You are most likely aware by now that Google Reader is dead. You may have moved on to Feedly, like many of our readers, or one of the other great Google Reader alternatives. But what happens if your chosen service decides to call it quits? Or what happens if their servers go down? The only 100% reliable way to not have your hopes and dreams crushed by another RSS service is to host your own. That’s where Sismics Reader comes in.
Sismics Reader is an open source, free alternative to Google Reader that allows you to host the service on your PC, Mac, or Linux-based machine. For this demonstration I’ll be going through the steps of installing and using it on Windows, as well as setting up and using the Android application.
The first thing you’ll need to do is download Sismics Reader. It’s available in all sorts of different formats for whatever computer you may be using. Also, download Java if you haven’t already because Sismics Reader will need it to be able to run properly.
Once you have it installed, the next step won’t be entirely obvious. It didn’t, at least for me, pop up any kind of setup dialog. It did, however, create an icon in the notification area of my taskbar that looks like a green RSS logo.
If you right click on the system icon, you get two options: open the reader in the browser, or open the control panel. The control panel is very simple, with only two available tabs. It displays information like when the server was started, how much memory it has used, etc. If you just want to get started without doing anything too technical, just ignore the control panel for now and click on “Open Reader in Browser.”
First, you’ll be told to log in using the username and password “admin” which you will change right after logging in. After that, you choose if you want to use UPnP (failed for me, but could be useful for you as long as you are aware of the security flaws). Then you set up your first user, and you’re on your way. A convenient aspect of this app is that you can have several users all with separate settings, so you could host all the RSS feeds for your whole family.
If you’ve already exported your Google Reader feed via Google Takeout, good for you, since Takeout doesn’t seem to export Reader data anymore. Luckily for me—or so I thought—I had migrated my feeds to Feedly earlier. So I should be able to export my feeds from Feedly, right?
Well, not exactly. In a rushed attempt to support OPML export, Feedly offers this advice in their help section, essentially pointing users to a page where they can copy and paste their OPML data into a blank file. When I tried this for my feeds, Sismics wouldn’t accept the OPML file. While this will make it a little bit more difficult for me to switch from Feedly to Sismics, it actually makes me want to switch more since Sismics already supports OPML export with a very simple click of a button.
Using Sismics Reader
The Sismics browser interface is very simple. Under the Latest tab you can read all your unread articles, view all the articles, or just the starred ones. Below that is a list of your subscriptions which can be sorted into categories. While you can drag and drop the subscriptions to move them around, you can’t place them into folders by this method, which is pretty unintuitive. Instead, you have to open the feed and then click “Categories” in the top right and choose a category for it. Not terrible, but a small annoyance.
There are two ways to view your content: either a list of one-line text, or large pictures with the first paragraph of the article below. If you choose one-line text, every time you click on an article it will open that single article into the larger view with a photo and intro paragraph. To read the full article, it’ll open the webpage in a new tab.
As far as the Android app goes, setting it up takes a little knowledge of your internal IP address. It will ask you for the server address, as well as your username and password. The server address is in this format: 188.8.131.52:4001. The 4001 is the port number that can be chosen in the control panel. If you don’t know your internal IP address, just open your Command Prompt (search for “cmd”) and type “ipconfig” without the quotes and hit enter. Look for where it says “IPv4 Address” and use that as your internal IP Address. This server address will allow you to access the feed from any computer connected to your network as well by typing it into your browser’s address bar.
The Android application, predictably, is pretty simple. Its user interface is similar to that of other Google apps like Play Music, YouTube, etc. You get a refresh button and a settings button with only two options: logout and about. If you pull from the left or tap the upper left hand corner, you get a list of your subscriptions and the same options to view either unread, all, or starred. Notably missing, however, is any way to add subscriptions. You’ll have to do that on your computer.
The interface here is just like the one-line text interface on the computer. When you click it, you get the main picture and intro paragraph, with a link to open the full article in your browser.
There are definitely some drawbacks to using a desktop RSS service, but Sismics Reader makes the process simple and easy. For instance, you’ll only be able to view your RSS feeds if you are connected to the same WiFi network as the computer running the Sismics Reader application. However, I’m sure the creators of Sismics Reader will only continue to add features, and you can even help contribute over at GitHub since it is an open source project.
Plus, you don’t have to worry about Sismics Reader shutting down. Even if they stop supporting the application in the future, you can continue to use the app. You won’t ever have to go through a painful Google Reader-like breakup again.
Do you have another RSS reader that you love? What do you think of Sismics Reader? Let us know in the comments!