Following up on my previous post discussing the end Google Reader, I’d like to explore the positive outcome born from seeking an alternative.  After wasting way too much of my life reading (and writing) about rss readers I tested a select few that would more or less duplicate Google Reader functionality, filling that particular hole in my life.

Before going any further I'd like to reveal that I choose to go with RSS2email and am thus far really getting along with it.  RSS2email is a command line program that runs on linux/unix, downloads your feeds and then emails them to you.  It puts the entire process in your hands (this can be good or bad).  

Options

So I was looking for a solution that would:

  • be accessible from multiple devices on multiple platforms
  • keep everything in sync (if i read an article on my phone i’d like it show as read on my desktop, tablet, etc.)
  • likely to be around in a 3 months/1 year/5 years
  • open in the sense that I’m not reliant on any particular app or set of apps
  • can be accessed in browser or through a local client
  • as a bonus archived my content in a flexible format

A bonus would be not having to have another set of login/passwords just to use the service (Google Reader was so convenient because I was already logged in to Google for email).

I won’t go into the failures of specific services that I tested because it is not that interesting.  Needless to say all of the most prevalent alternatives seemed to fail in one category or another.  The worst of which was the slowness/less-responsive-than-googlereader-ness that I found all around.  I realize that competing with the Google infrastructure is no small task, but I am so accustomed to rapidly scanning through my feeds that waiting for a webapp to endlessly scroll was not acceptable.  I also couldn’t get over concerns about sustainability of funding; the last thing I want is to go through this process again in a year when the hot new reader shuts down for lack of funds.  I admittedly didn’t test or really consider any paid services.  That was my planned next step before settling into rss2email.  

I also couldn’t get over the nagging feeling that this could be the opportunity to pull back a bit and rely less an external service for something fairly basic.  I also really didn’t need any of the social features that many webapp services incorporated.  I just want lots of content, I can hangout on twitter for social context when I want it.  

After giving up on a number of online alternatives I came across RSS2email.

RSS2email

RSS2email is a fairly bare bones command line program that very simply takes your feeds, fetches the new articles, and sends them to you by email.  After the initial setup there is very little to ever think about, the software works very simply and reliably.  All configuration is held in a text config file and it is simple to export an opml file of your feeds.  Once setup on a unixy type system, the program can be added as a cron job, allowing you to decide how often check for new articles.  This is of great advantage over many of the hosted products that I tested that seemed to lag and gave no indication of their update frequency.

The other advantage, that can be seen as a positive or negative is that your email client effectively becomes your rss reader.  To me this was a great advantage; this gets my feeds and emails even closer than with Google Reader, allowing me to read my feeds along with email from a single web interface or local client depending on device.  Using my normal gmail/imap setup with claws mail on linux, apple mail on osx, ios mail and gmail app on iphone/ipad, and gmail through the browser on pc, I now get my feeds synced across all platforms/devices, the read feed emails get archived along with my other email, I can easily forward articles on, and through the use of mail filters automatically sort and label.  This setup also pulls my feed content into my normal email backup routine, which while not essential can't hurt in the event something happens with gmail.

After living with this setup for a few months I much prefer it to Google Reader.  Above all else, so long as websites keeps using rss, I will have no problem keeping this as my reader.  Since the script is running on my hardware, using my internet connection and my email accounts, there is very little chance of interruption from future service shutdown.  It would also be very easy to change to a different set of email accounts should gmail cease to be an option.