So you think you can RSS? How.

[ This is a follow up to a previous article entitled: "So you think you can RSS? Why", which looks at the evolution of the internet and why RSS and other feed formats are so popular today. ]

Everyday i seem to find at least 2-3 new websites that i think are really cool and interesting. I usually bookmark them, but i know of so many good sites that it’s becoming impossible to keep up with all the new things that are being published on a daily basis. I understand why RSS is all the rage right now, i just have to pick an RSS viewer that i like and start using it.

Granted, there are a whole lot of these “news reader” softwares popping up all over the place, but when i first heard of SearchFox, i thought well.. the choice may just have gotten a bit easier. This article is an attempt to compare 6 popular RSS reader services in terms of general usability: the registration process (getting started), speed, ease of use, as well as any unique features that might make one service stand out over the others.

Here is a list of services i am going to try out:

  1. SearchFox
  2. My Feedster
  3. Pluck Online
  4. Bloglines
  5. Rojo
  6. NewsGator Online

First, lets look at the registration process. Let me start by saying, SearchFox is unfortunately still in beta, and is not setup for open registrations. What this means is you’ll have to email their support team and ask for an account. This takes some time. How long, well, let’s just see if they even make it into this review.

My Feedster was the first service i actually signed up for. It was quick and easy, but once i got in i found the backend to be a little unintuitive. It felt a little overwhelming, with few places to turn for help. I immediatly found that i was already subscribed to about ten feeds, many of which i would later get sucked into in an attempt to delete them. So, some time wasted there.

Next was Pluck Online, it looked like a good service but i found that in the sign up process, although they state that only “Items marked with an asterisk (*) are required”, in reality, all fields are required. This includes your first, and last name – something i’m not in the habit of giving out to any new web service that happens to come along. Let me try the thing before asking for this type of info, give me a reason to want to add it in later. Simply writing “Your name lets us personalize Pluck.” doesn’t exactly comfort me in any way. So i moved on to the next service.

I’m happy to say that Bloglines is easy to sign up for (no first/last names), quick, and simple to use. Right off the bat, their “Quick Pick Subscriptions” offers you a directory to choose feeds from. These are conveniently grouped into categories and today’s most popular. They also let you know that this directory is always availably so there is no pressure to choose all your feeds right now. With this in mind, i just chose a few feeds to start out with and get a feel for the main interface. The “My Feeds” section is where you’ll find and be able to read all the sites you’ve subscribed to. There is a left sidebar that is divided into 2 sections: your feeds, and extras. It’s all quite easy to get used to and works well, as far as i could tell.

Rojo was a service that i stumbled onto at the last minute before writing this article. Registration was the quickest of all the services i tried out. Simply enter your email, pick a username/password, and you’re in. No email confirmation was required, so i got to start using Rojo without a single delay. I should mention that the next page, before you get to the main interface, is a wizard which does ask to personalize your experience. You can enter your first/last name, zip code, even you’re own blog URL (if you happen to have one). You can also choose to exit the wizard (which is what i did), and just skip all the personal stuff. One thing that was unique about Rojo, was the ability to Tag your feeds, as well as group them into traditional categories. [ Update: I did actually get an activation email, but i didn't need it to log in, and never even saw it until after i posted this article ]

The last service is called Newsgator Online. Once again, i was asked my first/last name. Then to make matter worse, on the next page of the registration process, i was bombarded with a ton of paid choices with different monthly costs and other confusing things. The whole experience felt a little cold and corporate, as if they where just trying to get you to buy a paid version of something by making you scroll through a list of other “offers” before you can click the next button. The following page lets you choose “Starter packs” which are cool (similar to the Quick Pick feature in Bloglines). Once you finally get inside, it all works pretty well.

Back to Pluck Online.. once i actually signed up for this one, i was pleasantly surprised to find that it was very user friendly. Bright, colorful, with lots of helpful tips and suggestions to get you started. It seemed to work as fast, if not faster, than any of the other services i got to try out. Another good thing about it which i hadn’t realized at first is that you can also import you bookmarks from either Internet Explorer or Firefox browsers, something that i don’t think any of the other services were offering.

Last but not least, after a few hours, i received a reply from the good people at SearchFox. Once i activated my beta RSS account, the rest of the setup was a breeze. I’m not even sure if there was anything else to do because before i knew it i was already using SearchFox like a pro. Adding categories and feeds was all pretty straightforward. Although this service is still considered to be in a beta stage of development, it already performs equally well as any of the other RSS readers i got to try out. What is supposed to set this service apart from the rest is that “SearchFox uses machine learning technology to automatically rank and personalize incoming feeds to reflect each reader’s unique interests.. [It] learns by watching what individuals find interesting, taking into account various inputs such as the source, author, and topic of an RSS entry. Existing RSS readers only show information chronologically, which quickly leads to information overload.” I liked what Yahoo did with machine learning technology, so i was interested to see it used with this type of service.

Most of these 6 RSS reader services have features that will only get better as you continue to use them on a regular basis. That is why i intend to use all 6 of these services for an entire week before making my final choice as to which one is the best for me. I will likely post a follow up to this article, and go into a little more detail (describing some more of my findings) once i really get comfortable with each one. So check back soon if you’re interested in taking an even closer look at these RSS reader services.

[ Update: "There is an article on Read/Write Web entitled: "Subscriber Stats and Web-based Feed Readers" that compares several RSS readers (some of them not covered here) using subscriber statistics, and other useful comments about Rojo and Bloglines. ]

[ If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out the follow up entitled: "1 week comparison: SearchFox, Feedster, Pluck, Bloglines, Rojo, and NewsGator." ]

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