Migrate from Google Reader to Feed Wrangler

In the transition from Google Reader (which happens Monday, FYI), I’ve been looking for a great alternative I can replace my RSS reading habits with. I wasn’t pleased with any of the free options that I saw — most of their designs didn’t appeal to me, and I wasn’t interested in supporting another service that could go away without a solid financial plan.

At that point, I ended up looking for my paid options and settled on Feed Wrangler. It’s developed by David Smith, a trusted developer in the Apple community. The service itself is $19 per year, but the app is free. And now that I’ve been using the app (and service) for a few weeks, what do I think of it? Read on to find out.
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Seamless Switching

Switching to Feed Wrangler from Google Reader was a really easy process. The app allows you to import all of your Google Reader feeds directly from Google without any fiddling, and that was a piece of cake in my testing. If you’re like me, though, you already exported your Reader feeds and had tried multiple different services, adding a few new feeds on the way.

All set and ready to go.

All set and ready to go.

The app luckily supports the import of OPML files as well, which are really just fancy files that include your RSS data. Importing that file has to be done on a computer, but it’s easy enough to do and I found that process seamless as well.

From then on, the service will take care of everything on its own and sync between the iPad, iPhone and web app. The iOS app is universal, and with one quick login, I was ready to go without any trouble.

Making RSS Even Simpler

The transition to Feed Wrangler for me has been a difficult one, if only because I’m used to the power that Reeder brought with it. Feed Wrangler will one day be a part of Reeder (and apps like Mr. Reader on iPad), but I don’t know when that day is going to be. And for now, I’m in this for the long haul.

Setting up a Smart Stream.

Setting up a Smart Stream.

The first major difference I noticed between Google Reader and Feed Wrangler is that Wrangler doesn’t support folders or labels for easy searching. Feed Wrangler has no way to implement tags, but it does support what it calls a Smart Stream.

Smart Streams are similar to folders, but with vastly different implementations. They create feeds based on user-defined rules, like key search terms. I created a Smart Stream for all the AppStorm sites, told it to include every article (read or unread), and voila. In some ways, this works better than folders for me because it’s actually a bit more customized. And if you need to make changes later, you can always do that just by tapping the Edit button in the main menu screen.

Support for Third-Party Services

Being that Feed Wrangler is made by an independent developer, Feed Wrangler naturally communicates with some apps that I know are tremendously important to many people’s workflows. Users can log in with 1Password if they have the app installed on their iPhone. The app supports Instapaper and Pocket for read later services, along with Pinboard.

One screen lets you configure most third-party services, while the rest are detected automatically.

One screen lets you configure most third-party services, while the rest are detected automatically.

The one bummer I encountered with the app is that you couldn’t use both Pocket and Instapaper both at the same time. With Instapaper’s state of being as it is (sold recently by Marco Arment with many unsure of its future plans for development), I know a lot of people who are using both apps. Unlike Reeder’s share buttons, you’ll only be able to use one read later service at a time.

The Share menu in an article view.

The Share menu in an article view.

When reading an article itself, you can share whatever you’re reading to a large group of apps on your iPhone. Naturally, Message, Mail, Twitter and Facebook support are built in. The app also detects other social apps and allows you to share through them as well. Feed Wrangler allows me to share in Felix and open any articles in Safari. I quickly installed Chrome just to test it, and I was able to view any article in Chrome as well. Viewing an article in Chrome also provided me with an easy Back button to get back to Feed Wrangler.

The Reading Experience

The most important part of the app, though, is the reading experience. Arguably, nothing else matters as much. I’m glad to report that reading in the app is really nice, but it is (like the rest of the app) a very simple experience. There’s no dark mode for nighttime reading or anything like that; the app is very bare bones. The screenshots give great examples of what it looks like: blue bars that line up with traditional (pre-iOS 7) design values without innovating much on their own.

Instead of dwelling on what isn’t there visually that other apps have, I’d rather say what I miss in migrating from Reeder and Mr. Reader. I miss translucent menu bars and full screen modes the most. It’s hard to be engaged in a wall of text when there is a bright blue bar on both the bottom and top of the screen sometimes.

Reading an article in Feed Wrangler. The UI couldn't be simpler.

Reading an article in Feed Wrangler. The UI couldn’t be simpler.

I also miss of the organizational functionality of Reeder and Mr. Reader. I can’t see starred articles in a single smart stream, and I can’t add the labels that Google Reader allowed for simple search — although the Smart Stream itself is otherwise a cleverly implemented idea.

I also do miss the URL schemes that Mr. Reader allowed and some of that app’s customization options. It’d be nice to be able to choose a different font, especially for my iPad mini since it doesn’t have a Retina screen. These are little things that help make the reading experience more enjoyable.

Editing a feed of articles is my favourite interface in the app.

Editing a feed of articles is my favourite interface in the app.

But David Smith’s philosophy, in taking away most user-controlled settings, makes the app very focused. I get in to read. I’m not there to mess around or to fiddle with settings. I’m there just to do my business, save what I need to save to Instapaper for later, and get out. The app respects my time.

I do wish it respected my concentration enough to throw in a little translucency though, and maybe even a Dark Mode. As it is, I think the design is relatively ho-hum, but certainly liveable. I can’t complain, but I can nod in satisfaction.

The Future of RSS

What I’m most excited about with Feed Wrangler is where it’s going. David Smith and his team have a reputation for looking ahead towards future development. I’ve emailed the team already with a couple crazier ideas of mine — like cloud-synced short notes I could add to articles — and they’re very receptive to them.

They’re also committed to an open API so they can work with third-party developers. I won’t be using the Feed Wrangler app forever, but this is good enough to use on a daily basis for now. It’s also an exciting enough service that I can see myself using it in the long haul. These guys have been working on Feed Wrangler for a long time and are interested in bettering the RSS community. And I can’t wait to see what Feed Wrangler pulls off.


Summary

Feed Wrangler is a fantastic, fast and stable service from David Smith with a promising future. The app isn't revolutionary, but it's easy and pleasant to use.

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