For the last few years, I’ve used Newsfire as my RSS client of choice. Simple, clean and very well designed, it is a great piece of software. I did try a few other alternatives such as Vienna or the RSS reader integrated in the beta version of Yahoo Mail, but none where enabling me to go through all these news feeds as quickly and efficiently as Newsfire. The other software versions of the RSS reader weren’t as elegant and simple as the tool I used, and other online solutions where lacking off-line and keyboard shortcuts to get through the feeds quickly. A few weeks ago, I decided to give Google Reader a try, now that there is an off-line more as well as keyboard shortcuts, I’ve made the switch. The only question to Google: I thought you where a search company… so where is the search field?
Overall, I really like Google Reader as my RSS aggregator. Being able to tag RSS feeds into multiple folders is really nice, having quick and easy keyboard shortcuts to go through the feeds (the j key is certainly going to be used faster than others going forward) and having an off-line mode that actually works amazingly well is really great. When not connected, you can simply star an article, so that next time you are online, you simply have to go through these and follow the related links. I haven’t started using the Sharing option as I tend to save the most interesting web pages in my del.icio.us account. It also appears that Google Reader works great with mobile devices and that they support very well the iPhone… well, haven’t been able to test that as Canadian customers are (once again) left behind when it comes to the latest cool toys
There are a few annoyances that I hope will be solved by the time Google Reader will leave the beta stage it has been in since launch (if ever). For example, and I don’t know if this is related to Firefox or the Reader, but when I follow a link, I would like it to open in a tab (which is the case), but I would also greatly appreciate if the focussed tab could remain the one where I am reading my RSS feeds… all I want to do is to open that page for later reading, e.g. once I’ve gone through all the RSS feeds. This worked great with Newsfire for example. There might be a Firefox extension that solves this annoyance, but I haven’t found it yet.
Another thing that could be improved is that when I click back on the Google Reader tab in my browser, the keyboard shortcuts tend to not work… I first need to click inside the window, e.g. give a specific news item divider the focus. Again, this might be a limitation with the browser and not the web application, but if Google can provide off-line mode with Gears, it sure should be possible to get the user experience fine-tuned.
But, as there has to be a but, there is one thing that I really don’t get with Google Reader: Where is the search field? Isn’t Google THE search company? Isn’t Google’s mission to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful? So how can I search a news article I previously viewed. Let’s say I would like to find all the article / blog-post I’ve previously got through about the drobo external hard drive enclosure, shouldn’t I have a search field somewhere in Google Reader where I can simply type “drobo” for example, that I can then sort by various options (date posted, ranking, …)? Newsfire not only had an embedded search field, but it also had the option to enable search through Spotlight, the integrated search option of Mac OS X. Must be the reason why it is still in beta.
I am still having a hard time switching other desktop software to the online world (my main mail client is still software, even if I use webmail clients when I am not in front of my computer, and my blog editor is ecto), and having a hybrid type of application such as WordPerfect Lightning are better suited to my workflow… But looking at AJAX, Google Gears, Firefox 3.0 or Adobe Air, the direction is very interesting.
Update – September 9, 2007: Google Reader now has search capability built-in.