Before I even bought my iBook, I knew that one of the first things I would install would be NetNewsWire. At that point, I only read a few blogs, but I’d heard marvelous things about NNW from at least a couple of them and decided it was time to try an RSS reader. I fell in love with it when I learned the keyboard shortcuts - I don’t like using the mouse more than I have to, especially when I’ve only got a track pad at my disposal. For the first several weeks down here in VA, I didn’t have wireless access or a router, so I almost never used the laptop. As such, I started using Google Reader.
I gave it a spin a few months ago when it was introduced, and imported all of my feeds from NNW. At the time, I didn’t care for the interface; it was slow, it mixed all the feeds together, and it didn’t have the keyboard shortcuts that I had come to love about NNW. When my Windows machine became the only one I was using regularly, I decided it was time to give it another shot.
This time around, I found Reader to be far more usable. It turns out, there ARE keyboard shortcuts - I’m not sure if I just didn’t see the list of them at the bottom of the screen, or if they were added since I tried it last, but I’ve learned to use them nonetheless.
I’ve also come too appreciate the single list of items. In NNW, there were more than a dozen feeds I almost never read, because I would always start with some of my favorites and run out of time or interest before I got to the “boring” feeds. Now, with every feed combined, I get a nice variety - news mixed with humor mixed with photos. I almost never read any of the news feeds before because there were always some blog posts that looked more interesting. I’ve learned to skim headlines and only read the posts that catch my attention and breeze past the rest, so I’m actually getting through more feeds than I used to, and keeping closer tabs on those “boring” news feeds.
It’s also nice that Reader is web-based. I had tried another web-based reader before - Bloglines, maybe? - because I wanted something I could use on any machine. I could have found a decent Windows reader, but then I’d be sifting through looking for new content any time I moved between my two computers. I needed a single account that would keep track of what I had read. Unfortunately, the interface on the one I tried was terrible, and I figured I wouldn’t find much better. Now that I have wireless and use both computers at my apartment, the web-based solution makes the most sense. Furthermore, I can use it at work; I’ll flip through a few headlines while waiting for a compile to finish.
As always, though, life isn’t all sunshine and puppies: this week, Reader has been reporting a lot of errors and occasionally refuses to load. I thought it might have something to do with my long list of feeds, so I went through the arduous task of removing some feeds I don’t read or don’t exist anymore - arduous because of obscene load times - and cut my list down to 81 feeds. Things seem to be going better - not great, but better. I was hoping that my woes would all be silenced by trimming the fat a little, but I’m starting to think that the Reader team may be working on things. A cursory glance at the Reader Group suggests that the team is working on the site, as these issues are being widely reported. At this point I’d say it’s usable, but it will get frustrating before long.
Another issue mentioned often in the Group, and one I’ve seen myself, is the inability to unsubscribe from feeds. You can click “unsubscribe” as many times as you want, and it will disappear from your subscription list, but posts may continue to appear in the reading list. It seems to be a caching issue, as the feed’s items will stop appearing sooner or later, but it’s frustrating to keep deleting something that just won’t go away.
Reader is not without it’s flaws. It serves my purposes well, and isn’t so critical that occasional downtime bothers me. I’m confident that the service will improve over time - as all Google products do - and I’ll probably be using it for a long time to come. After all, GMail has been my primary account for a year and a half now, and it’s only gotten better. I’d recommend it to anyone who reads content that’s available in RSS or Atom, but give them a week to get things running right again.
Addendum: Enlarging the text totally screws up the view.