Bloglines will be gone soon and I have used these last few weeks to try and find an adequate replacement. In the back of mind I knew I could always use Google Reader in a pinch but for some reason I haven’t been a fan of Google Reader (that is why I always stuck with Bloglines) so I wanted to see if there was something that seemed to work better for me.
First off the reader had to be web based. I jump on too many computers through out my life to be tied to any installed software or to rely on IE’s feed reader. I also wanted something that could search for keywords, save that search and automatically update me on any new blog posts, news stories, press releases, etc. that mentioned those keywords. Not all feed readers do this (Bloglines did) and I found this feature to be crucial in keeping up to date for my blog, librarianship, and my day to day job. In a pinch I could always find specific search engines and create a search and save it as an RSS feed (similar to what people can do in PubMed), but I do like having an integrated search box in my feed reader to actively search things out there not just within my subscribed feeds. I was also interested in seeing how some feed readers are handling Facebook and Twitter. As the pundits at TechCrunch stated that those two products seem to have changed the face and flow of information.
After looking at several products (and already saving my Bloglines feeds in Google Reader just in case I didn’t find anything before they pulled the plug) I found NetVibes. Registration was a little clunky for me. I first tried registering using my usual webmail address and for some reason I never got the authentication email from NetVibes. It wasn’t in my inbox and it wasn’t in my bulk. NetVibes does allow you to resend the email or change the address (in case you mistyped it). I checked the email and it was correct but I still never received it, so I tried changing the email to a different one but that didn’t work. So I ended up completely re-registering using a different login name and email address. With that change I was able to get the authentication email.
Netvibes has two frontpage looks to it, the “widgets view’ and the “reader view.” The widget view is similar to iGoogle. I am not a big fan of iGoogle nor the widget view, it is too distracting to me. I like the reader view the best. Of course this is totally a personal taste issue, so if you like the iGoogle style, you will probably like the widget view. However for this post, everything I refer to will be as I see things in the reader view.
Uploading your feeds from Bloglines is very easy. However be forewarned that when you first upload them, it will treat everything as new feeds. This means you will have lots of unread items going back to the dawn of time. I had some crazy number in the thousands of unread items. So you are going to have to have mark a lot things as read and make sure you click the tab “Show only unread items” or you are going to be met with a lot to sift through.
Unlike Bloglines, Netvibes lets you keep things once you have read them. Google Reader, as well as a lot of feed readers, allow you to keep already read items, but it is worth mentioning because if you are a heavy Bloglines user you are used to things disappearing after you click on them. I like this save feature but it is going to take some to get used to for me.
Netvibes feed reading is good and while I haven’t explored every nook and cranny of this area, it appears to do what many other feed readers normally do. What sets NetVibes apart from many feed readers including Google is how it treats sharing feeds via social media. You can email a feed to somebody (Google allows emailing feeds) and you can click on a feed and share it to your Facebook page, Twitter Account and several other social media platforms liked LinkedIn. I had problems the first day emailing feeds to people, but I think that is because that was the same day I activated my account. I have had no problems emailing feeds since. I had no problems posting feeds on my Facebook personal page. However I have two pages, my personal page and my fan page. I haven’t been able to figure out how to get NetVibes to post to my fan page not my personal page. This is a problem with the Facebook “like” button and Facebook icon on other regular web pages so it doesn’t surprise me that NetVibes has problems knowing that I have two pages. Most people only have one Facebook page so they wouldn’t have this similar problem. If you have a library Facebook page, you might want to consider two NetVibes accounts (one with the library information) for easy posting of feeds from the library. I am still having difficulties sharing feeds via Twitter. My Twitter account is open, anybody can subscribe to the feed, so it should be able to work. I can tweet within NetVibes, just not share a feed on Twitter via NetVibes. This was a feature I was most excited about too. (*see note at bottom, the Twitter share feature is now working.)
So how does it do with the keyword searching? Pretty good. Of course nothing is as sophisticated as Medline and you can do some pretty intricate web search strategies within Google Advanced Search. But all in all it handles basic keyword searches pretty well. You can also create a keyword search in another program (PubMed, Twitter, MedWorm, etc.) and save it as an RSS feed and upload that feed into NetVibes.
NetVibes widgets allows you to try and get creative with search feeds. You can use certain widgets to create your own keyword search. The widgets I looked at specifically were the blog search widget and the Twitter search widget. These widgets are supposed to search for information within certain platforms or social media (podcasts, blogs, Twitter, Flickr, etc.). I don’t like the blog search widget, the search engines they use are too generic for my tastes so I will stick with using things like MedWorm and other blog search engines and saving them as an RSS feed to import into NetVibes. The Twitter search widget is fairly good, I am comparing it to my TweetDeck searches and it appears that it retrieves the same results in a timely manner.
Theoretically you can use the widgets to search for Podcasts as well but when I started the process of adding the widget and adding my search terms I noticed that all of the podcast search engines it profiled were no longer available. So if you like to keep up to date on the latest podcasts, I recommend going to your favorite podcast search engine and grabbing the search and importing it as RSS feed into NetVibes.
While it appears that the widgets in NetVibes have the potential to be a fairly strong components to their service, they are also problematic because there seems to be no authority control like removing of old non-functioning widgets or editing widgets with non-functioning components.
NetVibes is quirky and I think I like it for now. It is definitely more beefed up than Bloglines or Google Reader, I like the potential it has for sharing feeds and news items using email and the social network, this is a huge feature for me (if I can ever get the stupid Twitter share thing to work). But if you are looking for a straight feed reader then NetVibes’ bells and whistles, along with a lot of their broken or clunky bells and whistles can be a bit of a pain and it is best to probably stick with Google Reader. Google Reader already has the email feeds feature, and if it comes out with social sharing then it will hands down my feed reader of choice. While I don’t like Google Reader’s searching features (for searching for posts, tweets, podcasts, etc.) using keywords, NetVibes inconsistantly faulty widgets is worse. I am going to stick with doing a searches via my specific search engines (Twitter, blog, podcast, etc.) and save the strategies as an RSS feed. Time consuming to set up but once it is set, I don’t have to touch it that often.
The social sharing stuff has me liking NetVibes just a little bit more than Google Reader and even old Bloglines, but the overall clunkiness might have me using Google Reader eventually.
**Note: I am now able to share my feeds (or share my articles as NetVibes calls it) via Twitter. I didn’t do anything different or change anything, in fact I have spent this time searching online for possible bugs, fixes, incorrect settings, etc. for this. All of a sudden it now works. I wrote this post on Monday September 27th. I set up my NetVibes account Thursday September 23rd. My only guess is that it takes NetVibes some time to get things set up and working all together.
I stand by the fact that I love the social sharing part to NetVibes, I am less than thrilled by their apparent bugginess and quirks. If it does take them time to validate email, Twitter, Facebook, or whatever that should be noted in their FAQs. Like I said if Google Reader starts implementing social sharing, NetVibes better get their buggy act together because I think might switch.