What I’d Like to See in a Mac Feed Reader

And a comparison of 3 popular RSS readers

I haven’t met a perfect Mac feed reader yet. Some have come close, but none have hit all the features I’d like to see. The three I’ve tried are Shrook, NewsFire, and NetNewsWire, all of which are now free.

I’ve decided the best way to show why I’m not completely happy is to make a table.

As you might be able to guess from the table, I like NetNewsWire best, though it does have a serious problem in not being able to refresh feeds more than once an hour, and I’d like to see it have per-feed Growl as an option. Other than that, it’s great.

For me to go to Shrook, it would need to improve in all the areas marked negatively below. Weirdly, though NewsFire passed more items below than Shrook, I prefer Shrook to NewsFire. Go figure, I guess.

Also of note is that, until a month ago, I had been using Opera’s built-in feed reader, but all the options here are a lot nicer to use. Opera’s feed reader is very thin on features. (I don’t mean to bash Opera’s RSS reader, which works well, but if you have more than 4 subscriptions, you’re better off with a dedicated Web app or desktop client.)

Update: NetNewsWire syncs with an iPhone version of itself (via NewsGator). You can even save clippings on the iPhone to read on your computer later. Good stuff.

Comparison of Shrook, Newsfire, and NetNewsWire

FeatureShrookNewsFireNetNewsWire
Feeds can be grouped (NewsFire and NetNewsWire display a merged list of items when clicking on group) Yes Yes! Yes!
Import/Export OPML subscriptions list Yes Yes Yes
Sync feeds across computers and the Web (Shrook uses Shrook.com; NetNewsWire uses NewsGator) $20/year No(?) Free! Incl. iPhone!
Per-feed custom refresh rate. NetNewsWire is given “sort of” because the maximum refresh rate is only once an hour! (Your Facebook notifications should be able to be updated every ten minutes, for example.) No Yes Sort of
Per-feed custom persistence (keeping old items) No Yes Yes
Per-feed auto-download attachments No Yes Yes
Growl integration, ideally per-feed (not just a global “Feeds have been updated” message). NetNewsWire allows notifications for each feed or item, but these cannot be enabled or disabled feed-by-feed. (Note, all these apps ask you to edit the appropriate settings not from within the reader, but by going to Growl’s preference pane.) Yes! Global Global+
A wonderful UI, which (1) doesn’t need to be 1440+ pixels wide; (2) adds feeds with one click (and your “return” key), grabs the URL from the clipboard automatically, and lets you pick a group; (3) allows you to read content while viewing other feed items (and feeds); (4) space to read the next unread item; and (5) has a built-in browser. (1) No. Faaat!
(2) No, no!
(3) Yes (and no)
(4) Yes
(5) Yes
(1) Yes
(2) Yes!
(3) No (and yes)
(4) Yes
(5) No
(1) Yes
(2) Yes!
(3) Yes!
(4) Yes
(5) Yes

March 4th, 2008. (Updated: February 20, 2009 at 6:34pm.)
Alan Hogan (@alanhogan).  Contact · About