iVacation Chronicles, Pt. 3: News reading

Posted by Pierre Igot in: iPad
September 7th, 2010 • 10:15 am

I have been a regular user of NetNewsWire since the early 2000s. For many years, I used the free version. Then when the product was bought by NewsGator and they started charging for an ad-free version, I decided that it was worth the expense and purchased it.

But in my line of work I don’t do much travelling and so I never really explored all the options that have to do with portability, including mobile versions of the application and syncing features. But I did hear about the makers of NetNewsWire abandoning .Mac/MobileMe syncing and moving to a syncing feature based on Google’s free Google Reader service.

And I did hear about the fact that Google Reader does not support deep hierarchies for organizing one’s feed subscriptions and only lets you organize feeds in flat folders without the ability to create folders within folders.

Frankly, my reaction was and still is: WTF? In 2010, we can’t have a organizational structure that is more than one-level deep? What the hell are computers for?

Anyway, when we decided to travel to France with an iPad instead of a the usual laptop, I figured that I had to find a solution for news reading. I wasn’t planning on spending that much time on-line, but I still wanted to be able to follow my favourite news feeds and keep up-to-date in a number of areas without having to browse dozens of sites on the web.

I knew that there was a version of NetNewsWire for iPad, but I thought that it was really rather expensive ($9.99) and not worth the expense in light of the fact that, since it relied on the Google Reader service, it would destroy the more complex hierarchy of feeds and folders of feeds that I have on my desktop computer in NetNewsWire for Mac OS X (which thankful does not force you to abandon your existing hierarchy as long as you don’t require syncing).

After scanning the App Store for other news-reading applications, I decided that the best option might be to simply use Google Reader itself on the web. It’s free, so the price cannot be beaten. I already had a Google/Gmail account, so it was just a matter of logging in and going to the Reader section of the Google interface.

I was able to export my existing subscriptions from NetNewsWire for Mac OS X as an .opml file and then import it directly in Google Reader on the web.

Of course, the process failed to preserve my hierarchy of folders and put all my folders at the root level, but I figured that I could live with that for a couple of weeks and just scroll through the list to locate the folders of feeds that I look at most often.

And so that’s what I ended up doing while vacationing in France. I would go to Google Reader on the web and then browse my feed subscriptions in the flat one-level-deep list obtained after importing my subscriptions from NetNewsWire.

I should note that Google offers a customized user interface for Google Reader on the iPad. It is much easier to use than the standard Google Reader interface for the web, with its multiple panes. It attempts to follow the conventions and standards of the iOS user environment more closely, with large strategically-placed rectangular buttons that are fairly easy to tap.

That said, the iPad-optimized Google Reader user interface could still use some work and is nowhere near as polished as a true iOS application.

But for casual news-reading for a couple of weeks while vacationing in France, the Google Reader solution was good enough for me. If I were more of a regular traveller, I suspect that I would really need a proper dedicated news-reading solution, but I don’t even know if there is anything available for iOS that would be able to preserve the multi-level hierarchy of the feed subscriptions that I currently have in NetNewsWire and would be able to sync with it.

Certainly anything that relies on Google Reader for syncing is out of the question. I frankly find it astounding that a company like Google does not offer a solution that supports deeper hierarchies of folders. It seems to me that people who use feeds and a dedicated news-reading solution are, still today, a minority of fairly geeky people who would be expected to demand such a feature from Google. But maybe I am wrong and most people are content with one-level-deep hierarchies. (Of course, since Google Reader is, like most Google services, ad-based and free, maybe people are not too demanding to begin with.)

As I said, I don’t travel enough to really become all that concerned or bothered with all these issues. I am just glad that I was able to find a cheap and acceptable solution for following my favourite feeds while away from home for a few weeks. I am now back to using my paid copy of NetNewsWire for Mac OS X to browse my more complex hierarchy of feed subscriptions and I guess that the next time I will have to worry about all this is when NewsGator comes up with a new paying upgrade for NetNewsWire or decides to change the software’s feature set again.

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