I started playing around with Google Reader over the weekend, and I think I’m going to stick with it as my RSS reader. I don’t have any reason to believe that it’s better than other web sites for that purpose, but it’s good enough for me, and is a significantly better RSS reader than Gnus, which is what really counts for me. In particular:

  • It understands Atom. There are a couple of blogs out there that I like that only provide Atom feeds; sensible people are convinced it’s the way to go, so who am I to argue?
  • Gnus has a per-feed cost: different feeds show up as different groups but without the number of messages shown, so I have to enter each one to see if it has any new messages. This discourages me from subscribing to blogs that only get added to, say, once a month, which is bad.
  • Gnus has to download the feeds each time I use it, which takes a while; Google operates out of cache.
  • In Gnus, I have to click on a link to see the entry in a web browser; the entries frequently look just fine the way Google displays them, and if they don’t, I can bring up the original just by typing a key, with no mouse usage required.

Having said that, Google reader needs some polishing. (No surprise; they don’t claim otherwise.) Some examples:

  • When I went through my initial orgy of subscribing, Google sometimes wasn’t able to carry out my requests. It told me to try again in 30 seconds, which didn’t work; trying again in a few hours did.
  • Its search functionality is surprisingly bad: for several of the blogs that I’d already subscribed to, I ended up having to type in the feed address by hand instead of finding it through the search engine. (Though the flip side is that it did know about feeds for some blogs whose feeds aren’t listed on the blogs’ main pages…)
  • I don’t like the way it presents new articles. For one thing, if you go to it when there’s one new article to read, then the left column makes it look like you’ve read all the articles. So it would be nice if it only cleared the “article read” mark after you had moved off the article in question, instead of when you select the article. For another thing, if there are a bunch of unread articles, it starts you off at the newest instead of the oldest.
  • It claims that a couple of the blogs I read have no articles in them. I was going to say that I’ll be curious if new items from those blogs show up, but I just checked: one new item has been posted to one of those blogs, and it didn’t show up. Oops. For all I know, the RSS feeds may be malformed, though.

At first, I wasn’t sure I liked the way it handled starred items – they easily get buried in the list on the left – but now I’m fine with having to click on the “Starred” link.

One question: do I ultimately want my feed reader to be built into my browser or a separate web site? The former has the advantage of being able to read feeds that aren’t on the global internet; the latter has the advantages of fast startup and accessibility from multiple computers. (The latter of which I used over the weekend, since I spent some amount of time in (gulp) Windows XP, downloading podcasts via iTunes.) For now, the question is academic: I would prefer to stick with Galeon, which doesn’t have a feed reader. I will try to avoid giving in to the temptation of using Google Reader at work…

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