Ever since Google Reader died, we’ve all been scrambling to find replacements. In fact, since Google’s original announcement of Google Reader’s death, I’ve heard more about Google Reader than ever before, making me suspect Google’s motives in the matter. Regardless of those, we’ve all been going back and forth between different readers, with the majority of users currently focused on Feedly.
Many other alternatives have been popping up, however, including a brand new reader by AOL, the use of Twitter lists to follow the news, and many other interesting Google Reader alternatives worth checking out. But the search, as it is, is not over. Google Reader had us all sleepy and overconfident, and we will not be caught unawares again. It is for this reason that many users are seeking the small and independent readers in favor of the big corporations.
What Is Iron Reader?
Iron Reader is a super simple Web-based RSS/Atom reader, developed by a single man by the name of Amit Dhamu. I’ll say it again: it’s very simple, so don’t expect bells, whistles, or even a distinction between read and unread items, but it works, and does so on a respectable number of browsers and platforms. Officially, Iron Reader should work on Chrome 26+, Firefox 21+, Safari 6+, IE 10+, and Opera 12+.
It’s also very much a work in progress, and just in the time it took me to write this review and ask the developer a few questions, new features popped up in response to my feedback.
In order to start using Iron Reader, create an account and log in. You can now start adding feeds and finding your way around.
Getting To Know Iron Reader
For fear or repeating myself, I will not say again that the interface is simple, but rest assured — it is. On your initial login, you’ll probably find one Google News feed, so you can get to know the interface using that. At the moment, there’s only one layout available, consisting of three columns: feed list, article list, and the article itself (unless you’re on a screen smaller than 1024px, which will cause the mobile layout to load).
Unlike other small and independent readers, Iron Reader’s interface seems different. The concept is the same, of course — there’s nothing revolutionary here — but it feels very polished, almost Modern in its design.
Each article comes with six share buttons for Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, Reddit, and email, so you’re pretty much covered when it comes to sharing articles.
When I first took Iron Reader for a test drive, it had no keyboard shortcuts, which made navigation rather inconvenient. I asked the developer if he had any plans to add these, at which point he simply went ahead and added them. These are not your regular J and K hotkeys, but you can view all the available shortcuts by clicking on “Keyboard Shortcuts” or by hitting “?“. Using these, you can navigate between articles, between feeds, create new folders, visit the original article, and more. The shortcuts might be a bit hard to memorize, as they’re different from the norm, but you’ll soon get the hang of it.
Mouse navigation is not as convenient. While you can click on articles you want to view or feeds you want to open, you need to be pretty specific with where you click. An article will change color on mouse over, but you need to make sure the cursor turns into a finger pointer in order to open the article, otherwise nothing will happen. Same goes with feeds: you can only click the feed name itself, even though the entire tile changes color.
You can add any article to your favorites by clicking the heart icon or using the “h” key. These will be collected in your “Favourites” folder for later reading.
Adding & Organizing Feeds
Despite its simplicity, Iron Reader supports folders, and makes it pretty easy to organize your feeds as you wish. But before you can organize them, you first need to add them. This can be done in several ways. The most simple one, if you already have feeds in Google Reader, Feedly, or any other service that supports OPML export, is to import your existing feeds. To do this, click the Import OPML, choose your file (for feeds exported from Google Reader choose “subscriptions.xml”), and click Import.
This will import your entire list of feeds, including any folders you may have had. To add more feeds, you can either use the “Discover” option, which offers some popular websites (but not many of them), or add feeds manually. Note, that you can’t just input a website’s name or even its URL. If you do that, Iron Reader will pretend to do something, return no error message, but will not add your feed to the list. To get it to work, you need the feed’s actual RSS/Atom URL. You can normally get this by browsing to the website you want to add, and clicking the RSS icon on that website.
An example for a RSS URL would be: http://feeds.feedburner.com/makeuseof.
To organize feeds in folders, create new folders via the Add Folder button, and add feeds to that folder by clicking the folder icon next to the feed.
From here you can also edit the feed’s name, or delete it from your list.
Reading Feeds On Your Mobile
Since there is no Iron Reader app, you’ll be using the mobile version of the Web app which is completely responsive. Officially, Iron Reader is supported on iOS 6.0+ and Android 4.2.2+, but it will probably work on others as well. The mobile version of Iron Reader is just as clean and simple, and suffers from the same problems as the Web version.
If you’ve read this far, you probably know that Iron Reader is not perfect. So why am I writing about it? Because for a one-person effort, it’s incredibly impressive. Because the simple interface is everything I want from an RSS reader, despite some missing features. Because the developer is very responsive to feedback; and because I’m hoping that given a little time Iron Reader would develop into a truly awesome RSS reader. It’s only missing a few features.
At the moment, Iron Reader is missing:
1. Unread counts, as well as a way of telling which articles you’ve read already and which you haven’t.
2. A convenient way to add feeds that doesn’t involve getting the RSS feed URL.
3. More intuitive navigation.
Iron Reader may or may not become my go-to reader at its current state — I haven’t decided yet. But if nothing else, it’s definitely a reader to keep an eye on, and with some minor tweaking, and a few more options, could become something many users crave: a simple, no-frills, independent reader that works. With some additional features, it will even become a reader worth paying for.
What do you think of Iron Reader? Have you found a similar RSS reader you’d like to recommend? Add your thoughts below!