go to the feedreader and it’s all there, waiting for me. Nice. Seriously saves time.

So yeah, this is how I manage to read so much. If you’re not using a feedreader, but are instead visiting 20 or 30 sites looking for stuff, you’re wasting far more time than you realize.

I bring this up because my feedreader of choice, Google Reader, is about to be discontinued. Google announced it earlier this week. Apparently not enough people are using it, and they want to put their efforts into something people do use. Now, this hasn’t stopped them from trying like mad to force everyone to use their Facebook knockoff Google+, despite our great lack of interest. They’re trying to integrate everything they make with Google+, including many things I’d rather they didn’t. I suppose Google Reader didn’t integrate enough. So out it goes.

I spent the past several days trying to find a substitute feedreader. Tried out two or three. I tried an offline feadreader: It’s a program, embedded in your web browser, which downloads all the feed information for you. It had two big drawbacks: This particular feedreader was buggy: Whenever you input more than 10 feeds, it hides the new feed names and you can’t alter them, or unsubscribe, or anything. But its biggest hassle was one of its features: It collects feeds for you in the background, while you’re doing other things. Well, sometimes I have to use dial-up Internet. When that happens, I can’t stop it from slowing the connection way down as it tries to collect feeds. So much for that. Most people use offline feedreaders, but I use multiple computers—my laptop, my two desktop computers, and sometimes my church’s computers or the public library’s computers—and ideally, I want my feedreader to be on every computer, not just the one.

Thus far I’ve settled on The Old Reader. It was originally designed to be a Google Reader knockoff, and it looks like it’s turning into a lot of people’s Google Reader substitute. The amount of traffic they’ve been getting means lots of people, like me, found them a more comfortable substitute than others.

In the process of switching, I decided to dump a lot of feeds—mostly blogs—which I never read anymore, or which people never post to anymore. A lot of friends started a blog in a fit of whimsy, posted like crazy for about a month or two, then stopped. I was the same way with podcasting: I started, and stopped, two podcasts so far. They do look like fun, but the way I do ’em, they’re far too labor-intensive: A 15-minute podcast takes me about 30 minutes to write, 20 minutes to record, another 20 minutes or more to edit (especially when I included music, sound effects, and audio snippets, as I do), five minutes to squash down into an mp3, five minutes to upload, and five minutes to manually update the website’s feed. Now, knock out everything but the writing, and that’s blogging, which is why I much prefer blogging. With other folks, it takes them way more than 30 minutes to write the sort of essays I regularly knock out. Heck, it takes them 30 minutes to type the few random thoughts they post on Facebook. Blogging’s not for them. Twitter is more their speed. (And yes, you can put Twitter feeds into a feedreader.)

Incidentally: A lot of feeds (including mine) only include a summary or a snippet of what’s been posted. The idea is you’ll read the snippet on your feedreader, then go visit their website to read the entire piece, and maybe see all their ads, and maybe they can keep more accurate tabs on who reads their site. Now, if you’re trying to save time, you don’t want to leave the feedreader if you can help it. So I found a way around the snippets: If you go to Five Filters, they’ll take the web address of the feed and turn it into a new feed—one which, most of the time, contains the entire text of the piece. Without ads. Without splitting it into multiple pages. Real nice.

Of course, if you want to leave comments on the blogs, you still gotta visit their websites. But on certain sites, like Time or The New York Times, you’ll want to avoid the comments section if you can help it. Any idiot, and therefore every idiot, can comment. Don’t waste your time there either.