How Google Reader killed my NewsGator habit

I have been using NewsGator products for a while now, maybe since 2000. I’ve used pretty much their entire range of client products, from FeedDemon, the Windows RSS reader, to NewsGator Go! for Windows Mobile, to NetNewsWire on the Mac. Along the way I’ve also tried NewsGator Inbox for Outlook, and very ocassionally use NewsGator Online in a pinch. That’s pretty much their entire offering for reading RSS (i.e. non-servers).

I’ve stuck with them for so long because the integration between all the clients is pretty good, at least my feed status is synchronized across all devices, so that if I read Lifehacker on the smartphone, the same posts won’t show up as unread on the PC/Mac. The one thing I was confused over, though, was their “clipping” mechanism: they seem to have various flavor of it on their various clients, and there is no synchronization of them on the server. So whenever I switch machine, or a hard drive dies, I’d lose all the clippings. All in all, it was still decent.

For the longest time I’ve heard from friends that Google Reader rocks. But I still resisted because their web client NewsGator Online was pretty slow, and I assumed that all web RSS clients will always be slower than desktop clients; not an unreasonable assumption given my experience with web email compared to Outlook or Apple Mail. Add to it that the rich client I used most recently, NetNewsWire, was pretty awesome, and I just didn’t see a major need to change.

Then came the day my MacBookPro was in Apple’s shop for a week, and I was sustaining my addiction on the home Mac Mini. I didn’t want to install NetNewsWire on it for just one week, and so I decided it was high time to give Google Reader a spin. I exported my OPML from NewsGator Online and imported it to Google Reader and started using it. I was blown away how fast and rich the web client was! It wasn’t giving much speed away compared to the mac client at all. In particular I liked:

– Google Reader’s preview was super fast, almost faster than NetNewsWire. I suspect they are caching the posts on Google’s servers given how many users would read the same feeds.
– GReaders preview shows all rich media for the most part, instead of the embargo of flash video in NetNewsWire. Given how often YouTube clips are embedded these days, it sure beats using NetNewsWire and then have to open the post on the default browser. Seeing the video right in the context of the preview area rocks.
– Using the Lifehacker Firefox extension for GReader provides me withshortcut keys that make navigating from post to post, marking articles as read or unread, and bookmarking posts all super efficient.
– GReader surprised me even with the mobile version. It’s not as good as the full browser version, but it’s very usable and doesn’t seem to give up much against the NewsGator Go! on the WM5 Blackjack.
– The trump card though, one that I think NetNewsWire will never be able to match, is the feature to bookmark interesting posts, or as GReader calls it, the Starred Item feature. It’s straight out of GMail. Synchronizing bookmark data across multiple clients (RSS or otherwise) on multiple devices is inherently complicated, have all sorts of failure cases that will occasionally pops up, no matter how good the mechanism is. Maybe Windows Live Mesh will solve it completely, but I kinda doubt it. GReader’s web based approach guarantees data synchronicity. Everything will always be in sync, and I’ll never have to worry about porting locally stored bookmarks from one machine to another. Add to it Google’s implicit promise for infinite storage, their search capability, and it’s hard to give this advantage up.

Ever since my switchover to Mac exclusively, I’ve been finding tons of Mac apps that have amazing design and quality. Honestly I didn’t think NetNewsWire for the Mac can be topped. But the promise of Google Reader is just too alluring, and so for me at least, another desktop app has fallen. Long live the web apps!


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