With the end of Google Reader, the playing field for RSS feeds and apps has really levelled out. I’ve been in the open market ever since. I’ve got a Feedly account and a Feed Wrangler account. I’m not extremely impressed with either at this point, and I’m considering moving over to Feedbin. But I want to use apps that integrate with my preferred solution.
On the iPhone, that’s left me with the official Feed Wrangler app, the Feedly app, Reeder and Slow Feeds. I’ve been using Reeder for well over a year now, but Silvio Rizzi has been slower and slower to update it as time has gone on. I decided to try out a new experience and I’ve been test driving Slow Feeds. If you’re curious about what a different take on RSS feed reading on the iPhone can be like, hit up my review after the break.
Less Like Reader, More Like Fever
Slow Feeds is unlike any RSS app I’ve ever used on the iPhone. Instead of displaying all of your stories in a simple list format, it goes to town and splits them up into separate categories.
Let’s start with the big downside with this approach: There’s no way to view your stories by feed. If you subscribe to 600 or more feeds, that may not be a problem, but I think I subscribe to somewhere around 50 and I like to sometimes read one feed’s update at a time.
Other people might appreciate the way that this is broken up. Slow Feeds has one category named after its app, which only displays stories from feeds that are slower to update. High Volume displays stories from feeds that update very frequently. Hot Links is a consolidation of the most-frequently linked articles that your feeds are chatting about and Images is a gallery of images from all of the feeds that you follow, in which tapping on an image reveals the relevant post.
In this sense, thanks to the way that feeds are broken down, I’m reminded a little bit of Fever. Unlike Fever, instead of trying to find the most popular articles in your feed, Slow Feeds just systematically breaks down the feeds into most frequently updated and least frequently updated. In that sense, it does feel more like Fever, but it’s still quite different. It’s also quite different from what you might be used to with Google Reader.
In some ways, this is a really cool and unique concept that helps differentiate between the lesser-known blogs you might follow out of actual interest and the high-volume, always-posting news sources that you read which post consistently at least once or twice a day. In this sense, browsing through Feeds is supposed to be irrelevant. Instead of looking to see if that not-too-often blog has a new post, it should prominently display itself within the app’s namesake tab.
It’s important for me to mention that Slow Feeds isn’t interested in whether or not there’s a high subscriber count for the RSS. That doesn’t impact its system at all. Stratechery, Ben Thompson’s extremely popular blog (which I’m assuming has more RSS subscribers than I could rightly image), is considered a Slow Feed because Ben might only post something new once or twice a week.
All of my own blogs are also considered Slow Feeds, because I only post one or two things a week at best.
This is a cool concept, but what I appreciate even more are the High Volume feeds. These feeds update very frequently, so some of the blogs I follow — like Android Police — are put in there because of their high volume of frequent posts. I don’t read every post from them, but I do read every post from Stratechery. Separating the two helps make it clearer whether I want to read everything in the list or just a couple articles.
As you could imagine, this is where Instapaper comes in handy for me. Thankfully, Slow Feeds includes the ability to set up Instapaper, Pocket, Pinboard and Delicious. It also allows you to choose your external browser, using what I’m presuming are URL callbacks for Dolphin, Chrome and Opera Mini as well as Safari. As some users will appreciate, you can turn off the option to use Safari altogether in the Settings.
What Doesn’t Work
That being said, the app isn’t perfect. It’s a little slower than some RSS apps, which makes sense, because it’s analyzing the feeds and sorting them on its own. That being said, it’s not terrible noticeable, and more importantly, it’s worth it.
What I don’t like is that there is no Mark All As Read option. This could come in really handy when looking at High Volume feeds. There’s also no tutorial, so it’s expected that the user automatically understands you can swipe to mark an article as read or swipe the opposite direction to mark it unread. Unlike Reeder, there are no helpful interactions when swiping either. An article’s font colour greys itself out a little after the fact, but that’s frustratingly it.
I also don’t like that there is no way for me to add a feed by searching for the URL. There’s also no way for me to manage feeds. The ability to look at pictures is comparatively useless next to those must-have features in an RSS app, so I’m not sure what the developer’s thoughts were behind that.
It’s easy to switch between accounts though, so with just a couple taps I was able to migrate from Feed Wrangler to Feedly. But there’s no way to even see a list of subscribed feeds.
There’s also now way to adjust the in-app typography or link colours, which are an odd sort of faded blue right now. I don’t find that reading articles in Slow Feeds is a great experience as a result.
A Mixed RSS Bag
The bottom line is that I’m not sure I can recommend Slow Feeds to anybody as anything more than a complementary experience. It’s a good way to get a quick look at tons of updated feeds and find some articles you might care most about from lesser-known authors, but because it’s so limited in its tools as a serious RSS reading app, it’s not for power users.
At the same time though, I’m not sure it’s right for “normal” users either. They’re not likely to have subscribed to as many feeds, and they might not be confused by the non-intuitive nature of Slow Feeds. In the end, it’s a unique idea bogged down by an app that doesn’t feel fully baked yet. A few simple tweaks, like a proper list of feeds, adjustable typography and the ability to subscribe to a feed within the app, might make Slow Feeds more compelling. Until then, it’s just a wasted opportunity.