My Google Reader solution.

About  Like everyone else you uses Google Reader, I took to one of its proxy assassins to moan about it being closed down.  While my tweets were surprisingly temperate, having spent the best part of ten years looking at an rss reader of some form or other, seeing the web through those formats much of the time, I spent a good few hours glaring at the screen wondering what I was going to do.

My first thought was this:

Which was quickly followed by ...
So I began to look at other RSS readers:

Feedly the Chrome app, is awful.  Well it's awful on my set up where it's sluggish and has a nasty habit of accessing the web in the background even when it's not in use, which at first looked like my PC had picked up a virus until I realised it was Feedly updating itself.  Uninstall.  Uninstall.

Thunderbird is too old school.  Mozilla's email software has a built in RSS reader but like all email packages it has to interact with the web in order to update too, which means its download feed items when I'm not yet ready for them.  Uninstall.

NetVibes is too messy.  Like Feedly it has a mass of colours and images and even in "reader" mode is just too loud, detracting from the point of rss feeds which is mostly the text.  Plus it fairly limited without having to pay a charge.  I can't afford to pay for these things just now.

The Old Reader is as advertised a clone of Reader before the previous changes but it also seems terribly precarious with, like Feedly, an exodus of users shifting over.  It's going to have to monetarise soon, including advertising or some such.

At which point I really began to swear and wonder what the fuck I was going to do, as well as wondering how people who don't know what RSS is get by online, for so many things.

Then, as is so often the case, I returned to my original thought.  What about using rss to email services to send feed items to Gmail?  What about that?

Recently I've been experimenting with a service called Blogtrottr to send emails from rarely updated and so not always easy to remember to read feeds to my inbox.

It works really very well.  The contents of the feeds, the posts, appear in my in-box in a format not unlike Google Reader and there are options to have them sent as they're posted or in digests at various intervals which really do look like post window in Google Reader.

Well then.

Tentatively I began copy some of my feeds into Blogtrottr which then dutifully began to send my emails with the contents of the feeds in when they were updated.  At which point I noticed they were all coming from the same email address and contained the name of the feed in the subject line.

Hello labels and filters

Gmail has loads of options in filters and one of them is to assign labels.  I realised all I need to do was copy and paste the name of the relevant feed as it appears in the subject line, ask Gmail's filter to find only those emails with that search term in the subject line and then ask it to assign a label.


Here is a post from as it appears in my email inbox having been sent there by Blogtrottr:

In the drop down menu next to the "reply" button is the option to "filter messages like this". Clicking it reveals the first search based option box:

I've entered the feed title in the Subject box.  But it can be any word.  As you might expect I follow lots of feeds about films so if I put the word "film" in this box it will filter them all.

Oh and also notice that because all of the feed emails come from the same place, it means these filters will only effect the emails from Blogtrottr and not just general traffic.

Click "Create filter with this search >>".

Next box.  Select "Skip the inbox" so that again it doesn't (in future) become mixed up with everything else in the inbox.

The next bit is when Gmail begins to work like Reader.  "Labels" are the Gmail equivalent of Reader's "Folders" and "Tags".  As you can see, I've already created a label called "Reader" where I can put all of these Reader style labels and I've created a "zlinks" label just as I used to have in Reader (the z is in front of it so that it'll drop to the bottom of the list below the folders which I want to prioritise like "Jobs") (perhaps I should have chosen a less confusing example).

I've also asked for it to apply to the other matching items so they'll be sent to the folder/label now.

Click Create filter and all of these posts disappear from the inbox and hit the "zlinks" label/folder which is what they'll do forever.

After a while and after copying over the names of my Reader folders and re-organising the others a bit, Gmail began to look like this:

Which looks almost not quite exactly like the same list in Reader.

Realising this was beginning to look like a viable solution, I began to copy my feeds in bulk over to Blogtrottr using the opml files it will quite happily import, the only time sink now being to filter each of the feeds into the relevant folder/label as they hit the Gmail inbox which as I mentioned can be mitigated slightly by utilising wider search terms rather than necessarily just the feed the title.

One of the side effects is that the newsletters I've also subscribed to now have a natural place to go which isn't my inbox, set aside until I have a moment to look at them.

The experience of reading the feeds is different, of course it is.  Instead of a feed item quietly disappearing once it's been read, you have to actively press the remove labels button at the top or as I realised quickly the preferred option of deletion.  It's not quiet gone, it's simply moved to trash so it's possible to retrieve it, but I also remembered how rarely I searched Reader's archive so worried less.  This stuff will tend to still be online somewhere.

Individual feeds are also less easy to read, but by creating a master "reader" label it is possible to search for all the posts in a particular feed by typing in the name and that search can also be bookmarked in a browser.

Similarly searching for "blogtrottr" summons all of the emails from that address which is in effect this slightly less conducive environment's equivalent of Reader's "All items".

You can still star items in Gmail.  You just have to remember to "remove the label" rather than delete it afterwards.  But again, if you forget, it's still out there, somewhere.

Some Labs options also aid usability:

"Auto-advance", which moves to the next email when the current one has been acted upon.  in other words, deleting the item in front of you takes you to the next one.

"Mark as read button", though notice the feed items/emails still linger around in a label/folder even once they've been marked as read until they're deleted.  Which is oddly an improvement on Reader where you'd accident mark at post as read then have to jump through some search hoops to find it again.

"Preview pane" which like an old school feed reader puts a post list somewhere on the screen.  I tend to just have "no split" selected.

None of which is entirely perfect and does require a bit more work on my part in terms of clicking and being more present, but in an odd way feels more satisfying, especially when all of the items under a label have gone.

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