Can’t go home again: 4 apps (and also Twitter) to replace Google Reader

I think all of us 1 million or so users of Google Reader are pretty well pissed off right now. We rely on Reader to provide us the news content from the sources we’ve carefully culled over the years. Our folders, our feeds, our connection to the wider world of news. What to do?

Several competitor products are out there, particularly for mobile devices. But which to choose? Here is a quick list of a few options I’ve tried and my thoughts on them:

1. Feedly

Let’s get this one out of the way early. Feedly works. And yes, even CNN is reporting that this seems to be Feedly’s moment in the sun. Certainly, they came along at just the right time. I was actually looking for a different reader on Android when I stumbled upon Feedly a few months ago. And so far, I’ve been pretty happy with it.

Feedly provides a rich experience for your news. On mobile, it presents your content in “magazine mode,” which means that it will take a featured image for an article and present it full-screen, bled out, with the title over top. There are other views as well, and you can customize how each folder or feed presents: List, magazine or card view. All have their merits, and on the desktop version, you can get a straight-ahead Google Reader style list of headlines.

The down side of Feedly is that even with the list view, scanning the news isn’t really a possibility. This is an app for the reader, not for the browser: those of us looking to quickly populate our feeds with news our readers need will find this app a bit frustrating.

 2. Pulse

For those looking for a bit more automatic curation, there is Pulse. This app actually sifts through your RSS subscriptions, looking for the types of content you’re most likely to click on, things which are hot among other users and the most recent content to provide you with an up-to-date look at your news.

The good news is that Pulse definitely gives you fresh content. The bad news is that, well, it is algorithmic curation. It’s not necessarily the most accurate reflection of what you’ll find interesting: it is just a programmer’s best guess.

Also, for those of us who are using our feeds specifically to find those “deep links” and the roads less traveled, this kind of curation doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. By picking the most popular stuff, Pulse is actually making our linking shallower by design.

3. Prismatic

In my experience, probably the height of both pretty display and curation is Prismatic. Whereas Pulse will rearrange your feeds for you, Prismatic is presumptuous enough to actually add in its own feeds that it thinks you’ll like. Oddly, I’ve found that it actually works quite well, filtering in new content I might not have otherwise seen.

But again: you spent a lot of time and trouble trying to get your RSS feeds in order. You know what you want to look at, in terms of news sources. That Prismatic adds new ones is not necessarily helpful to deep linking content.

4. Mix and match

Ok, so this isn’t exactly an app in itself. But if you’re looking for variety in your linking and reading diet, really, using a combination of all the above is probably the best bet.

Yes, you end up having to keep track of three different readers. The up side is that all three curate content differently, and that means lots of unexpected content from your primary sources. In fact, by working with each service regularly, you’ll find that each provides a unique window on the content you care about.

Out of the three, only Feedly allows you to view your feeds directly as a list, so you can still get that pure content feel. But I’m personally a big fan of changing perspectives for the sake of keeping the creative juices flowing.

Twitter lists are social curation!

RSS feeds are without doubt the best way to keep up to date on the news sources you like. But perhaps the most interesting way to keep up with the news that matters to your audience is to keep tabs on the people who drive the news. Twitter lists are a great way to allow the people who know your topics best to help you find the most interesting tidbits you might not have found anywhere else.

For example, I have a list populated with scientists, science bloggers and journalists, science professors and basically, all sciency peeps. There are a few celebrity types, like Neil deGrasse-Tyson and Bill Nye. But most people on this list are in the trenches, occasionally live-tweeting from obscure NASA conferences, doing research and writing their own peer-reviewed journals.

Unlike an RSS feed, which will be strictly links, this list gives me an insight into the thoughts and feelings of the people who do the stuff my audience is interested in. When they do post a link, that link tends to be a much deeper read on current science news than I might have gotten from other sources. And when a large number of people on this list all tweet out the same article, I know I’ve got a really important read on my hands.

So, Twitter lists are a great way to create a social curation vehicle for the types of information you most want. Simply put together a list of people who all share common interests, and even if they don’t know each other, they will “up-vote” the most pressing issues in their world for you.

I’m going to miss Google Reader. I don’t think any of the above sources work quite the same as a solid RSS reader. But by widening my news search to include a mix of all these options has given me a fresh perspective on what I’m doing with content. And that’s a good thing, right?