Moving from Google Reader to Selfoss

As a long-time active user of Google Reader, I felt the shockwave of panic when the announcement arrived that Reader would be shutting down July 1. I’ve been hearing the rumors of RSS’s inevitable demise for years now, especially since Firefox and Chrome started hiding the presence of feeds from the main UI, and I’d agree that publishing/subscription on the web is ready for innovation. I’m not aware of any current standard that completely replaces and improves upon RSS/Atom, however, so my goal is to migrate my Reader subscriptions to a similar service that’s expected to stick around for a few more years.

I evaluated some of the most popular products documented ReplaceReader and decided on the more-obscure Selfoss because of its old-school yet fresh approach to managing feeds.

What is Selfoss?

It’s an open-source application in PHP that loads and manages a set of sources and presents new/unread stories with tagging and starring. As a user, I self-host and manage my own instance of Selfoss (on an EC2 micro instance in my case).

What’s so great?

Minimalist: Selfoss displays my latest subscribed items as an expandable list of links in reverse chronological order. While I was impressed with the user interfaces of NewsBlur, Feedly, and Flipboard, they seem to emphasize “discovery” of shared/promoted content ahead of my own subscriptions, or use some metrics to determine which stories should be “most interesting” to me. I’m not really interested in having my reading experience altered by the zeitgeist; I already discover plenty of new content among Reddit, Hacker News, and various social media streams.

Responsive and Web-Based: I need to be able to sync my current reading list and unread state automatically between my computer, tablet and phone. Running a self-hosted web application like Selfoss makes this simple. I particularly like how Selfoss’s interface is responsive on my Android devices, and in its most compact version, image loading is optional (a tremendously useful feature when I’m browsing on my phone). I may try out Fever, a similar self-hosted web reader app, at some point, when support for Android WebKit browsers is released.

Open Source: Selfoss is under active development on GitHub, so I can upgrade to the very latest version whenever I want and tinker with the code to suit my preferences. There are a few more features I’d like to see (the ability to export to OPML, improvements to security and performance, more UI settings) and nothing’s stopping me from improving the product myself.

Forward-Thinking: In addition to RSS, Selfoss supports richer sources such as Twitter, Tumblr, DeviantArt, and some custom “spouts” illustrating how any type of structured time-based data can be retrieved just by adding a PHP script. And from a privacy standpoint, now that I’m no longer reading feeds through the Google ad network, it’s pleasing to see the generic “Your Region” versions of personalized ads in my news stream.

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