In preparation for the Google Reader shutdown on 7/1, on Saturday, 5/11, I purchased a $19, one year membership to David Smith’s new RSS service Feed Wrangler. This morning, I felt like I was ready to write down some initial thoughts.
So let’s get this out of the way first—I’m not ready to tell someone to spend $19 on Feed Wrangler. Well, sort of. I purchased my F.W. membership because I happen to have a massive iTunes credit right now (stowed away for Apple TV movie purchases since my wife and I can’t take the newborn to the movies. Turns out she’s not really a film fan in general, but that’s another post) and as you’ll see, my overall impression of F.W. is positive, but I think I might feel differently if I had spent actual money, rather than having taken the plunge while wearing the credit life jacket.
F.W. (note: the service launched on 4/30, just two weeks ago) feels like it’s an app/service being run by one person, and not by Google. Which is fine—because it is. The money that I paid Google for Reader ($0) meant that I had the same amount of say (none) in what they did, or didn’t do, with the service. I already like the sensation that, when I’m done with this post, I can email it to David and feel confident that he’ll at least consider my opinions/thoughts. But you will notice the difference in the two services. You’ll notice it in terms of the overall speed of the service, the refresh rate of feeds, and the occasional downtime. Also hurting David is the fact that, app-wise, most people (if not all) used already polished RSS apps to access G.R. Overall though, I can’t help but think that F.W. will only get better with time, as more people plunk down their $19, so I’m looking at this period as an investment in the future of F.W.
It’s also worth noting that, come 7/1, the biggest comparison service will no longer exist.
Some random points:
-The F.W. app has better functionality than the website, which is important for me because I use(d) reader.google.com at work a lot. And by a lot, I mean Monday-Friday, 9am to 5pm. This is another area that is not good for me in the short term. But long term, I feel like it’s actually a good sign. Information/media in the future will, for the most part, take the form of an app, not a website (and if you need proof of this, check out recent slick web designs by the New York Times and Pitchfork and Pitchfork. What do those remind you of?). And David just released the F.W. API, so I have a feeling Reeder (my RSS app of choice) will support F.W. soon.
-If you use Instapaper (or Pocket), you’ll definitely appreciate how it’s incorporated across the ‘top level’ of the service, one of those so-simple-that-no-one-thought-of-it ideas.
-As I said, the speed of F.W. is different from Google. Not necessarily slower—just different. With Google, I’d get updates seemingly instantly, or at least as fast as I could refresh the page, so I’d wind up with one new item at a time if I was refreshing a lot (don’t tell my job). With F.W., there’s almost always either a few items (and almost always in bunches from the same feed), or nothing at all. Understand that there is zero technical understanding behind the following statement, but I feel like this has to do with the polling limits of one man vs. Google. Strangely, I’ve almost come to enjoy this difference though, as I haven’t felt like I need to check F.W. constantly to stay on top of it. The articles get there when they get there, and no amount of refreshing can change that.
-That being said, I’ve definitely encountered the palpable sensation that F.W. is missing stuff. I haven’t had the time, nor the inclination, to check it against G.R., but the feeling is there. I can’t decide if it’s just a Phantom Limb-like sensation, since I’ve never used anything but G.R. and F.W. is different in its feed refresh patterns, or if there are actual articles being missed. For what it’s worth, in the past four days, I haven’t come across any articles after the fact and been surprised that I didn’t notice it in my RSS feed.
I’m also keeping a running list of things to submit to the David after using F.W. for a couple of weeks. Here’s what I have so far (please note that by ’needs’ I realize that this is all frivolous bullshit when compared to the world at large, and that my needs may not represent any other, never mind a large portion of, RSS user(s)):
-Apps and Site: Needs the ability to group feeds by feed within the ‘Unread’ stream and user-created streams, not just in chronological order.
-Site: Needs more horizontal real estate for the article list. Too many titles are cut off and they are not cut off in the app.
-Site: Needs the ability/option to see a short synopsis/piece of the article without clicking.
-Site: Needs the ability to ‘mark as read while scrolling.’
-Apps and Site: Needs a number/badge indicating an unread items count, at least as an option.
-Site: Video frames are consistently outside of the article column, always on the right side.
-Apps: Some feeds don’t obey the screen limits and require a swipe (or several) to the left to see the article and/or images, which in turn, screws up swiping right to go back to the article list.
-iPad App: Needs the ability to clear the article pane once all articles have been read.
-Apps: The ‘wrangle’ concept is cool, since it gives you four options for several articles with just one tap, but ‘mark all read’ should automatically refresh the article list and remove the ‘mark all read’ button. And the writing teacher in me hates the grammar of that option.
-Service: Needs the ability to edit individual feed info. E.g., Grantland’s ‘Hollywood Prospectus’ blog, for whatever reason, works as a feed, but doesn’t supply good info (it didn’t for G.R., either.). Rather than being able to edit it to reflect what it is (as you were able to in G.R.), it just sits in the feed list as ‘ESPN.com - null.’
-Apps: It isn’t clear what the ‘search’ function is for. It appears to be for finding a feed (which would be useful), but is actually for searching articles.
And so, four days in, that’s it. I didn’t even touch on the nice, minimalist design (although another blue app icon was—disappointing) or the good font choice. Importing my Google Reader info was simple, although it did require messing around with about 5-7 feeds before it was perfect. David has already released an update to the app, and he appears to be very quick on Twitter in responding to customers, which is part of the satisfaction one gets from paying for a service.
Final word: If you’ve got an iTunes credit and/or $19 to spare, Feed Wrangler is worth your money. If you’ve got an app budget, I’d say wait and give the service a bit more time to mature, while also keeping in mind that the maturation process will most likely be expedited with each payment.