CommaFeed Aims to Become the New Google Reader and More

When Google announced it would be shutting down its Reader service on July 1 of this year, it left many customers of the popular RSS service feeling stranded. Many of the most popular alternatives, such as Feedly and The Old Reader, have had to beef up server capacity and bandwidth.

Meanwhile, other company’s, such as Digg, are planning their own upstarts to fill the void. In the meantime, customers have some time to experiment with various services and decide on which they wish to land. One of the newest is CommaFeed, which aims to be a complete alternative to Google Reader, but can also do a whole lot more in addition to being a simple web app.

What is CommaFeed?

CommaFeed is a lot more than just a web app that looks to take the place of Google Reader. While that is where the service excels, it is more than a one-trick pony. First, unlike other alternatives, this one is open source — the code is available on Github.

The app can also do things like provide browser extensions for both Chrome and Firefox, as well as work as an installation on your own server.

The Web App

This is the most likely way that I suspect most of you who choose this platform will interact with it, so we shall begin here, with how to set up and use the web service. The app looks eerily like Google Reader — the left column and the main page are both similar. However options are just a bit different. But before we get to that we do need to get this set up, a process that CommaFeed makes simple.

If you are coming from Google Reader, then Takeout makes this easy, as it allows you to export Google Reader, or, for that matter, all of your Google services data, as an XML file. If you are arriving from Feedly, then you are out of luck — the RSS app offers no export options.

Across the top of the screen there are a number of options. You can choose to view all posts or only those that are “unread” and you can also make choices about how you wish to view them — titles only or an expanded view. You also have options for both “Refresh” and “Mark all as read” — all or just items older than a day, week or two weeks.

Settings

Settings for CommaFeed are sparse, to say the least. There are only four options and one of those is simply for choosing your language — English, Dutch, Spanish, French, German, Russian and more.

Options

  • Show feeds and categories with no unred entries
  • Show social sharing buttons
  • In expanded view, scrolling through entries mark them as read

All three options are enabled by default. Each of these is listed under “General”, which is one of the two options on the left side of the screen. The other is “Custom CSS” (cascading style sheets), which allows users to alter the look of the app — this is only for those comfortable with altering the innards of software.

Keyboard Shortcuts:

  • J – Open next entry
  • K – Open previous entry
  • O, Enter – Open/Close current entry
  • V – Open current entry in new window
  • S – Star/unstar current entry
  • M – Mark current entry as read/unread
  • Shift+A – Mark all entries as read
  • Mouse Middle Click – Open entry in new tab and mark as read
You can click the Subscribe button above the list of feeds to add new sites. You will be able to enter the URL, give the feed a name and pick a category to file it under. A “down arrow” next to subscribe gives options for “Import” and “New Category”.

Web Browser Extensions

In addition to working directly from its site, CommaFeed also offers its customers options for both Chrome and Firefox extensions. These are described as in the following way:

“CommaFeed is a bloat-free freed reader. It aims to replace Google Reader while keeping things simple. This extension adds an icon with the count of your unread entries”.

Links to these browser extensions can be found on the About page, which you can access via the link at the top right. This also provides users with a way to donate to the open source project, help with translation into more languages and even some tips on using the RSS service.

Put CommaFeed on Your Own Server

I will not lie to you, this option is a bit geeky. But, if you have a good working knowledge of computers then you should be able to pull it off.

This requires access to a Linux computer and the installation of both Maven (for building and managing any Java-based project) and openjdk (an  open-source implementation of the Java Platform).

Full, rather lengthy, instructions for setting this up can be found on Github, under the heading “deployment on your own server”. The tutorial assumes you are running Ubuntu Linux.

The Verdict

With the impending demise of Google Reader, there are a number alternative upgrading their options and capacity. I previously mentioned both Feedly and The Old Reader, but there is also Feedspot, MultiPLX and one on the way from Digg. Wayward Reader customers have many choices.

CommaFeed is off to a nice start and the fact it is open source means it can get plenty of help from the community. Browser extensions that alert you to unread stories is a nice touch and the ability to implement the service on your own server and alter the CSS makes it a powerful alternative.

The service can be a bit slow at times, perhaps because of the sudden influx of new users. It also can struggle under a large number of feeds, as I have heard from certain users with excessive (more than 2,000) URL’s.

In the end, I think this is one of the more promising options on the market and I have high hopes for its development.

 


Summary

A bloat-free, open-source RSS reading app.

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  • Guys you need to do something with the font you use in your posts markup. This fricking Myriad Pro is completely unreadable; I always change it to Arial via Firebug prior to reading it.

    • Really? I actually find it nice for reading, but we’ll be sure to consider changing it in our upcoming redesign 😉

      • Here’s how default type on this site looks on my PC:
        http://puu.sh/32XHu.png
        And here’s how it looks with Arial adjustment:
        http://puu.sh/32XKQ.png
        I don’t know, maybe it’s just my poor eyes, but it’s really hard to find first version as nice to read.

        Nevertheless,
        since then I have found one really great addon for Firefox called
        iReader, which is very useful when it comes to reading online, and it
        makes site’s typography next to irrelevant ☺

      • Alex, are you sure there isn’t something wrong with your computer? Here’s what it looks like in my Firefox (no typography addons)

      • I just checked it in Chrome without any addons at all, and it displays a little bit clearer but still not as much as on your system. It’s hard to say what can be wrong on my side… I can remember having issues with Myriad pro even a few years ago yet

      • Well, are you on Windows 7/Vista? If so, have you turned on ClearType Text, because it really makes text easier to read.

      • Yes I have Cleartype enabled indeed and actually have no problems with readability whatsoever, besides when it comes to Myriad Pro ☺

  • The photo under the “Settings” heading is wrong, it’s from WriteApp, not CommaFeed. Appstorm, please don’t let your standard fall.

    • Very odd; sorry about that.

  • While feedly offer no export option, you can simply use takeout on google reader if you sync feedly with your google reader. Feedly still sync two-way with google reader so any change in feedly also affect google reader. If you use Feedly, please sync with google reader and use takeout to export .xml file. I have done it with success.

  • This looks very promising! Will try that out!
    Btw is there a mobile app for that?

    • Not yet, but the devs have said on Twitter that one is planned.

      • Sounds nice!
        I think that this will be my reader of choice, thank you guys for sharing!