Why Feedly's design makes it a much better RSS reader than Google Reader ever was

Feedly is an object lesson in top-notch web and mobile design. We explain why.

Earlier this year, Google announced its plans to retire Google Reader today. And, of course, the Internet responded with the same overreaction  it demonstrates whenever it's faced with change.

Once Reader's hardcore devotees adjust to a post-Reader world, however, they may take notice of an important detail: Reader was rather poorly designed.

Most other RSS readers aren't much better. The new Digg Reader (still in beta) is pretty bare-bones, but it has at least one cool feature: a sidebar view that organizes your unread articles by how popular they are on Twitter. According to the rumour mill, a new Facebook Reader is in the works, but what it might look like is anyone's guess.

From a usability and user experience point-of-view the hands-down winner is Feedly. Feedly isn't merely a suitable successor to Reader – it's a vast improvement.

Why Feedly is better

In recent years Reader had fallen behind its peers because Google had stopped investing in Reader as it pushed its resources into Google+ and other newer products. Google's lack of interest in Reader becomes clear when you consider what a smaller, singularly focused company behind Feedly accomplished with the same technology.

The team behind Feedly placed a welcome emphasis on design and functionality. They built features into Feedly that should have been no-brainers for inclusion in Reader.

Where Feedly is slick and modern, Reader looks like a relic of a bygone digital era. For example, in both its Web and mobile incarnations, Feedly maximizes screen real estate by using hidden menus that disappear when they're not in use. Reader, meanwhile, mucks up the screen with an unretractable sidebar. Hidden menus and other dynamic content are hardly revolutionary, but they constitute fundamental ingredients of modern interactive design – and unfortunately Google never bothered with them in Reader.

Feedly uses image-centric content views that clearly acknowledge the world of touchscreens and tablets. In contrast, Reader's primary focus seems to have been on organizing text, with images and other media treated as an afterthought. In today's Web, of course, images and video are fundamental (and increasingly important) elements of the blogging medium.

Feedly has wisely invested in replicating the things that Google Reader got right. The company recently unveiled new investments in its back-end and API capabilities, thereby setting itself up as a formidable opponent for would-be challengers. Feedly Cloud allows the company to store your feeds and subfolders on its servers for use by third-party developers – including mobile apps such as gReader and Newsify, which previously relied on the Google Reader API.

Moving to Feedly

To be sure, Feedly will feel strange at first for users accustomed to Reader – which is never a good thing for a service migrating users from another. But once they've have time to adjust, they'll wonder why you stuck with that old product for as long as you did.

The design isn't completely unforgiving to Google Reader users. In case they find themselves homesick for Reader, Feedly has created a Reader-like 'Title View', which they can access by clicking the four horizontal lines in the top right-hand corner. But once they get settled in their new home, taking a moment to explore non-Reader views such as Magazine and Cards adds to the experience immensely, particularly in mobile environments.

Feedly makes no secret of wanting to attract former Google Reader users to its product, and its designers have made the Reader-to-Feedly transition process easy.

At cloud.feedly.com (which redirects from www.feedly.com), the site prompts users to log in via the One-click Google Reader Import button or the Login button, both of which seem to set visitors on the same path. Once they give it permission to access their Google Reader account, Feedly will move all of your existing Reader feeds and subfolders into the Feedly ecosystem intact. Bam. Done.

Users can use the credentials from an existing Google account to create a new Feedly account, regardless of whether you've used Reader. Actually, you must have a Google account to sign up for Feedly. If you don't have one, Feedly prompts you to create one. A rep from Feedly commented that users will soon be able to sign in with a stand-alone account or via another site such as Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter.

(The rep also said that Feedly has no formal relationship with Google, and that Google hasn't endorsed Feedly as a good replacement for Reader. Nevertheless, he said, "Feedly has received support from a lot of groups within Google that helped ease the transition, including the Chrome, Android, Google+, and operation groups.")

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