I read 99% of my news these days from my subscriptions in Google Reader. For me, the printed newspaper primarily has value in helping get fires going in our living room fireplace. (I actually have to get them from my in-laws, incidentally, who are still devoted newspaper subscribers.) In this post I’ll discuss my impressions of two free news reading applications (feedly and MobileRSS for the iPhone) which integrate well with Google Reader and offer features not available in the standard, “Google version” of Reader.

The Paper Boy

Stockings on the mantle by the fire

While I perceive most digitally-connected adults today to still be “email people” and most seem to prefer the printed to the digital word, I’m comfortable predicting this will continue to change over time. I’ve noticed with interest my wife and son shift their reading preferences further toward digital texts in the past few months, especially after my wife obtained a Kindle earlier in the fall and my son discovered the site FanFiction.

In February 2009, PEW research revealed Twitter users are far more likely to read their news on digital and mobile platforms. This should come as no surprise: Until recently, most folks “on Twitter” were early adopters of technology and those adoption behaviors extend far beyond microblogging.

Twitter users are more mobile in news consumption

As a very active Twitter user, I find myself reading at least 90% of my news on my iPhone using the Google Reader Mobile Edition web app. The “share” option within Google Reader is very important to me, so any computer-based or mobile RSS reading solution needs to not only integrate with Google Reader but also support article sharing. With these criteria in mind, I’ve been exploring two new tools for RSS reading lately, feedly (a free, cross-platform extension for FireFox) and MobileRSS (a free iPhone app which offers offline RSS reading as well as sharing / starring.) James Deaton introduced me to feedly months ago, but I never developed a habit of using it. After reinstalling it recently, this evening it reveals the following post statistics waiting for me in my “feedly dashboard:”

52 categories. 825 sources. 22,127 unread articles

feedly | dashboard

Talk about TMI.

I really like the color coding of feeds in feedly’s dashboard, providing insights like this one:

The light red background means that you have not read any articles from that source for the last 30 days and that it has more than 250 unread articles

Hmmm, I have a few of these. Perhaps time to unsubscribe from those feeds?

Another great feature of the feedly Dashboard is how it permits users to drag-and-drop feeds to which you’ve subscribed into different categories. As far as I know, you can’t do this in Google Reader, although you certainly CAN change subscription options using the drop down menus for different feeds. This drag-and-drop functionality seems to be faster, and it also is wonderful since it provides a visual, “big picture” view of your feeds and categories. The feedly dashboard makes it easy to identify feeds to which you may be subscribed more than once, as well as feeds which don’t have any posts. This feature enabled me to discover Richard Florida’s blog (to which I’d subscribed when it was still hosted as a subdomain on typepad) has now moved to www.creativeclass.com. Without this visual interface, I might have missed this blog source change, and therefore missed out on information shared there.

feedly Dashboard Stats

I also like the subscription interface for feedly. Don’t get me wrong, Google Reader’s default subscription format works well too, but somehow it strikes me as positive to view these available categories (which probably do need to be cut down) in feedly’s format rather than simply Google Reader’s drop down menus.

New subscription in feedly

I also like how feedly supports blog feed “favorites,” in a way I don’t think Google Reader does. When you view your “digest” view in feedly instead of the “cover” version, feeds you have marked as “favorites” show up prominently so you can focus on those information sources. I’ve dabbled with this option a bit, but haven’t invested LOTS of time in it. (In other words, my list in the image below is far from complete.)

feedly - digest view

If you haven’t given feedly a try, I encourage you to check it out. The price is right (free) and it works as an extension in FireFox so you can use it on any computer platform you happen to be using.

A second alternative RSS reading tool to the standard Google Reader website or mobile-optimized site I’ll address in this post is MobileRSS.

Mobile RSS

There is a $3 paid version, but the free version has ads that are barely noticeable and seems to work great. It is fully integrated with Google Reader, like feedly, but has the HUGE benefit of permitting OFFLINE blog post reading as well as sharing, starring, etc. Any “interaction” you have with post content is uploaded / synced the next time you are connected to the Internet. I’m eager to give this a try on my next airline flight.

MobileRSS for iPhone

You’ll note at the bottom of the screenshot above, the app syncs your subscription list. This can take awhile if you have LOTS of subscriptions, so this provides more incentive to “clean up” old/expired subscriptions or subscriptions you don’t read much. As I mentioned earlier, feedly can be a great help in that regard.

I’ve briefly tried other iPhone RSS reader applications which integrate partially with Google Reader, like NetNewsWire for iPhone and FluentNews, but neither of those options seemed to support “sharing” via Google Reader. NNW 2.0 does support “starring.”

NetNewswire for iPhone

FluentNews is a mobile-friendly website, and displays its mobile version in standard web browsers. Check it out at www.fluentnews.com.

Fluent News (iPhone app)

Fluent News (iPhone app)

FluentNews

A few months back I tried USA Today’s iPhone app, but didn’t like the fact I couldn’t SHARE what I was reading in my Google Reader feed. I do like the new $3 CNN iPhone app, for the way it permits customized news feeds, but mainly for the iReporter features. I’ll write a separate post about that functionality sometime soon.

What are your favorite RSS reading options?

ADDITION: If you are a Google Chrome user, note that Google today announced several new extensions with specific support for Google Reader. Not sure any of these can beat feedly, however! 🙂

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  • I have been using Feedly all year – and in my mind can’t be beaten!But for my iPhone? I haven’t settled down with a favourite yet. I’ll double check your recommendations though. Thanks.

  • Wes,

    I just got my iPod Touch and have been using Mobile RSS. For the most part I really like it, but I can’t seem to find a way to mark a post as “Unread” once I look at it, which I can do when looking at Google Reader via a browser.

  • Right after I left my previous comment, I got a note on my Touch that Mobile RSS has an update that includes marking posts as “Unread”.

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