— 5 February 2008 —

Bloglines (beta) vs. Google Reader (!beta?)

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Whitney Hess wrote a post today comparing Bloglines Beta and Google Reader. I thought I’d write a response here for a number of reasons: 1) I am usually in the top 5 for Bloglines vs. Google Reader and I’d like it to stay that way. 2) Whitney asked me to comment about something (which I will point out below) on her site but since I have my own blog I really should be commenting here. 3) It’s been over a year since I compared Bloglines and Google Reader and it’s likely time for an update.

Bottom Line Up Top

If you are a long time user of either Bloglines or Google Reader, you’re likely going to be happiest sticking with what you’ve got. If you are new to either product, you’re probably better off going with Google Reader. I feel the scores are more tied than Whitney’s assessment, but given how fast Google seems to iterate and how slow Bloglines seems to iterate, you will likely have a better experience, sooner, with Google Reader.

How Did We Get That Bottom Line?

Like Whitney, I’ve been using Bloglines Beta and like the improvements I’ve seen over the current non-beta site. I’ve used Bloglines almost since it came out as I’ve always been on multiple computers (and platforms) so a web-based reader made sense. When I did my initial comparison of Bloglines and Google Reader, I came out in favor of Bloglines, easily. At the time Google Reader wasn’t much in my eyes. But as I said, over a year has passed.

For this, I am going to use Whitney’s comparison list.

Sign Up. I don’t feel like pretending to be a new user to either of these products, so I’ll trust Whitney when she says Google Reader is the winner on this.

Start Page. I like blank start pages from somethings. Firefox opens to a blank page every time I start it. I feel overwhelmed with Google Reader each time I visit. There’s so much on the screen.

Google Reader

Bloglines is more inline with how I read.

bloglines beta

I don’t really want to read based on what’s newest. Depending on how many unread items I have, I may start at the top of the list on the left and work my way through, or I may pick through the list and read the sites I like more. I feel like Google Reader is forcing me down a set path.

That said, the blank page is only acceptable (in my mind) for the experienced user. And even being an experienced user, I have no idea why I would drag a feed there. Not explaining the why of that dashed-lined box in the content area on Bloglines is a huge fail.

I don’t feel Google or Bloglines really wins this one. Partly, it’s driven by use case. If you sit in front of your reader all day and always want to see the latest, go with Google. If you like to pick and choose what you see first, go with Bloglines. I consider this one a tie (Whitney gave it to Google).

Adding Subscriptions. In Bloglines it is usually 3 to 4 clicks (depending on how many feeds it finds at the URL I enter) to subscribe to a feed. For Google Reader it’s 2 clicks. Fewer clicks is better. Bloglines is cool in that if it finds more than one feed it gives you a choice. But that’s also it’s failure. If it only find one feed, it still makes you choose. If Bloglines would fix that I’d call this a toss up, but for now give this one to Google Reader.

However, do many people really use this method for adding a feed? I am curious if they do. As a Firefox user, I subscribe to feeds in an entirely different way (which I still think could be better).

Importing Subscriptions. Most people are still figuring out what RSS is. OPML? What’s that? Okay, I know what an OPML file is. And while I think it’s great that both products allow importing of OPML files, I don’t think it’s that big of a deal unless you are switching from one product to another. In which case, I agree with Whitney on this one: Bloglines does a better job of helping you manage your subscriptions overall (importing and exporting) and dealing with duplicates.

Searching for New Feeds. Honestly, I’d give both products a -1 on this and as such, it’s a tie. Google Reader makes it too difficult to figure out how to find new content and when I finally find where to search, the results are less relevant than Bloglines. Bloglines makes it easy to search and select, but doesn’t tell me the ones I’m already subscribed to until I try to subscribe to it. Why? Since the serach results currently display in Bloglines non-beta, one would assume it’s not a bug per se which just means bad design.

Reading Posts. Tie again. If I was comparing Bloglines non-beta with the current Google Reader, I’d go with Google. But both products provide you with essentially the same reading experience from views to keyboard shortcuts.

Whitney mentioned you can’t get rid of the feed list in Bloglines Beta. At this moment that is true. However, just this morning the functionality was there. Press the M key (in both versions of Bloglines, but the U key in Google Reader) and the left nav is disappear. At least that’s how it should be working. No idea why it stopped.

But I wonder why this is important. As Whitney implied, if you have 100 Gizmodo items to read it’d be good to get rid of the “distracting” left nav. I don’t think this is the case. When you drop the left nav, the line lengths become longer in the content area. Much longer than the ideal 50-ish characters that are ideal for online scanning and reading.

Saving and Sharing Posts. Google Reader wins. Google just makes it ridiculously easy to share items with people. For each of the other bits of functionality related to saving it’s pretty much a tie. But sharing is where Google Reader stands out. Bloglines Beta doesn’t have the feature yet and Bloglines non-beta… bah. Not worth more characters.

Managing Subscriptions. I mentioned above that Bloglines does this well. And I think once Bloglines Beta catches up with some of the same functionality it will be much better. Until then, given a straight up comparison between the two, I’d edge on the side of Google Reader. I am not sure bulk editing of feeds is something I’d do on a regular basis, but Google Reader allows this to happen where Bloglines Beta doesn’t.

I think editing individual feeds is done better by Bloglines though. But again, how often do you really need to edit feeds (or the associated meta data). The only editing I do to a feed once I have it is unsubscribing. Bloglines Beta makes that slightly easier. This is a tie in my mind.

Settings. This one’s hard to compare in a way. For Bloglines, the setting seem more about me. In Google Reader the settings seem more about the feeds. Which is a way is neither here nor there. Both products make it apparent there are settings and make it relatively easy to change said settings. Google Reader has more settings, so I guess it wins this one. Although more isn’t always better. And yes, I do live in the US and still can say something like that. Strange, I know.

Mobile Access. I haven’t used Google Reader while on the go but once so I can’t say much about it right now. As such, I’ll go with Whitney’s assessment for now: Google Reader wins. Though I have used Bloglines Mobile and find it to be very straight-forward and quick enough. I think it’s one of those things that if you use the main site of one, you are likely going to use the mobile site of the same company.

The Score

Bloglines Beta gets 1. Google Reader gets 5. They tie on 4. Google wins from my point of view too, just by less of a margin. Still a big margin though. :)

What Next?

Even after a year, there are still some issues with both products. A year and a half ago I wrote: Bloglines has 3 months tops to step up, otherwise Google Reader will win over the market share, just like Google does with everything else. Unless Bloglines really steps up the pressure on themselves to deliver a great feed reader, I think Google will win over even old skool Bloglines users like me.

I was thinking about switching when Bloglines came out with their beta. I stuck around because I wanted to test it out and even finding Google Reader the winner above I’ll still stick with Bloglines for a bit for the reasons I outlined at the beginning of this: familiarity.

What’s missing from your perspective? What could either product do better or do in the first place?

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