feed reader

Dear Lazyweb, what should I use to read RSS feeds?

Given that almost all of my friends have given up on using Livejournal for actual blogging, the only thing I really use it for these days (besides hosting my own posts) is as an RSS aggregator for the 200+ feeds I subscribe to.

Lately Livejournal seems utterly incapable of keeping their feed poller running. Last week, no feeds updated for more than 5 days, and now it's happening again: it's been more than 12 hours since any feed has updated.

I wish I could just use Mail.app as my feed reader, but it doesn't work for shit. It re-posts un-changed entries all the time.

I gather a lot of people use Google Reader, but for previously discussed reasons, I refuse to log in to any Google account. So forget that.

Are there any free OSX desktop apps for this that don't suck? Or other free web sites that don't suck?

Update: Almost everybody is recommending NetNewsWire. It seems ok so far. This may end up being the final nail in the coffin of LiveJournal for me.

Tags: , , ,

86 Responses:

  1. e1ven says:

    The RSS reader built into Thunderbird is of the few I've found that can handle a substantial volume of feeds. The UI isn't the most native, but it gets the job done pretty well, even for large sets.

    • jwz says:

      Look, like I said, I use Mail.app. I'm not changing mail readers (or, for that matter, web browsers) just to read feeds. That's ridiculous.

      • jered says:

        Wait, wait; one of your options was a desktop app. You can certainly use Thunderbird as a desktop app for feeds without having to move your mail to it.

        I'm amazed that Mail.app works for you; for me it's made of fail in so many ways I can't even count them anymore. Like, if I scroll through messages too quickly, it looses the headers and first 2 lines of message. No, really. But, anyway...

        The only other webhosted feed reader is Bloglines, but Ask.com bought them and then killed all development because they couldn't, as the kids say, "figure out how to monetize the property". Now it mostly works until it forgets all of your read status every two months. For this reason I switched to Google Reader -- I won't bother talking about other good features (beyond "doesn't fail") since that's not an option for you.

        I hear good things about NNW, but I personally can't deal with a desktop feed reader because I want the state synced to my phone, etc.

        • vanbeast says:

          for what it's worth, NNW syncs to google reader.

        • tkil says:

          And I'm pretty sure that NNW has, e.g., an iPhone client. (Although maybe that was NewsGator that I'm thinking of...)

          • ckd says:

            NNW has an iPhone version, which currently syncs to NewsGator (as previous versions of NNW/Mac did; only the recent betas sync to Google Reader). Unfortunately, NewsGator doesn't actually support NewsGator Online or the syncing any more, so iPhone users are stuck waiting for Apple to approve the update to NNW/iPhone.

            • tkil says:

              Thanks for the clarification. When I first got my iPhone, I went through and tried to set that stuff (NNW/iPhone + NewsGator) up, but ended up never using it, so...

  2. pfrank says:

    I've been pretty happy with NetNewsWire. It used to be a paid app, but it's free now.

    • joshc says:

      I like it too, but doesn't the new version use Google Reader for syncing?

      • pfrank says:

        It does, but I don't use syncing at all so it doesn't make a difference to me. Also I just noticed that in app ads are showing up now, so I'm guessing it's going to be a paid app again soon.

  3. solarbird says:

    I'm not fond of any of them, but NetNewsWire hasn't sucked as much as the rest.

    • vanbeast says:

      Basically this right here. I've been using NetNewsWire since for like three years and so now I'm used to it. At the time everything was crap, but it was the least crap.

      I've heard that people like NewsFire as well, but I've never tried it. I've also heard nice things about Vienna, but again, no first-hand experience.

      • brainfire says:

        I'm using NewsFire, and I'm happy with it (simple interface, handles embedded youtube fine, snappier than the reader I was using in Linux), but it seems like it can't handle authenticated feeds... which is a deal-breaker to a lot of people.

      • mrincog000 says:

        More support for NewNewsWire.

    • Thirding NetNewsWire, but I am notoriously nonpicky about apps.

      jwz, what's your browser of choice? The main problem I have with using standalone RSS readers is that they split the browsing experience - you're either looking at a page in the RSS app and wondering if there's supposed to be a YouTube video in that big blank space or what, or you're switching back and forth between the RSS feed tree and a actual working browser.

      • jwz says:

        I use Safari. I would assume that any sane Mac desktop feed reader would just embed Webkit and everything would just work. Well, I wouldn't assume they are sane, but that would be the only sane thing to do.

        • dojothemouse says:

          Yes, NetNewsWire embeds WebKit.

          The question is whether the embedded webkit shows you the feed contents (munges youtube) or the linked story (misses handwritten stuff in the feed summary).

          • As configured on my system, in NNW, looking at the linked story rather than the feed summary does not show me flash videos. It's entirely possible that there's some configuration option somewhere that I'm missing, but I like to pretend that I don't know what Webkit is.

            • scullin says:

              Preferences > Browsing > News Items: Enable plug-ins, etc.

              I'm partial to NNW's read everything by bonking the scrollbar feature, which is surprisingly lacking in so many apps. Since the massive re-write I've been less pleased with the syncing features, but that's probably not important to most people.

        • elainegrey says:

          I use Safari as my RSS feed reader. I am highly tolerant so ymmv. Bookmark the rss/atom feed, create folders of feeds, counts of unread stories show up, add the book mark folders to the menu bar, see the number of unread stories at a glance. I think it's a global value for the refresh frequency, but a "update now" function on the right.

          • artkiver says:

            With the "highlight unread articles" feature checked, I found Safari to be a perfectly usable rss reader too. Not crazy wizbang awesome; but worked for me until I had needs such as checking feeds from multiple clients, and since then google reader (which jamie hates all things google) trumped every other aggregator I've tried over the past 5-6 years.

    • skington says:

      Another recommendation for NetNewsWire. The only thing that annoys me about it is that when I have a feed selected and I say "subscribe to a new feed", it doesn't add that new feed right where I had a selection. It adds it to the end of the folder, so I then have to manually move the feed to where I reckoned it fit conceptually. No matter how often I do this, I still have the urge to select where I want it to be, and then add.

  4. boggyb says:

    I use RSSOwl 1.2.4 (available here under "rssowl classic (dont use)" - I'm holding off on version 2 until it actually moves out of beta/RC), which is Java-based and so should run on Macs (disclaimer: I've only used it on Windows). It speaks RSS and Atom, does aggregration and automatic feed updating, and pretty much just works. The only major omission I can think of in it is it doesn't keep a history, and only shows those posts that are currently present in the feed.

    • jwz says:

      Wow, that sounds horrid on at least four different levels. Thanks for letting me know something to not, under any circumstances, try.

      • boggyb says:

        Out of curosity, how does it sound horrid?

        • jwz says:

          You're kidding, right?

          1) The developer says "don't use"; 2) it's beta; 3) it's Java, and there has never been a desktop app written in Java that wasn't complete bullshit; 4) it has no history, which is another way of saying "it utterly fails at its one and only purpose".

          • boggyb says:

            Good point, not the version I linked (though a choice between "beta" and "unsupported" is rather unfriendly), fair enough, didn't realise that history was one of your requirements.

          • gryazi says:

            Curious examples of Java apps not-complete-bullshit:

            Moneydance
            Fanurio
            Java DICOM viewer, view your MRIs, one of many (can't remember the one that looked prettier)
            JamochaMUD (old, simple, but works)

            Also NeoOffice though that's more of an "unholy union" being replaced with native code over time.

            It's a short list, but they're out there. Moneydance is pretty impressive as far as being an actual functional desktop app that's no worse than any other e-checkbook. Of course the problem - as you well know - is that Sun decided to create 75 different incompatible flavors of Java, so anyone with half a brain yet still developing in the language is going to produce a compiled binary rather than a fiddly .jar and you'd never know.

            (Yeah, I'm a crossplatform-runtime fetishist. Java isn't exactly my first choice either but I'm drooling at the idea of a market flooded with $30 Android-based ARM/MIPS/new_cheap_arch Walkman-replacements that can function like little cross-compatible C64s.)

            • jwz says:

              Last time I tried OpenOffice or NeoOffice or whatever, it was absolutely amazing on two levels: 1) "I can't believe I have to download something that's 10x the size of my OS just to view this XLS file"; and 2) "I can't believe this software makes a 3GHz machine feel like a 486." I'm reasonably certain the latter can be attributed to Java. Probably the former as well.

              Fortunately, these days TextEdit can read DOC files and Numbers can read XLS, so I'll never have to touch that junk again.

              If that's your best example of a Java-on-the-desktop success story, I'm just slightly less than impressed.

              • gryazi says:

                If I remember right the core of OO.o is all C++; NeoOffice managed to solve the nobody-knew-how-to-port-this-to-Cocoa stalemate by using Java for the graphics/widget-library bits while performing not-really-worse than the X11 or Windows versions and looking pretty and Mac-native.

                OO.o is still a dog, but from 1.x to 2.x to 3.x they seem to have profiled and optimized it incrementally, so it no longer makes a 3GHz machine feel like a 486 (a decently-equipped Pentium II, maybe), the working set in memory is now only as big as the OS (140MB resident here, heh - but hey, it's a nightmare-world emacs) and is at present less buggy than Firefox* [which is now doing that thing where it craps page elements as 'untitled window's all over X11 again].

                I think my point here is to not-disagree but just observe that, where 3.x is 140MB resident with a document open (and that's using the 'quickstarter,' so at least Writer and Calc are resident there; opening a spreadsheet added 5MB), ~1.x-2.x wanted something like three-times-that. And were released when desktops had 1/4th (or less) the RAM. Which was what made it horrifically unusable until people got around to putting 1GB in even the cheapest machines.

                >128MB is still a little ridiculous, but eh, it's The Future, and it runs well enough on a netbook (or at least a Pentium M with 512MB RAM that's equivalent to a late-model netbook), so bloat-angst might be getting obsolete. What's Numbers' memory usage like?

                *Well, if I've gone this far, GNOME Epiphany is dragging WebKit to Regular UNIX, and seems promising (Epiphany sucked a lot less than Firefox 1.x as far as UI consistency, but speaking of obsolete arguments..) - but it still takes ridiculously long to render pages right now, so I can't jump Mozilla.org's ship just yet.

              • rodgerd says:

                I like Eclipse for a bunch of stuff. I suspect you'd hate it, though. It certainly doesn't suck if you like bells-and-whistles-GUI-IDEs.

                • pete23 says:

                  It sucks horribly for me... I've pretty much lived in eclipse for 5 years, and whilst the featureset is decent the execution is horrible. This may be some clash with my virus checker (bloody windows), but on a quad core 3 GHz Xeon I regularly have time to get mad and start smashing the keyboard waiting for autocomplete requests, loading a damned source file, etc etc.... Every successive release is 6 steps forwards and 5.9 steps back.

  5. greatevil says:

    Don't loose sleep over Google Reader, it can't use feeds needing authentication... so it is useless for about 75% of the feeds

    • grahams says:

      That's a pretty big generalization... I subscribe to hundreds of feeds, but only 3 require authentication at all (and they are all bullshit on our internal work machines)...

      • wdr1 says:

        You're not using flame-tard math: You take the actual percentage, triple it, subtract it from 100 and then the remainder is what you claim the percentage is when you whine.

  6. injector says:

    When I first started following RSS feeds I used Thunderbird. But the problem I found, is I had to keep it running all the time. I found LJ syndicated feeds, and like you now, pretty much only use it for that now, as my friends have left too--so I've been equally annoyed these past weeks.

    I've been thinking about going back to a aggregator running on my home computer. But the issue of having to have it running all the time still pops up. Some of the more active feeds I follow have more updates in the 8 hours I'm at work than their RSS document has available at any time.

    I really need something I can run on a server which caches updates beyond their life in the original feed. Just something for you to keep in mind. I'll be following this post to see if anyone has anything worth checking out.

    • dojothemouse says:

      That's what Fever would claim to do. It runs on your own server, but it also auto-updates itself and you have to look at Shawn Inman's design all the time.

      So... seems marginally better than Google Reader for jwz's tinfoil-related concerns. Dunno. Never touched it.

      • jwz says:

        When you get your personal files subpoenaed as frequently as I do, you can throw stones here. I know for a fact, from expensive personal experience, that I will fight those subpoenas at a point at which some random megacorp would have already caved to the whim of some lawyer (not even a judge -- random lawyers write subpoenas, not judges). Hell, most of them would probably have caved without even bothering to have told me first.

        So screw your tinfoil. This is not theoretical.

        • dojothemouse says:

          But my point is that it is marginally better for your $not_tinfoil-related concerns. You host your data but it sends some stuff to Shawn Inman. He may or may not anonymize what he is collecting.

  7. ctakahara says:

    I used Gregarius for about a year. It's not so much "free web site" as "web app you run on your own server" but it works pretty well and doesn't look bad doing it.

    • tecknicaltom says:

      I second Gregarius, even though it's not 100% what you're asking for. It's a php app you run on a server, uses MySQL for storage, update it with cron. One of my requirements was the ability to have my management of read/unread items available anywhere, and I disliked google reader, so this was the best way I found to use rss.
      I really like that I can write site-specific plugins to handle feeds, doing stuff like following the link and pulling in full-content for sites that continue to publish summaries only.

      • handyman5 says:

        Are you familiar with Yahoo Pipes? I have built/cloned magic pipes for all the summaries-only feeds I read that go and snag the full document from the webpage and squirt it into the feed.

  8. vstraylight says:

    FWIW, I have always like the sage plugin for firefox. It's fairly light, gives content previews, and reasonably configurable. Currently, I'm suckling pure evil from the teat of Google Reader, but if I were to change, I'd start with sage.

    https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/77

    • acroyear70 says:

      sage's only problem is it (like a great many extensions these days) uses bookmarks (and a dedicated folder) as its tracking mechanism, which means it uses the browser's history itself to decide if you've read something or not. if the "i've seen this before" history entry expires (default used to be 2 weeks), then any rss item still in the feed suddenly becomes "unread" again. for a slow-updating feed (1 post every week), that can be problematic.

      I think FF3 bumped that threshold up to 2 months, but still...

      I'm on google reader, but mostly just 'cause it was one of the few to also have a mobile version.

      i'd been meaning to write my own server-based aggregator for years now...

      • vstraylight says:

        Hmm, I've never noticed the browser history problem when using Sage. However, I've been using Google Reader for a couple of years now.

  9. I've looked for something like this for a while too. Right now I'm using akregator, which unfortunately is a KDE app... but our work computers have KDE, so it's not too far-fetched for me.

    I wouldn't suggest you use it on OSX, that'd be stupid, but I'm making the point 'cause it's the only thing I've found so far that isn't a stupid web page app, and can handle authenticated feeds (i.e. livejournal frends-locked posts), while having a sane "news reader" sort of interface.

    I tried the thunderbird and firefox plugins, and they just aren't as good. So I'm stuck with this stupid KDE app 'cause it's the best thing out there in a group of really horrible apps.

    Oh well.

  10. ken_oshakid says:

    I run Tiny Tiny RSS (http://tt-rss.org) on my Apache server. It uses PHP + MySQL/PostgresSQL. Looks a bit like Google Reader.

  11. mark242 says:

    Understood about the Google Reader thing, but Helvetireader makes Google Reader look a million times better than any native Mac application. Also, the builtin keyboard controls are pretty nice. If someone could make a native app that behaved like this, I'd be all over it.

    • Yeah, I hate The Google(tm) as much as anyone (don't use a gmail account except to catch spam, etc.) but damn if Reader isn't useful. Even the iPhone version of it is super slick.

  12. bodenste says:

    I want to second NetNewsWire. I've used it for years and it works absolutely great. I could not do better. It has handy keyboard shortcuts to move to the next unread post, it's easy to open items in a web browser (I don't use the ability to open items within the application itself). It's not cumbersome at all. Best of all, it's a desktop application and not some stupid web interface. That means I can do things like load the text of all my feeds, get on an airplane, and read.

  13. twiin says:

    The only amazing RSS reader I've ever used is Feedly, which is a Firefox plugin -- but it uses a Google Reader account for feed management.

  14. allartburns says:

    NetNewsWire has been very good to me for the past few years.

  15. elliterati says:

    I use EventBox, which does RSS, Twitter, Facebook and a half-dozen other things I don't really use. It's not free, but it's pretty full-featured and painless. It says Beta, but I've been using it for about a year without any trouble, and the developers added a feature I asked for within two weeks of my asking. I don't regret paying for it.

  16. cjensen says:

    Safari works for me, but maybe I'm not picky enough.

    • alzdran says:

      You aren't being picky enough, or you've been incredibly lucky. Things being marked as unread after reading, or never being marked as read, no matter how many times you update, having to control article length in the window on all articles, rather than being able to disclose a single one.. all of these suck directly.

      Worse still, the articles can't be individually marked as read, as with a mailbox - if you load the feed, all messages in that feed are now considered read. For a message-based system, that's a pretty horrific model.

      • cjensen says:

        Thanks -- that's a good synopsis of things Safari doesn't do. I don't need those items, but many will. (The never being marked as read thing is fixed nowadays though).

    • jwz says:

      Safari suffers from the same "re-posting things all the time" bug that Mail.app does. Presumably they share the same back-end code.

  17. gthing says:

    Just take the mark of the beast upon you like the rest of us and give your life to Google. Otherwise, it's opt-out village for you. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMChO0qNbkY

  18. jered says:

    One other option; an acquaintance of mine is behind BlogBridge, which has lots of features, some of which you may even use. (I'd say it's the Emacs of RSS readers, but really, Emacs is the Emacs of RSS readers.)

  19. semiclever says:

    Your real desktop app choices on mac seem to be NetNewsWire and NewsFire. NNW annoyed me for reasons I no longer remember. NewsFire is acceptable. It keeps history. You can put feeds into categories. It can add feed items to spotlight search. It seems like the UI could use some tweaks to be more efficient.

  20. bdunbar says:

    Are there any free OSX desktop apps

    NetNewsWire.

    http://www.newsgator.com/INDIVIDUALS/NETNEWSWIRE/

  21. simoncion says:

    I use Liferea on Linux. It's pretty simple, handles authenticated feeds, and has a knob or two that you can tweak if you like. Some poking around indicates that WebKit is its default renderer. There appears to be an OS X port, but I can't vouch for its quality.

  22. oedipamaas49 says:

    personally, I'm pretty fond of bloglines. [in other words I've been using it for a couple of years, and rarely end up screaming at it]

    but woah, isn't it sad how much consensus there is about the death of LJ? It's getting to the point where I'd love to see somebody defend it passionately, just for the sake of variety.

    • j_b says:

      I dunno, Brad's gone, a few people I know who were fans for years have moved
      to a forked codebase ( Dreamwidth ) (although that may never achieve enough
      popularity to matter), and if LJ can't keep their stuff working to
      the point where their highest-PageRank'ed user wants to stay ...

      On an side note - jwz - if you do quit using your friends page as your RSS
      aggregator, please do consider sharing the feed list from whatever you move to,
      your editorial recommendations really help the web not suck.

      • oedipamaas49 says:

        oh yeah, I can see why it's happening. It's like going back to your hometown and seeing the decay of the places you once loved to hang out.

        Personally I'll be staying as long as there are a decent number of my friends here. Whether that'll be 3 months or 3 years I can't really say. I doubt it'll be longer than that, though.

    • lapax says:

      I'd second bloglines.com . I've been using their "classic" interface for a few years now..

    • rodgerd says:

      LJ seems to be pairing down to people who want to read about children having sex with wizards, and a few of my friends who stubbornly stick with it because they don't want their workmates and family watching them through facebook.

  23. xtat says:

    I like rawdog -- kind of like an offline livejournal experience. It will use all of your ram.

    I have an opml2rawdog thing somewhere I think. Let me know if interested.

  24. turu says:

    heh, most of people have already mentioned about NNW, de facto for desktop feed reader on Mac. What else I can recommend from now :'(

    NNW is free, but it is also proprietary software. Its fork for the Windows(Feed Daemon) has already started to show ads on the window, so sooner or later(probably from next version of NNW) it will start to show ads on the left corner of window too. so I leave here a link for popular open source feed reader on Mac, in case if you prefer ad-free software. It's called "Vienna",and you can grab it from there;
    http://www.vienna-rss.org/

    and here is one more thing (even though it's not open souce), "NewsFire"
    http://www.newsfirex.com/

    One of the reason I prefer to use desktop app over the web based service, because it can be used as ad-free. If it starts to show ugly ad just like as other service on the web, there are no reason to use it anymore.

    • drbrain says:

      NNW for Mac keeps getting updates saying roughly "pushed back the ad-showing timebomb". I paid for NNW way back when and I'm not sure if I'll get the ad-free experience or not when ads are finally enabled.

      • turu says:

        In the case of FeedDemon(NNW for Windows), you can disable ads by purchase paid license. well, Mac users seems to me very lucky to have alternatives like Vienna and Newsfire. There are not so many option left for Windows users when it comes to the alternatives for FeedDemon.

  25. houdini_cs says:

    I loved NNW for a while. I was a paid user for two years, and wasn't too happy when they made it free (because the service level dropped). But, hey, I kept with it.

    They recently changed from their own online sync thing to using Google Reader as a backend. That would be great, except for two things:

    1. They lost all of my folders nested more than 1 deep.
    2. They quietly lost all of my LJ feeds that required authentication.

    That second one isn't fixable: Google Reader can't auth to LJ. That might not matter to you, but it does for me. There's a hack around this which requires either giving your LJ username/password to some site, or running your own RSS proxy (which in turn doesn't use authentication by default).

    I'm looking for something new now. Vienna looks really similar, and a lot of people suggest NewsFire. I haven't gotten off of my ass to try either, so I don't know.

  26. wire_on_fire says:

    I went through using Feed Demon (same folks as NetNewsWire), then Sage, now Brief: http://brief.mozdev.org/

    And nobody else recommended it. Either I'm crazy, or the rest of you are.

  27. danjite says:

    I'm just shocked that anyone is listening to Ethyl Meatplow.

    Thanks for that set of forgotten memories...

  28. taskboy3000 says:

    I really like the live bookmarks feature. I've got about 30 of them now. I realize that firefox probably can handle 200 RSS feeds, but it's worth mentioning.

  29. robdeadtech says:

    I like Vienna. Open source and does everything I need. No fancy features like Google Reader syncing or anything, but it works.

  30. neontotem says:

    I seem to remember you mentioning looking for a colo (or finding one) that wouldn't roll over and hand over the keys upon subpoena.

    Upon news of Verizon's new FIOS AUP that forbids, among other things, disparaging dear corporation, posting off-topic, and obscenity, I've given serious consideration to setting up a POP off-site and tunneling through it instead of my consumer ISP.

    Did you ever have any luck finding a provider that will stand up for the little guy?