So you are convinced about the value of RSS and Feeds but you aren’t sure which feed reader might be a good fit for you.

Well here is a little comparison of four of the free web based feed readers out there.

I split my computer time between a couple different machines in a couple different places. Some of those machines aren’t mine so I can’t be installing software on them. And I want to be able to access my feeds from anywhere.

So a web based reader is a good option for me. If I was doing a lot of business traveling, a computer based reader might be a better option because I would want to download my feeds where I could connect to the web and then read them at my leisure off line.

You all know I’m a fan of spending as little money as necessary to get the things I want, so in my book free web services are a great option.

Here are four services to take a look at.


Bloglines is one of the most popular feed readers out there. They have done a good job adding features over time. And I know when I had a problem with how Bloglines was handling the feed on my personal blog when I switched it from BlogSpot to WordPress I sent them an email and they had the problem fixed within a few days.

Bloglines is laid out in two vertical columns with separate frames so you can scroll the two columns independently. The left frame has all the feeds by title and you can arrange them into different folders and you can control how they are ordered with several automatic options (A-Z, Z-A, Unread, Oldest First, Newest First) or you can manually set up the order in any given folder.

Bloglines has a blog function where you can blog on their domain if you want. I used that function for note taking as I was going through my feeds before I started using to keep track of my bookmarks. And they also have a “Clippings” function which is probably better suited for note taking (but I never really used it much myself).

You can set your Bloglines feeds to be private or publicly viewable. You can adjust this setting globally and on individual feeds, which is a nice feature.

Bloglines generally does a very good job for my needs. I used it exclusively for more than a year when I first got started. Their interface is straight forward and relatively simple to figure out. I consider it a great option when getting started using feeds

Things I like about it – I like the control Bloglines gives for how to arrange my feeds in any order I want. I prefer to have my “must reads” at the top of each folder so I don’t have to scan down the list to get to the ones I want. Bloglines makes this easy to accomplish.

Bloglines keeps a tally count of the number of feeds you are subscribed to a the top of the left frame. Besides being good for my vanity it helps remind me to clean out the reader from time to time so it doesn’t get bloated with feeds I’m not interested in anymore.

Bloglines also tells you how many Bloglines users are subscribed to any particular feed. When you click on that number it will show you all of the subscribers who have their feeds set for public viewing. It is a great way to discover new feeds in your area of interest. Just look at the feeds of folks who have subscribed to a blog you find interesting because odds are some of those folks will have similar interests as you!

Bloglines also refreshes the new feed content without refreshing the entire screen. When you have more than a few feeds in your reader this feature can be a significant time saver.

Also you can adjust the width of the left frame so that you can see the entire names of the feeds if you want.

Things I don’t like so much – Bloglines will mark as read every post for a feed as soon as you click on it. I have a tendency to want to quick skim posts sometimes and if it is interesting I want it to stay “unread” until I get back to it. With Bloglines I found I was missing stuff because it got marked as read and effectively disappeared.

Bloglines does some screwy things sometimes when displaying feeds. For example I use the “more” tag in my posts to put up only the beginning of my posts on the front page of my blog. Well in Bloglines, that tag turns all the text after that blue for some reason. But, if I put a link somewhere after the “more” tag it changes back to black. Weird. I also use header tags in my post and they don’t format through on Bloglines. They come across looking like plain text.

Google Reader

Google Reader has become my workhorse feed reader. It is the one that I keep coming back to. I like it because it does just one thing, and it does it well. Google Reader is free but you do need to have a Gmail account to use it. There is no blog service attached to Google Reader, nor a way to do clippings. It is just a feed reader.

The layout is similar to Bloglines. The left column has the list of feeds and the right side has the feed content. Unfortunately you can’t adjust the width of the left frame like you can with Bloglines.

You can share individual items with other folks by tagging them as shared. The system seems to be inherently more private than Bloglines, because the only place that others can see your shared items is at specific url (which is not formatted in a way that anyone could guess it).

Things I like about it – Like I said, Google Reader is a basic, no frills feed reader. It does what it does very well and it has become my reader of choice.

Google Reader has a setting where it will mark items as read as you scroll through the text of the item. The idea being if you are looking closely enough to scroll through the post, then you are probably reading it. I find it works brilliantly and saves me time. The things I read get marked as read. And If I don’t read it, it stays unmarked until I do.

Basic text formatting seems to carry through to Goggle Reader just fine.

Feeds seem to update automatically just fine. And when you click on an item it updates without having to reload the entire page which also saves time.

Things I don’t like so much – I haven’t been able to find a way to arrange my feeds the way I’d prefer. Basically the only option for Google reader is alphabetically, and it is a bit of a pain. I keep going to other readers because of this feeder. The thing is Google Reader does everything else so well that I keep coming back in spite of this one issue.

Also, from a publishing perspective Google Reader doesn’t report back to FeedBurner how many subscribers are accessing your feed. So by recommending it I am actually hurting my subscriber numbers. But then this blog is not about me, it’s about you.

If Google could fix these two issues, I think Google Reader would be hard to beat.


I discovered Netvibes because I saw some traffic arriving here from there. They’ve taken a different approach to feed reading. Netvibes is more of a Web 2.0 porthole than just a feed reader.

It does a whole lot more than just display you feeds. Their interface is incredibly simple and intuitive. They arrange everything into modules which you can organize pretty much any way you want simply with drag-and-drop. Just click on an item, drag it to a place you want it and let go of the mouse button.

When viewing your feeds, there is the list down the left side. But even better is a series of tabs across the top of the page for each folder.

For example I can access my bookmarks, read my Gmail, update my Google Calender, read my daily comics, look at an Alexa traffic comparison for some sites I keep up with, and check the weather, all without leaving Netvibes.

And they have other modules for Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail, Ebay, Digg, podcasts, and Flickr already for you to just drag-and-drop into place. Enter your specific info and you’re off and running.

Things I like about it
– Netvibes has the interface thing down. Customizing your page is easier than any other reader out there.

I would recommend Netvibes for someone who feels a little intimidated by computers but wants to start using feeds. With their simple interface, they are a great place to start for new users.

Things I don’t like so much
– You only ever see the headlines of the posts in Netvibes. When you click on one, you have to go to the individual web site to read the item. That isn’t a problem, it is just a little slower. And especially if you are someone like me who does a lot of skimming of articles, it is a pain to have to go to the blog each time you might be interested in reading something.

Also on a smaller issue, I have a couple of my feeds in more than one folder. When I read them in one folder, they don’t get marked as read where they are duplicated in Netvibes like they do with Google Reader.

NewsGator Online

NewsGator has a very popular computer based feed reader so I thought I’d check out their free online reader. Honestly I got so quickly frustrated with it that I really didn’t even give it a fair shake.

The layout of NewsGator online is in two columns, but unlike the others, they do it in a single frame. I don’t know if that is the reason, but every time you click on just about anything, NewsGator online reloads the entire page. Even with DSL it makes for an incredibly slow feed reading experience.

Every time I go into NewsGator online to try to check it out, I get so frustrated with the interface that I just leave.

Now if someone out there is a fan of this service I’d be happy to hear what they like about it. But at this point I can’t recommend them at all.

So which is best for you?

Ultimately it comes down to personal preference. Of the three I recommend I prefer Google Reader. But the other two are great choices too. If you are looking for a bigger Web 2.0 experience, Netvibes is the way to go. If you aren’t interested in a Gmail account or want a solid feed reader, Bloglines is worth taking a close look at.

The good news it that since all these are free, you can try it out. If it doesn’t fit your style, try another one. Being free, there is no risk on your part.

Bottom line, get into feeds. You’ll be glad you did.


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