Short Nerd Chief

FeedDemon 2.6.1 [Regular Guy Reviews]

Posted by Fred on April 24, 2008

catalog_feeddemon As I noted earlier, now that NewsGator’s RSS products are free for individual use, I decided to try them out and see what worked better for me, a standalone reader or web application (specifically Google Reader).  NewsGator Inbox 3.0 did not work – while the idea of reading feeds in a mail client was promising, certain limitations of Outlook made it far less useful than Google Reader (first and foremost was Outlook’s inability to show how many items exist in a subfolder if the folder list is not expanded).  FeedDemon has been a far better experience, and in limited use I find it superior to Google Reader, at least for now.

Pros (in no particular order)

1. Speed.  No benchmarks here – the point of the Regular Guy Review is overall experience, not statistics.  My general impression, however, is that the native client application is significantly faster than the web application.  Google has clearly worked on optimizing their AJAX code, and Reader is faster than it used to be, but it is still a lot slower. The first time I used FeedDemon, this was less true, as back then it had to launch a browser to view full posts, but the internal browser is really good now – often I’ll just open a new tab for regular browsing and stay within FeedDemon.

2. Flexibility.  While it is possible to change the functionality and appearance of Reader via Greasemonkey or Stylish, in base form you have two general views – headlines or full posts.  FeedDemon provides a lot more alternatives through the use of newspaper styles.  It comes with a few, and an infinite number of alternatives could be added.  For functionality similar to the Google Reader headline view, you can use Expando:

expando

This looks a lot like the Google List View, but it has a few advantages.  it provides more information, for one, and the icons after the post titles allow one to easily flag a post, send it to a blog editor or see what other blogs are linking to the post.  I typically stay in the default Surfer view, however.  This style again is more flexible than the default Google Reader view:

surfer_icons

These icons let you organize the view in multiple ways. If the newspaper is organized by topic, you can sort by date (my preference) or by feed or by title.  The icons to the right let you view headlines, post summaries or full posts.  FeedDemon also provides filters to determine which feeds to view:

filters

Much of this is possible in Google Reader, of course, but FeedDemon seems easier.

3. Discovery. One feature I really like is the Popular Topics report.  This shows topics within your feeds that are popular with other users, but I prefer the list of popular items in all feeds.  It’s kind of like TechMeme, but less crappy:

popular

4. The Panic Button.  I dread opening Google Reader when I haven’t used it in a while. Right now, for example, Reader says I have more than 1000 unread posts in the technology category alone, along with 551 in Sports and 151 in the GigaOMNET feed. I don’t read everything that shows up in the reader, but my only choices in Google Reader are to read stuff or Mark All As Read.  What I really want to do is keep stuff from today and trash everything else, but Google doesn’t let me do that.  Enter the FeedDemon Panic Button:

panic

Here you can mark as read anything more than 5 days old, more than 48 hours old or more than 24 hours old.  Call it a personal failing, but I like being able to purge the unread items count this way.  I’m not the only one who thinks so, as Rick Segal says it makes FeedDemon sticky.  FeedDemon developer Nick Bradbury says stickiness was not the design goal, but easing user frustration definitely was.  That people Twitter about the panic button suggests that easing frustration is a Big Deal.

5. Feed Management.  Every RSS application has a way to add new feeds or search for feeds.  Google Reader has a few advantages in this area, which we’ll get to in a bit.  FeedDemon has some tricks of its own, however.  First, unlike Google Reader, it has support for Attention Profiling Markup Language (APML), a standard designed to enable “users to share their own personal Attention Profile in much the same way that OPML allows the exchange of reading lists between News Readers,” as it’s put on the APML wiki.  Second, FeedDemon’s OPML import and export is superior – Google Reader imports reading lists adequately, but its OPML export is troublesome at best.  Finally, FeedDemon has good reporting tools for determining what feeds you actually read and what feeds are actually being updated.  Implementing APML means that FeedDemon has to track attention and create an attention profile.  From the Reports menu, you can produce a report on the feeds you use the most.  This was my top 5 at one time:

attention

Google Reader provides a similar functionality through its Trends analysis, but FeedDemon allows you to do a bit more with the information.  You can export an APML file to import into other APML-aware applications and services.  You can mark a feed as read or unsubscribe directly from the Attention Report.  FeedDemon uses this data to produce the lists of popular items discussed above.

FeedDemon also makes it easy to cull feeds that are no longer being updated — some data suggests that only about half of the net’s 78 million blogs have been active within the past 90 days.  FeedDemon produces a Dinosaur report, showing feeds that have not been updated recently:

dinosaurs

6. Watches and Clippings.  When something is of particular interest, such as Microsoft’s recent Live Mesh announcement, set up a Watch list in FeedDemon, which will search all of the items in all of your feeds for the designated search terms:

watches

Watches can also be used to exclude items you’re not interested in but that show up in your feeds a lot.  if you weren’t interested in Live Mesh, just mark all the items in the watch list as read and move on.  Any RSS reader can track search results if the search engine provides an RSS feed of the results, but the watch list is a bit more useful, as it manipulates only the feeds already in your reading list.  FeedDemon’s Clipping feature provides similar benefit – move items of particular interest to the Clippings folder to deal with later (I use it to mark posts that I may want to write about or that have particularly useful information, such as Lifehacker’s posts about DVD ripping tools).  NewsGator provides an RSS feed of clipped items, so you can share with the world.

Google Reader does essentially the same thing through Starred items and Shared items.  I prefer FeedDemon’s solution because it is more flexible – you can have an unlimited number of clipping folders, so you can share a feed of all the items you’ve found about water-skiing primates, for example, or YouTube clips about cheese.

Cons

There’s a lot to like about FeedDemon, but there are some things that a web application like Google reader does better.

1. Data in the Cloud is available everywhere.  Once you’re set up on Google Reader, you can access your reading list anywhere you have internet access, via PC or mobile phone or anything else.  This is particularly useful if you use many different computers or use computers you don’t want to or can’t install client software on.  FeedDemon syncs with NewsGator Online, so you can still access feeds via the web, but the Google web interface is superior to the NewsGator one.

2. Integration with other Google services.  If you live primarily in the Googleverse, there are many things you can do with Reader.  There are Greasemonkey and Stylish hacks to integrate Google reader and Gmail.  You can add a Reader widget to your iGoogle page. Posting to a Blogger blog is easy from within Reader.  The flyout link for embedded video works well with YouTube. One can only expect that this integration will increase.

3. Mobile services.  NewsGator offers a Windows Mobile client, which I have not yet tested. Google is thoroughly dedicated to the mobile web, however.  Google Reader has an optimized version for the iPhone and a decent mobile version for Windows Mobile. Presumably, there will be similar offerings once Google’s Android becomes available.

4. Search. Although search was inexplicably left out of Google reader for a long time, it is now available and works as well as you’d expect a search product from Google to work.  FeedDemon allows you to search feeds, but the Google search is more effective and more powerful.

5. Feed Discovery.  In addition to the standard feed search, Google Reader recommends feeds you might like and it has a useful feed directory.  If you use iGoogle, you can add a new tab, and Google will populate it with feeds related to the name of the tab.  This feeds can be imported into Reader.  If you know what you’re looking for, the FeedDemon feed search works fine, but Google Reader seems to do a better job of suggesting things you may not have thought of.

6. User base. There will probably always be more Reader users than FeedDemon and NetNewsWire users.  Google will be able to leverage this user data into trend analysis and feed recommendation, although at the moment it doesn’t use the information it has to its fullest potential.

Conclusions

Whether you use a web reader or a native client largely depends on how you access the Internet.  If you use one or two machines and are willing to install software, FeedDemon provides some significant advantages.  If not, Google’s superior web interface wins the day.  Of the Windows clients I’ve tried, FeedDemon wins hands down.  It was good when you had to pay for it.  It’s great now that it’s free.  

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4 Responses to “FeedDemon 2.6.1 [Regular Guy Reviews]”

  1. As a long time user of FeedDemon I would have to say that this is one of the best reviews written for the program … Good Job.

  2. nice review fred! I’m a web app guy usually, but I might just have to give FD a try now

  3. Good review. I use FeedDemon at work since I am not allowed to connect my Mac to the corporate network. At home I use Newsgator’s NetNewsWire. Feed data is synchronized between the two through my NewGatorOnline account.

  4. Keith said

    Great review!

    I’ve tried Google Reader, PageFlakes, Bloglines, and lots of feed related programs, but FeedDemon is now my preferred program.

    One thing I’d like to see in FD is the ability to change the newspaper style per feed.

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