I admit it, I have a serious RSS habit. I’m always subscribed to way more feeds than any person can read on a regular basis, covering everything from Salesforce and nonprofit technology to knitting and entertainment headlines. Thanks to Fever, a brand new RSS feed reader from web guru Shaun Inman, it’s okay.
Here’s the thing that has been driving me crazy for years: Feeds aren’t email. They shouldn’t be read and organized like a standard inbox handles email messages, which is the way most readers treat RSS feeds. With a few exceptions, I’ve always thought the whole idea of an unread indicator on a feed reader is silly. When you read the newspaper, do you really read every single word on every page? Does anything blink in your face telling you that you missed that article on page 14?
With Fever, you read your feeds in a web browser, but it’s not hosted in a central location like Google Reader. Instead, you have to install the software to your own web host server. And flying against the norm in this age of free web services, Fever cost $30.
Five years ago, the fact that Fever is self-hosted would have been a non-issue. Most of us connected-types had accounts with a web hosting company, and the thought of setting up a MySQL database, uploading a folder via FTP and running a setup script in a browser was no big deal. Now, with Gmail/Google Apps or Yahoo and blogging services like WordPress.com or Blogger, it’s not uncommon for someone to be extremely active on the conversational web and not have a hosting account anywhere. Those folks aren’t likely to get a hosting plan just to run Fever. Unfortunately, they’re missing out because Fever is a sweet feed reader.
So what’s different about it compared to Google Reader? Well, for starters Google Reader is essentially linear. Priority is based on what’s at the top of the pile, and you work your way down with every post or article having the same weight and visual impact. There’s little connection from one feed or article to the next. Context is only what you make of it. If you get your news from a lot of different sources, but don’t read or skim on a regular basis, it gets overwhelming and useless quickly. You tend to only see what’s new, and not necessarily what matters.
Fever is anything but linear. After setting it up on your web server (which is a lot easier than it sounds if your host meets all the requirements) and feeding it an OPML file (exported from Google Reader or wherever you were reading feeds before), you tell Fever through drag & drop which feeds are “kindling” and which are “sparks.” Kindling are the feeds that contain the real content that you’re reading. Sparks are those feeds that, well, feed the kindling. Headlines news feeds, link blogs, those blogs that just react, Twitter feeds, etc.
A good assortment of kindling and sparks, and you have an at-a-glance view of what you should really be paying attention to. It uses a temperature metaphor which is a bit superfluous but doesn’t get in the way. I’ve been impressed at just how much value I’m getting out of the “hot” view alone. When I have time, I’ll float through the unread blogs, but with no unread counts I feel no pressure to get through it all. You can take the temperature of your feeds over the past day, days, weeks or month. It’s all easily navigated by keyboard, searchable, and accessible from both my computers and my iPhone. I know there are desktop readers that do something like this, such as FeedDemon, but I personally find the fact that Fever is centrally self-hosted without going through a 3rd party like Google or Newsgator to be a benefit, not a down side.
I no longer feel that I have to resist subscribing to RSS feeds for fear of overwhelming myself. In fact, the more I subscribe to feeds on a given subject, making a simple decision of whether they’re kindling or sparks, the more value I think I’ll get out of RSS reading overall. I love that I can set options on a per-feed or per-group basis, as there are some feeds that may do better with excerpt vs. full feed, or that I do need to see unread counts. I love that I was easily able to set a cron job with my host which automatically updates my feeds on a regular basis.
And it’s beautiful. Clean and very elegant. Extremely readable.
Fever isn’t perfect. There are some display issues, especially on the iPhone. And it’s only as fast as your hosting service. But Shaun has been responsive and promises updates soon. It appears that the application will auto-update itself, as if it were a hosted web app.
It’s also not collaborative. If you’re in to sharing feeds on Google Reader, Fever will disappoint you. I find that I tend to share articles on Twitter or Facebook directly from the page, rather than from Google Reader so this is a feature I don’t miss.
We’ll see if I miss Google Reader at some point, but right now I don’t think I will.