The Old Reader is a Capable Google Reader Replacement

By now you likely know that Google has made its popular Reader app an upcoming victim in the company’s infamous Spring Cleaning massacre of services. The news spread around the internet like wildfire and generated quite a bit of bad publicity and hard feelings against the search giant.

It also generated a ton of new traffic that suddenly began swamping alternative apps such as Feedly, which had to add ten-times the bandwidth and additional servers to keep up with its new-found popularity.

Another service, The Old Reader, has also been under heavy pressure since the Google announcement. In fact, as of this writing, there is a wait time of almost one week to import your OPML file into the service. In fact, when I first signed up, I received the following message on my screen:

I finally got a in, though, so let’s take a look at it together and see what The Old Reader brings to the RSS reader market.

Get Your Files Out of Reader

Before you get to join this party though, you will need to export your OPML file from the soon-to-be-defunct Google Reader. Head over to Google Takeout and grab your Reader file.

To do so, click on “Choose Services” and then click on Reader and choose “Create Archive”. The file is rather small, so the download will be quick — my hundreds of feeds added up to only a 5.1 MB file. It is actually an XML file, but no worries since that works with OPML.

Now head over to The Old Reader and tap on “Import” at the top right of the screen. Bear in mind that you first need to unzip the file before proceeding with this. Navigate to the unzipped archive file and drill down through the folders to find the file named “Subscriptions” and click it to add to the upload queue.

Now can either begin twiddling your thumbs and waiting, or you can begin trying out The Old Reader right away. The website tells us that:

“By the way, even if you have uploaded your OPML file and are now waiting for it to be processed, you can still subscribe to your favorite feeds manually and start reading. There will be no duplicate feeds when your OPML file finally gets imported”.

How much impact did the Reader shutdown announcement have? The Old Reader points out that “our user base recently grew 15x (and counting), and this changed everything. In a week we have gone from a personal project ran by three friends to a personal project ran by three friends with about 150,000 users”.

Adding Feeds

The Old Reader is based on a previous version of Google Reader — hence the name. For that reason, you should feel right at home here as a refugee from Google Land.

There is a large “Add a Subscription” button at the top of the left side column. Once you find a feed that you wish to add then copy the URL or RSS address and click on this button, then paste in the address and click the “Plus” sign to the right side of the box.

The first difference you will notice is that The Old Reader displays the last 20 articles as “unread” when a new feed is added. This is twice as many as the most recent iteration of Google Reader.

The Home Screen

The Home button, which is at the top of the left column just under the subscription option, provides an overview of your feed as well as bit of other useful information.

Front and center is the feed data — you will see a display of the number of unread files, as well as a snapshot of some of the most recently added stories. The right side provides some tips and tricks, such as use “j” and “k” keyboard shortcuts to navigate posts. “o” opens the post in a new window. Below those tips are links to browser extensions for Chrome and Safari, if you so choose to want to use the service in that manner.

Sharing and More

Like the program it is modeled after, The Old Reader has sharing options at the bottom of each post. It displays options for Email, Stumble Upon, Digg and Delicious, though three of those may be a bit outdated these days. There is also a Share button, a Mark as Read button and a Star option.

Corresponding options exist in the left column, where you can view the stories you have shared or starred, as well as check out what items are trending, based on what other users have looking at the most.

Looking for Friends?

You will notice a “Find Friends” option near the top right of the screen. Click this and you will be prompted to either do a search for a name your are looking for or log in using your Google account. The latter will scan you Gmail contact looking for matches with others who have registered to use The Old Reader. You can then click “Follow” for any whom you wish. Those you follow will appear in the left column and you can click on each to view what he or she has shared.

What is Lacking?

I honestly could find only one thing missing that stood out to me. Google Reader has an option to create categories and its something I use quite a bit — science, sports, tech, etc. It also has a “Feed Settings” button that allows me to add new feeds to my created categories. This is an option I could find nowhere in The Old Reader, and it is something I will dearly miss.

What is Good?

It has a very Reader-like interface, meaning new users will not be lost when starting out. It also has options for sharing, saving and changing the view from complete stories to simple headlines, which makes quick scanning much easier.

In the end, the good outweighs the bad and it is certainly a finalist in my quest to land on an alternative before that July 1 execution date rolls around.  However, I am not yet done looking, so there may be others to make this final cut.


A web-based RSS reader