Saturday, March 14, 2015

Feedly vs Inoreader, Part 3: Shots Fired, Reddit and Websta RSS feed issues


Note 1: As I continue to agonize over whether to commit to Feedly or Inoreader as my RSS reader of choice, I look for areas in which one objectively excels over the other. This is now a very short Part 3 of that agonizing. See Part 1Part 2Part 4, and Part 5 if you're interested. 

Note 2: Information has been added as "UPDATES" below which may make this post irrelevant. 

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Case Study: r/southkorea


As I highlighted before, Feedly sometimes has issues with parsing smaller / less active RSS feeds, and this seems especially true for Reddit feeds.

Now, for the very active r/korea subreddit, Feedly has no problem. All those posts load fine. But the other day I noticed that I was seeing things in Inoreader that weren't showing up in Feedly, and realized that the issue was the r/southkorea subreddit. Granted, this particular subreddit is not exactly the highlight of the site, as you can see. But that shouldn't matter. Feeds should be treated neutrally, even those with few or even one subscriber. (I wouldn't even mind it getting scrapped once per week, so long as it happens!) To me, this is one of the key philosophies of the open web, and of RSS in general. I don't want to wonder if I'll see the posts or not. If a post is made, I, as a subscriber, want to see it.

But you don't have to take my word for it. Here's r/southkorea's RSS feed as displayed in Firefox. All the following screenshots were taken in immediate succession. Notice that the most recent posting here was on 2015-03-05.


Screenshot of r/southkorea feed

Now let's check and see what shows up in Inoreader. Everything seems to check out. Here too, the March 5th post is the most recent.

Screenshot of r/southkorea on Inoreader

There's one interesting thing to notice here, and that is that Inoreader does present a warning message alterting me to problems with the feed. This is a feature I really like about Inoreader. In the subscriptions preferences, you get a clear picture of which feeds are not parsing correctly, and can investigate. Feedly offers no warnings, no method of knowing if a feed is actually updating or not. If you love RSS as much as me, I don't have to tell you the frustration of finding out that a site is updating, but all along, sometimes for months, Feedly hasn't been pulling those posts in, and you never knew. For Feedly to gain my confidence, they don't have to do everything perfect, but they should at least let me know if/when there's a problem.

Now then, let's see how Feedly handles this feed:

Screenshot of r/southkorea on Feedly

Oh boy. Posts from 2014, a year ago. Feedly stopped parsing this feed ages ago it seems, and of course, I was none the wiser. It was only thanks to Inoreader that I discovered this.

Look, I'm not trying to bash Feedly (too hard). And believe me, I know how stupid and inconsequential a Reddit feed, especially r/southkorea, can be. But some of you out there may need this service for more important reasons. And even if it's just for pleasure, as in my case, if a feed reader is not pulling in the feed posts, what's the point of using it? This is why I refuse to become a Feedly Pro member. (And I'm one of those people who does pay for apps and services that excel at what they do.)

I do still use Feedly frequently, for the simple reason that it is beautiful. Seriously, Feedly team, if you ever read this, the Feedly product is beautiful, and a pleasure to use. Your UI blows other readers out of the water. But underneath it all, I need you to be reliable. We can date, but I don't think we'll marry, not quite yet.

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UPDATE - 21 March 2015
A commenter pointed out that Feedly addressed this exact issue here
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Case Study: Websta's "서울" tag


Now hold up a second. You didn't think this entire post was going to be anti-Feedly did you? No sir. Inoreader won't escape the wrath of this post either. 

Websta is an Instagram viewer site that conveniently provides RSS feeds for Instagram users and tags, which is great now that Instagram removed their own (thanks, Zuck). For example, if you love seeing what's going on in/around Seoul, you might use their search results for the "서울" tag. And if you want to follow these posts via RSS, you can do so easily here. Let's see what this feed page (http://widget.websta.me/rss/tag/서울) looks like:

Screenshot of feed page for Websta's 서울 tag

Ok, everything looking good there. Let's go ahead and open it up in Feedly:

Screenshot Websta's 서울 tag in Feedly

Hmm OK, looking good. Feedly's UI layout here really shines, I think. I want to look at this page and read these articles (or, um, oogle these gorgeous Korean girls?), rather than just click "Mark All As Read" as I sometimes feel tempted to do in Inoreader. Speaking of Inoreader, it's never let me down so far, so let's fire it up:

Screenshot Websta's 서울 tag in Inoreader

Oh dear... what happened? In my tests, it seems that Inoreader "cannot find feed" when the URL of the feed contains Korean characters. That's a bit odd to me, as Innologica Ltd, the company behind Inoreader, is based in Bulgaria. I'd have assumed they, more than Feedly, would be better equipped to support a variety of language scripts. But what do I know? It just goes to show: nobody's perfect.

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UPDATE - 21 March 2015
Inoreader responded, pointing out that, while the direct non-Latin characters are not supported in the URL, feeds with such characters do work if they are first converted to their equivalent percent-encodings, which a web-browser should automatically do but which was not happening for me.
Therefore, this sample feed for Websta's 서울 tag at http://widget.websta.me/rss/tag/서울 will work if added to Inoreader as http://websta.me/rss/tag/%EC%84%9C%EC%9A%B8
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Parting Thoughts: Shots Fired!


This last example shows that reliability is not just a Feedly issue, but the take-home message here should be this: a feed reader should both look beautiful and bring in each post from each of your subscriptions. If it cannot, it should at least have some means of informing you of this. To my mind, Feedly wins in beauty and "mainstream" feed reading... but if that's all you want, then Flipboard is an even better choice. For having custom "off the beaten path" subscriptions and power-user-level tools, Inoreader wins. Ideally, I'd like to see Feedly simply (1.) adopt a means of showing users when feeds aren't updating properly and (2.) sort out its parsing so that "1." isn't even routinely necessary. In fact, I imagine that if they were to adopt this "1." idea, then I could be aware of issues like subscription changes or sites changing URL or sites simply going down (like my favorite Tumblr blogs have a habit of doing), in which case I could pare down my large number of subscriptions.

I do still use Feedly more than Inoreader, and maybe that's why I want them to get their game together.

After all, they're not the only feed reader in town, as NewsBlur hilariously reminded me the other day when I did a Google search for Feedly:

Screenshot of "feedly" Google search on Android Chrome

"Better than Feedly" and "with more features than Feedly"... ouch. Shots fired!

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Thanks for reading, and for more of my comparisons, see this series Part 1Part 2Part 4, and Part 5 if you're interested. 

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