The optimal RSS reader: life in the post-Google Reader era

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

It was a shocker. When Google announced that Google Reader will shut down on July 1st, apart from the usual cycle of disvelief and sorrow the first thing which came to my mind was what to use after Google Reader's demise. On the one hand, Google Reader provides an easy way to read RSS feeds in a synchronyzed way regardless of one's platform of choice. On the other (and this is my true source of concern), many functional and accessible RSS readers for iOS take advantage of Google Reader's API to add, manage and display their feeds. My favorite RSS reader -- Newsify, the fantastic EZFeeds, and the popular Feeddler Pro come to mind. After all, there has been no paucity of accessible Google Reader-based RSS readers on the App Store.

Fast-forward to lire

As I was on the hunt for something which could provide the same RSS experience without hinging on Google Reader, I noticed the newly-released iOS application called lire. You can also find its iPhone and iPad entries on Applevis here and here. In short, it has a dedicated developer, is updated on a regular basis, has full-fledged VoiceOver support, and, above all, displays feed articles in a revolutionary way -- I'm quoting here:

Some sites set up their feeds to only show a portion of each entry, you know, to get you to click through to their actual website. We find that really annoying, and we're sure you do too. Which is why, unlike other RSS feed readers, that either push you into a browser (in-app or otherwise), or depend on third party text parsing services and require you to be online to fetch the full text of one article at a time (which makes it no different from having to click/tap through to a website), in lire, you get your favorite RSS feeds as they should've been. You don't need to click through to any website (though, you do still have the option to, if you really wanted). It takes your favorite partial feeds, does it's magic, and converts them in to full feeds, so you don't have to click/tap on those annoying 'Read more' or 'Continue reading' links.

The app works as expected and once you purchase it for $1.99 and then decide to unlock it to gain access to more than 15 articles per feed with another one-time $4.99 in-app purchase, you'll wonder why such a thing hadn't been available before. However, lire suffers from a shortcoming which isn't necessarily a product of its own making -- let me explain.

Lack of server-based feed processing

If you are an avid user of RSS feeds, you know that many websites limit the number of feeds they display. That is, if you check their feeds for new articles, you'll find a certain number of articles no matter how long you hadn't checked their feed. As a case in point, the popular Android site Android Police and the venerable laptop review site Laptop Magazine only display 10 new articles in their feeds, meaning if you don't check their feeds for some hours or for more than a day, or if those sites post many articles at a certain time and you're not available to check their feeds, you'll be limited to their final 10 articles. This is a common issue and also affects news websites such as NPR (15 articles per feed) and Reuters (25 articles per feed). Now the nice point about Google Reader is that since it provides server-based RSS processing and caches articles on its servers, it circumvents this shortcoming and once you add a feed to, say, Newsify, you can be certain that you won't miss its articles even if it imposes that arbitrary limitation.

What does this mean?

The point is that lire, no matter how feature-rich it is, doesn't support server-based feed processing. So if you're like me and look forward to something which can rival Google Reader's prowess, be aware that neither is lire a Google Reader, nor is it a server-based client so it can't go beyond that arbitrary limitation. As such, many of your articles from some websites might never appear in lire (or whatever app which lacks server processing) depending on how frequently you use it.

My hope is that lire, Newsify and Feeddler Pro succeed in providing their own server-based processing or migrate to services which promise seamless Google Reader functionality such as Feedly. For the time being, though, Newsify and lire remain my favorite RSS readers on the iOS -- the former for its excellent Google Reader support and the latter for its terrific approach to the display of articles. Do you think lire will at some point support server processing? Newsify has promised such a thing on its website though it remains to be seen how elegantly the transition is handled. Digg is also talking about building an RSS reader, so here's hoping for a hassle-free future.