Recently, after using the Google RSS feed reader for years without second thought, I started looking around at other readers. It’s not that I’m not loyal or even that I don’t like Google Reader, but using only Google Reader has been like eating only vanilla ice cream for years, and let’s face it, who wants to eat only vanilla ice cream when there’s so much goodness to be had?
Last week, I found a simple RSS feed reader for Firefox called Bamboo Feed Reader. I instantly liked its simplicity, but it still wasn’t perfect. One of the things that makes Google’s products so popular is how easy they are to use and how little thought you have to put into them. Bamboo made me realize that I’m not in Mountain View any more, and that I might need to work a little bit if I want a good reader. It also made me realize that my search was not over – I still haven’t found the perfect reader for me.
So my quest continued, and the next reader I found was Brief. I found Brief on our Best of Firefox page, and according to its screenshots, it looks even simpler than Bamboo, which to me meant it might require less work to be perfect. So can it really be that coveted Google Reader replacement?
Setting Up Brief
Before you start, there’s one crucial thing to know about Brief: it integrates with your bookmark system. If you hate Firefox’s bookmark interface, or if you don’t want to use it for any other reason, Brief might not be the right solution for you. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for ways to use bookmarks more often, and like the idea of your feeds and your bookmarks intermingling, you’re going to love what Brief can do for you.
The first thing to do after installing Brief, is importing your feeds into it. This can be done either by exporting your feeds from your current reader and importing them into Brief, or, if you’re using Live Bookmarks, my pointing Brief to their location. To import your feeds into Brief, find the wrench and screwdriver icon on the top left, and on the feeds tab, choose “Import” or find your Live Bookmarks folder.
Before closing the options window, take a look at the Main tab to set up refresh times, storing options, and other behaviors. Take a look at the Shortcuts tab as well, to learn all the keyboard shortcuts you can use with Brief. Unlike Bamboo, Brief supports J and K for browsing articles, which is a huge relief for those coming off Google Reader.
Brief’s interface is pretty straight forward, with one major difference from most readers: your feeds are actually Live Bookmarks. When you import your feeds into brief, they automatically become Live Bookmarks, and you can find them in your regular bookmarks library under “Subscribed Feeds”. Any change you want to make, such as adding a feed, changing a feed’s position in the list, or adding tags to articles, is done through Firefox’s bookmark’s manager.
This also means that your feeds are actually stored as bookmarks, and you can keep them there indefinitely, or for as long as you set up in the options.
Any change you make to your Live Bookmarks is immediately reflected in Brief. Try adding tags, moving a feed or a folder around or deleting a feed, and see what happens in Brief.
Adding New Feeds
Considering the bookmarks integration mentioned above, how do you go about adding a new feed? Don’t look for any such button on Brief’s interface, you won’t find it. To add a new feed, you need to visit the blog or website you want to add, and from the Bookmarks menu, choose “Subscribe to This Page…“.
You will then have to choose how you want to subscribe, and here you need to choose Live Bookmarks. When you click on Subscribe Now, you’ll get the chance to add the feed to the rest of your feeds by adding it to the “Subscribed Feeds” folder, where you can later change its location by dragging it around, placing it in a folder, etc.
The Reading Experience
All in all, Brief is a simple RSS feed reader. For some, this simplicity would be welcome, while for others it will seem more like a lack of features. Truth be told, there aren’t too many options to play with when reading feeds. You can view your feeds in list view or full view, you can bookmark articles for easy access, you can mark items as unread or delete them, and view only unread items or all items. That’s about all you can do when it comes to articles.
Looking at whole feeds, you can update them, mark them as read, empty them, or delete them. You can also set sophisticated per-feed preferences such as update frequency, storing duration and more. This means you can have some feeds update every 2 minutes and store them forever, while other, less important feeds, are updated once every 2 hours and stored only for 30 days. This can help you set clear priorities in your feeds.
Brief doesn’t come with changeable themes, and there’s no control over font size, spacing, or anything like that. Don’t like the way it looks? You’re welcome to change it. If you know your CSS, that is.
Something else you’re not going to find on Brief are sharing options. There are none of these to speak of. Want to share an article? Click through to the website and share from there.
If you know how to use bookmarks, you know how to use Brief. You have feeds, you read them, end of story. This is a great little reader that can work for anyone fed up with Google Reader, and even for those who find Google Reader too hard to manage.
Looking for an RSS feed reader that’s down-to-earth, simple, lightweight and manageable? You’re going to love Brief. Looking for something more? Keep looking, but don’t forget to tell me in the comments what you find!
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