After learning from Luis Villa how little Google values our privacy, I started looking for alternatives services. I already left Gmail for FastMail more than one and a half years ago, so the main issues for me would be the search engine and the feed reader. After some research, I started using the beta version of Bloglines (sorry, didn’t try the regular one) and I can say I’m pretty satisfied.
I believe most people should be OK with an offline aggregator such as Liferea, but I needed an online reader for BR-Linux.org. This Brazilian Linux news site has too many articles per day and and a too short feed, so that checking for updates once daily was making me miss some news. It took me a while to get used to Google Reader, but after all it’s a competent aggregator. Netvibes didn’t work for me, because I was looking for another feed reader, and not a start page. On Netvibes, adopting an “empty inbox” policy requires too many extra clicks. Bloglines, on the other hand, is one of the most popular feed reader among my blog readers, after Google Reader and Planet GNOME (in English and Portuguese).
Bloglines has a different concept of sharing blog posts. Instead of sharing with a list of contacts, you can have some sort of public page where your shared posts can be seen by anyone in the web. This feature is still missing from Bloglines beta, so I didn’t use it yet. In 2006 some people reported that every feed you subscribe to can be seen if someone finds out the random URL assigned to it. This shouldn’t be a privacy issue for most feeds, because it’s not possible to know who subscribes to them, but if you subscribe to a special feed with commercial information or your own tasks list, you might be in trouble. Anyway, I don’t believe Bloglines has support for authenticated feeds, and I’d never have personal information on unauthenticated feeds, so that’s not an issue for me.
Bloglines beta has three views, each of them very interesting. The full view looks like Google Reader, with the exception that, if more than one feed is being displayed at the same time, the articles are sorted by feed instead of being mixed as in Google Reader. (See also Robert’s tip in the comments.) The quick view shows only article titles for individual feeds, and for folders it shows little titles lists grouped in one widget for each feed, as in Netvibes. Clicking on a title opens the article in a separate widget, but you can also click on a special link to display only that feed in a quick view. The third view has three panes, as in regular email applications. It might not be suited for netbooks and other small displays, but it has a very interesting feature, the Site tab. While the Feed tab shows the text for that article as found in the feed, the Site tab displays the original page embedded, so that you can easily post your comments to the article.
Just like Google Reader and other aggregators, Bloglines allows users to keep articles as unread (pin them), mark them as important (save them) and share them with someone via email. As usual, there’s a left pane with the list of subscriptions, optionally grouped in folders. The left pane is much less crowded than the one in Google Reader, which is very important if you have a small display or a large list of subscriptions. On the other hand, Bloglines doesn’t let you collapse the left column, at least not yet, which makes it very hard to read feeds with small displays such as the ones from internet tablets, MIDs and so on.
All in all, Bloglines has some issues (remember it’s still beta) but I found it good enough for me. If you thing differently, or if you prefer another feed aggregator, please let me know!