Feedly, Reviewed: What Makes It Such A Popular Google Reader Replacement?
Now that Google Reader is but a distant memory, the fight for the future of RSS is truly on. One of the most notable products fighting the good fight is Feedly, a powerful RSS reader about which David Pogue of the New York Times quipped, “Feedly is what you needly.” We’ve reviewed Feedly’s Firefox add-on, and even its iOS app way back in 2011.
Google Reader wasn’t an app or an add-on: It lived purely on the Web, so today I’ll be looking at Feedly Cloud, a browser-based RSS reader that requires no external tools to use. We first reported about it as it went live on June 19, but now’s the time to take a good, long look at it.
Claim to Fame: What Feedly Promises
Feedly’s product tour touts several key features:
- All in one place: Feedly’s home to all of your blogs, news sites, podcasts, and YouTube channels, and also lets you easily migrate from Google Reader.
- Productive: You get multiple layout options, auto-marking items as read, tagging, sharing, and keyboard shortcuts.
- Blazing fast: Feedly claims to transform websites into “pocket-size cards” which load quickly and are easy to read.
- Smarter sharing: I know we already spoke of sharing under Productive, but Feedly’s tour makes a point of it. You get Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, Evernote, and LinkedIn, along with Buffer, Pocket, and Instapaper support.
- Desktop, phone, and tablet: Feedly has apps; but we won’t be looking at those.
I won’t be running through each and every one of these points in detail, because frankly, that would be boring. I’ll tell you what I care about: Productivity and speed, and sharing. So, let’s look at those in further detail.
Productivity and Speed
For most nerds, productivity is synonymous with keyboard shortcuts — avoiding your mouse makes you incredibly productive, as we all know. Let’s start with those, then:
The list of keyboard shortcuts Feedly offers is not nearly as exhaustive as the ones Gmail has (just hit ? in an open Gmail window to see what I mean), but it gets the job done well. You get shortcuts for quickly hopping between articles and feeds, marking feeds as read, and so on. But what’s this “magic bar” that gg goes to? I’m glad you asked:
It doesn’t look like much, but the magic bar is a quick-navigation tool. Start typing x, and the list you see above narrows down to this:
In other words, a super-fast way to navigate feeds with specific names, without having to futz about with the sidebar menu.
And yes, in case you like the sidebar, it exists:
When it comes to consuming news, productivity is about navigating your feeds (which we’ve just looked at), as well as about how quickly you consume the content that’s in those feeds. Most of us just want to get in there, tear at those headlines like rabid news consumers, and get back out again until our next bout of procrastination (or “research”). That means the information has to be laid out in a way that can be easily scanned and processed. Easier said than done: Some feeds consist mainly of images (Flickr), while some are text-heavy, and some have mainly videos (YouTube). If that’s not enough, different people just read differently.
Feedly rises to the challenge with no less than four different layouts:
From left to right, you get Title Only view, Magazine view, Cards view, and Full Article view. Out of these four, Magazine View and Cards view are worth elaborating on. Here’s Magazine View:
So you get a featured image next to each piece, along with a title and an excerpt. Very easy to scan and see if you want to dig deeper.
Cards view looks like this:
To me, this is a good view for image-heavy sources, like the Flickr blog you see above. When you click an item, it opens in an overlay. Other neat layout features include the option to hide categories with no update, and the fact categories retain their open/close states across sessions. Last but not least, Feedly can curate and feature articles based on how popular they are on Google+ and Facebook, if you’re into that sort of crowd-based filtering.
Feedly is not without its quirks, however: For Flickr, it showed me many duplicate versions of the same article using different languages — something other RSS readers (such as NewsBlur ) are clever enough not to do.
The final word on productivity and speed: Feedly is responsive, and offers many different ways to view and navigate your content.
If sharing is caring, Feedly offers heaps of caring for you to bestow on friends and random online strangers who happen to follow you along the Web’s main social venues. From left to right, you get:
Google Plus, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Then there’s Buffer , plain old email (although there’s an issue with this at the time of this writing) and finally, options to save the article for later, and tag it. The Google Plus button is tightly integrated with Feedly, opening a G+ sharing dialog right on the page itself. Buffer is similarly polished, popping up a beautiful overlay. The other sharing features appear as clunky browser pop-up windows — not as pleasant, but they work.
Then there’s this, on the other side of the article:
From left to right, you get to save the item to Evernote, Instapaper, Pocket, and Delicious. There’s Pinterest support, too: Just hover over an image to pin it on Pinterest. I wish they offered saving to some of the nicer bookmarking alternatives like Pinboard as well, but alas, you will have to make do with this IFTTT workflow if you want to save content to your Pinboard.
Feedly is a mature, fleshed-out product, with a thoroughly modern UI and robust sharing features. It’s no wonder it is one of the leading Google Reader alternatives, but really, you should look at it as its own thing – a powerful online news reader. If you haven’t settled in on a news reader you really like yet, you should check it out.