I’ll admit it, I am an RSS feed junky. I know that there has been a shift recently among all the “cool kids” to using social media to keep them up to date but I just can’t trust that I get everything, so I keep reading feeds.
Up until a few weeks ago I was using Google Reader. I had a love/hate relationship with Google Reader, on one hand it was the best option for reading feeds but on the other hand the developers were consistently adding features that didn’t help with the one thing I was using it for, reading RSS feeds. Instead they were just cluttering the interface with more stars and smiley faces that were used for all the “social” features. The fact is I really don’t think of reading feeds as being all that social. And, if I wanted to share an item I’d rather copy the link and send it to a friend in an email or paste it into Twitter. I don’t know anyone else who uses Google Reader and therefore the social features of Google Reader are completely useless clutter.
In Comes Fever
I have been using Mint, another one of Shaun Inman’s products, for a couple of months before I found references to Fever on his website and on his Twitter account. But at that time I wasn’t exactly sure what it was. It wasn’t until it actually launched that I learned how it would solve all of the problems I had with Google Reader, by completely replacing it.
Fever can work just like any other feed reader, you collect feeds and read unread items one by one (which is often times how I use it). But, when you want something a little more condensed it has its “Hot” section. The Hot section is populated by items in your subscriptions that point to common URLs. To get at the top of your Hot list a URL has to be linked to more than any other.
So what you end up with is a list of all of the most interesting stories/web pages for a given time period. This way if you don’t have time to read all of the items in your RSS feeds and just want to know what everyone is talking about you can do so incredibly quickly. There is a perception among many of the people who buy Fever that the best way to use Fever is to subscribe to a lot of feeds and just read the Hot section, but I disagree. The problem with doing this is that you end up missing some of the gems relating to topics that don’t tend to link out as often as the technology space does (in other words it is less of an echo chamber).
Fever does encourage you to subscribe to a lot of feeds by separating them into two categories, “Kindling” and “Sparks.” Your Kindling are the main feeds that contain items you general don’t want to miss, while Sparks are really only there to add more heat to URLs in the Hot section.
I’ve found that the best way to use Fever is to subscribe to a small number of key feeds that I always want to read and then going into the Hot section for everything else.
Reading With Fever
Fever makes it really easy to read your RSS feeds. There are a myriad of keyboard shortcuts to speed up the process. The Google Reader-made standard J and K keys are there for next and previous so users of Google Reader will feel right at home. There are also shortcuts for refreshing your feeds, saving the current item, open current item or link, etc., essentially all the shortcuts you’ll need to navigate whole the app.
The only downside I can find in Fever is that it is a self hosted application. It lives in the cloud, but it is your cloud. Much like WordPress, you upload some files to a server, set up a database with your hosting company, and go through a set up process in your browser. There are a couple more steps in the process, but you get the idea.
Inman has kept the installation process drop dead simple, even going so far as to having the Fever installation files double as a testing system to make sure your hosting company will be compatible with the app, this way you won’t pay the $30 only to learn that it won’t work with your current host.
Oh, and it upgrades itself. So, as long as nothing gets messed up, you should never have to touch the Fever files on your server again.
What really put me over the top with Fever is it’s iPhone interface. The main reason I had stuck with Google Reader for so long is that no one else had a simple and hassle-free interface for the iPhone. The design is just gorgeous and it does exactly what it needs to, including open fullscreen when saved to your iPhone’s home screen. Scrolling to the bottom of a list of items causes Fever to automatically load the next 20 items, so page reloading necessary.
And there is no need to “mark these items as read,” Fever does it for you because it does the intelligent thing of assuming that once an item has been viewed (even in list view) it was read. And, if you accidentally mark some items as read that you didn’t want to, you can “unread most recently read” in the settings.
If you’ve become fed up with the way that Google Reader is progressing and need something with a focus on actually reading RSS feeds, Fever is the right place to go.
The application does cost $30, a little bit of knowledge about setting up a domain name, and hosting is needed but honestly if you read RSS feeds enough to be willing to purchase an RSS reader, you probably already have all of those things ready.
Update 7/25/09: Shaun Inman has been consistently updating Fever with bug fixes and minor new features, the latest changelog can be found here.
Update 7/25/09: A very welcomed change, in 1.06 groups that have no unread items are hidden when “show read items” is disabled. This helps keep the interface clean, it is especially useful when you have a lot of groups (like I do).