Finding an open source RSS feed reader is not a hard task. Finding an
open source feed reader that compares with Google Reader is another
story. After using
Newsbeuter for a while, I eventually slipped back to using Google
Reader. Having a web-based reader is just too convenient for those of us
who use two, three, or more computers regularly. After a bit of hunting, I
found rsslounge, a GPLed and
web-based feed reader that gives Google Reader a strong run for its money.
Written by Tobias Zeising, rsslounge requires PHP 5.2.4, MySQL, and a web server. The web server needs to support .htaccess files, but otherwise it doesn't appear to be too picky. I chose Apache, but you should be able to use lighttpd or nginx if you are willing to add a few re-write rules.
Installing rsslounge is a five-minute task for anybody passingly
familiar with setting up a PHP-based application. If you've ever installed
WordPress, Drupal, or something similar, the rsslounge installation is easy
as pie. The only word of caution when installing rsslounge: users should be
sure to create an administrative account if it's going to be on a public
network. Without such an account, anyone can come in and change the
settings of the installation and/or add and delete feeds. Note that
rsslounge is designed for a single user, and not for multiple users with
Since I've been using Google Reader for some time, I decided to start testing rsslounge by importing my Google Reader feeds. This was easy and took about 30 seconds for rsslounge to parse the file and start fetching feeds. It took about another minute before rsslounge had fetched the feeds and started displaying them. I should note that rsslounge did a good job of importing the feeds and preserving the categories/folders from Google Reader. This is sometimes a problem when importing Google Reader's OPML into another application, and, if you have a lot of feeds, having to re-categorize them can be a bit of a hassle.
The layout for rsslounge is similar to Google Reader: The list of feeds is displayed on the left-hand side and the articles are displayed on the right. Each item in a feed is displayed with the time stamp for the item, its headline or title, and then the name of the site that it originated from. On the left-hand side, rsslounge displays the site names, site icons, and unread count (if any). To read an item, clicking on the headline will expand the article, or clicking on the site name will open the link in a new window. Like Reader, you can "star" items to save them for re-reading. One thing that I'm not crazy about with rsslounge is that there appears to be no way to expand items by default. That is, Google Reader gives the option of just skimming headlines, or skimming full posts. With rsslounge, you simply skim headlines and have to expand each item when you want to read it.
If you like to skim feeds without touching the mouse, rsslounge supports
a short list of
keyboard shortcuts. You can navigate within feeds pretty easily, though switching feeds using the keyboard does not yet seem to be supported. So, for example, if you're reading through your uncategorized feeds and want to switch to a category, there's no keyboard shortcut for that.
Though rsslounge may not be at par with Google Reader's keyboard
shortcuts, it does make up for that with a few features that you don't get
with Google Reader. For example, rsslounge allows you to browse through
feeds by date. Up in the left-hand corner is a small calendar icon (which
is easy to miss) that will expose a monthly calendar. You can then choose
to see a feed, category, or all feeds by date. For instance, if you want to see only feeds from July 16, you can click the All Items category and then select the 16th from the calendar.
Managing feeds is also far more pleasant in rsslounge, at least in this users' opinion. If a feed's URL changes, in Google Reader you're stuck unsubscribing and then re-subscribing using the new URL. In rsslounge you simply click on its edit icon, change the source for the feed, and you're good to go.
The settings for feeds are more fine-grained than with Google reader as
well. If you subscribe to a lot of RSS feeds that are for images rather
than text, such as feeds from photo blogs like deviantArt or Flickr,
rsslounge has a special feed type for those. If you select the image type
for a feed, then rsslounge displays a grid of thumbnails instead of a list of headlines.
If you have some feeds that take priority over others, you can increase their priority so that they'll be shown first. You can also, of course, decrease a feed's priority so that you only see it after you've read everything else. Another thing that many users will appreciate is the option to filter feeds. You can provide a regular expression in the "Edit Feed" dialog that will be used to match items from a given Atom or RSS feed. If the entry doesn't match the expression, it won't be fetched. It doesn't seem that rsslounge provides support for filtering out entries that match an expression, unfortunately.
The only downside that I've found so far with rsslounge is a paucity of documentation and information on the project in general. The wiki for rsslounge on Google Code has a brief set of installation instructions, and there's the keyboard shortcuts document, and that's really about it. It appears to be a one-man show, though there is a forum for users to ask questions. However, the forum is a bit underpopulated.
Other web-based alternatives
A few years ago, there was a project released by Fastladder, free web-based RSS and Atom
feed reader service. It claims to
be faster than Google Reader and Bloglines, with a "transaction speed
close to that of humans", whatever that means. Called OpenFL
(at least according to its README, the Google Code project is just
"fastladder"), it's a Ruby on Rails project that can be installed on Linux,
Windows, or Mac OS X. However, it looks like the project is more or less
dead as an open source effort. The last updates shown on Google Code date back to April 2009, and most of the code hasn't been touched since February 2008. There's also a fork on GitHub, which is also a bit long in the tooth — the last updates are from May 2010. However, the code is out there, so if anyone would like to pick it up it's easily forkable on GitHub.
For non-defunct projects, there's also Tiny
Tiny RSS, which also requires PHP and a web server, but gives
the option of MySQL or PostgreSQL. It requires a bit more setup and
tweaking than rsslounge, but also offers more options. For instance, it can
be configured to use SimplePie for parsing feeds instead of Magpie, and has
a multi-user mode. Nathan Willis has a good write-up on Linux.com about Tiny Tiny RSS that goes into detail on setting it up.
Overall, rsslounge looks to be close to a drop-in replacement for Google Reader. It does lack a few features, but it's a good substitute for Google Reader without the need to give up control of your data or privacy.
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