Google Reader, a popular web application for organizing and reading RSS feeds (computer-friendly lists of posts from websites), will go away in July 2013. Scrambling for a replacement, many flock to monolithic, hosted substitutes.
I already had a perfect substitute up and running. A few months back I decided to add some feeds that did not fit my usual reading patterns on Google Reader. I looked around for an alternative and decided upon Tiny Tiny RSS (aka tt-rss), a free software implementation that manages and allows easy reading of feeds.
I only added the feeds that didn’t fit my Google Reader usage at the time. I would check tt-rss once a day, and continued checking Google Reader more regularly as always for the bulk of my reading.
Then the Google Reader announcement came, and while I looked at and tried a few of the alternatives, tt-rss fit my use best. Google Reader did not have feed filtering (to my knowledge) where tt-rss does. The ability to “clean up” some of the noise on some feeds means a more pleasant reading experience. For a mobile solution, the web interface has a mobile version (if Google Reader does, I never tried it; I did use their Android application, though), and an Android application can talk to tt-rss as well (requires enabling the API).
Google Reader served many people well for years, but it never went as far as it could have. With people forced out, a lot of projects like tt-rss will hopefully see increased relevance and improvement. But RSS itself never achieved the recognition it deserves.
RSS would serve us best if it were somewhat automatic. Google never took the obvious step of showing you feed items from recently-viewed sites, for example. Auto-management of feeds would have gone a long way toward improving the usage and importance of RSS. Manually adding and removing feeds, not being able to disable them, no filtering, and needing to understand feeds; these things made it a mess.
When you visit a site, they do everything they can to get you to stay. They try to pull you in with other materials, they beg you to subscribe. But as with just about every other industry, they fail to see their role in that process. They should work with browser builders to add next-generation discovery and subscription models.
For its part, tt-rss now has more feeds than Google Reader ever did. I’ve added more feeds knowing I can filter them easily, though I suspect the worst feeds will soon go away. While it isn’t perfect, it’s at least on par with Google Reader. And once I set it up (admittedly easy for someone at my level of knowledge), it’s no challenge to keep using.
The main thing I wish it had (and something I’m continuing to look into for several services I run for myself) is a single-sign-on solution. The last time I checked, my various services had differing support for different authentication technologies. Having just one that worked for them all would be delightful.