So, like some others, I’m spending a bit more time this weekend than I might have budgeted in playing around with alternative RSS aggregators, meanwhile brooding about the experiments and business models that didn’t quite make it, killed by lack of attention, lack of time, lack of funding, and the limitless cash of competitors.

So far I’ve played a bit with three readers to some degree, in their web incarnations. Happily I’ve got plenty of time before Google closes down Reader, because the current crop is not showing a clean lead suggestion yet.

I’ve played so far with

  • The Old Reader: this is billed as, and functionally, a Google Reader like it was before the Buzz and G-Plus-ification of that service. Inband sharing of items, comment threads inband, all very familiar. I’m ~30K down the queue in getting my full feed list integrated, so I haven’t really done more than look at pictures of the tires on this, let alone kick them or take a proper test drive.
  • Feedly: very slick, clearly well funded and fast, but no stated business model. And are my items actually getting marked as read? No inband community, all outsourced to the social web. Chrome client involves a plugin, which then advertises sharing on all sorts of pages, which makes me feel like an unpaid volunteer for a service I don’t quite understand. Some caveats apply, like no offline mode, a walled garden of mobile clients (at least until they support the reverse-engineered API, etc.
  • NewsBlur: Have a clearish business model – charge per user, per year. Looks like they have a very public inband sharing function, as well as external sharing. The UI feels… rocky, and when I tried running it on my Android device it was crashtastic (though they are clear this is their first delivery on that platform).
  • Fever: Clear business model – pay $30 for the code and install it on your own server. Some mobile support, and lots of fancy predictions based on individual choices. But by the same token, very single-user, and I’m expected to find a solution for both members of our household. Something tells me az isn’t going to get behind rolling a mysql and php tool.
  • Doesn’t actually exist yet, but Russell Beattie was in the process of multi-user-ising his self-rolled RSS aggregator at the time Google made their announcement. One to watch, perhaps, but an uphill climb.
  • Digg: I know they are under new ownership, etc, but I just can’t get this one in my head as a serious prospect. Cynical, perhaps.

My list of wants is growing and evolving, but feels pretty simple

  • I want an API and some functionality to provide mobile access in both online and offline modes. Having played a bit with Feedly and NewsBlur, neither of these quite make it yet. Feedly has a very glossy interface (just as they do on the web), but it’s online access only. And NewsBlur feels very old-school Android. Big icons, non-holo, online only. If the proposed movements to duplicate the Reader APIs play out, I’m hopeful for a third party ecosystem, such that applications like Press (Android) and Reeder (iOS) will be suited again.
  • Though an app service is important, I still want web access. Feedly breaks my heart by demanding one use a plugin – at least on Chrome etc. I don’t want to do that – I want to use any browser, and this requirement makes me think they’re playing games with my data. NewsBlur does have web front end, but it’s very mid-2000s, with some really garish color and button decisions.
  • I want to have both internal to network sharing (like The Old Reader and NewsBlur are offering), but also clean entries into the larger social web. In an app on Android, sharing between sources is basically a doddle, but on the web and iOS there’s more lifting needed, and that becomes an up front decision for the provider…
  • I really want a clear business model, up front. I want to know I’ve got somthing to get angry about if it goes awry (unlike this case, where I can only shake my fist at a large corporation for a product I never paid for, and never had any documented skin in the game on). The Old Reader is still thinking about this (they feel like a project that blew up very fast…), NewsBlur have this built in by charging up front. Feedly – I can’t tell what Feedly’s goal is, which makes me feel a bit uneasy.