Unless you live in a Faraday cage, you’ve probably heard about Google turning off the Google Reader servers on July 1. Whether or not this has affected you is debatable—some say RSS is dead, or at least dying, while to others (myself included) it’s a vital part of our connected existence. Side note: if you want what I think is the real reason for Google Reader’s demise, read Lockdown, shoutout to Daring Fireball for the link.
I’ll cut to the chase here—the goal of this post is to give some tips to new Fever° users which I took me a while to learn—mostly because of the large numbers of feeds I subscribe to (almost 300). This is an attempt to save you some time as well as evangelize a little bit for a tool that has quite literally changed my life. If you’re on the fence, not sure whether to drop the $30 and spend the 15 minutes it takes to install and the much longer time that it will take to get it “dialed in” the way you want (but it is kinda fun), I hope I can help you make that decision.
Let me state too upfront that I don’t use RSS purely as a “news” reader—for headlines, trending topics, etc. What made me second-guess purchasing Fever° was not understanding how my own use of RSS would fit into the “Fever° thing” (the “hot list”)—which seemed very much geared towards this use. Don’t worry, while that’s true, Fever° isn’t only about that.
On to the quick tips:
By default upon import all of your feeds will be kindling.
This is what you want. Kindling are your essential feeds, what you want to be reading, and Fever° correctly assumes that the majority of your feeds fall into this category. But some of the explanations of kindling make you think you *only* want your essential feeds here, moving the rest to sparks. No, think quality.
Sparks are the feeds that will catch the kindling and raise the temperature of those individual news items that reappear in multiple feeds.
Shaun explains it succinctly, but it took a post by Anthony Drendel, the developer of the iOS fever app Sunstroke, to make me understand it. His post (“Why and How I Use Fever“) is the single best post there is on the use and configuration of Fever° and it’s a must read. Short summary: think quantity.
Sparks is a feed ghetto—feeds you place here will disappear from your folders.
Your folders are only for kindling.
In Fever° folders are groups – and they are not exclusive.
In Google Reader, folders work as they do generally on most file systems. They are exclusive and you use for categorization. For example, if you put a feed in “Tech,” it can not also go in “Wordpress.” This is not true in Fever°, and is actually one of its strengths.
With that understanding (it took me 2 hours of trial and error to get to that point, I’m not even kidding), here’s what I did:
First, I took the feeds with the most linked posts and the most posts in general—which also (probably not coincidentally) were the ones that I actually considered the least important overall) and moved them to Sparks. Maybe 10% of my feeds. I left my other feeds pretty much where they were—in 10 folders, categorized by topic.
But what I was seeing in the “Hot list” I wasn’t impressed with. I wasn’t seeing the type of posts that I wanted to see there, the things that I was interested in. So I created a new folder, “Daily.” This was my 7-8 feeds that mattered most in all topics – these were the ones that I had originally kept in kindling when I moved everything else to sparks while I was trying to find my way around (don’t do that). Now I was on to something.
I moved more feeds to sparks – maybe another 5%. Feeds which I thought I relied upon and wanted to read daily, but actually in retrospect didn’t. Then I moved anything remotely “newsy” there—not just news as in BBC, but the Apple-centric blogs, Techcrunch, etc. Now I had found a sweet spot.
Undoubtedly there is more tweaking to come. But now I’m getting the most out of the “hot list”—I’m saving time and actually discovering posts on feeds I wouldn’t ordinarily have looked at as often, because they’re being pushed to the top by Fever°. Meanwhile, I can check my Daily folder regularly for the posts that I don’t want to miss, and my topic folders when I’m in the mood to see what’s happing to the Environment for example. Previously, all of my favorite feeds were grouped by topic, so I was always jumping around in my feed list.
And here’s where a couple of tools come in—while web-based Fever° is very, very well-done (both desktop and mobile), I prefer dedicated readers. On my Mac, I had grown accustomed to Gruml (free) which has died a slow death over the last 9 months. For iOS I loved (LOVED) Feeddler, after trying tons of RSS apps. The thing I was most freaked out about before transitioning to Fever° was that Feeddler wasn’t compatible.
On my Mac, I’m using ReadKit and seriously loving it. So much better looking than Gruml ever was, giving Reeder a serious run for it’s money. And it supports Pinboard, something which we’ll have to save for another time. The developer is very responsive—I had emailed with a feature request, noticing there was no saved Fever° feed folder. He emailed me back within a few hours, with a perfect solution—to use smart folders. In case you’re wondering, here’s the screenshot he sent me on how to set up the ReadKit smart folder for Fever° saved feeds.
On iOS I’m using Sunstroke (mentioned above), though it’s quite possible I’ll check out Ashes as well. The design/UI of Sunstroke is spectacular but more importantly, because of the ways the feeds are presented, I’m actually seeing more posts than I was seeing before in less time, and doing it much more pleasantly. I actually loaded up Feeddler after using Sunstroke for a day, and couldn’t figure out what I was so impressed by.
And this is the thing with Fever°. Yes, it’s *very* cool to be running your own RSS tool. I love that. It makes me happy every time I load up one of the readers. But also, it’s fundamentally changed the ways I’m using my RSS feeds. I’m seeing more, as I said, than I did before and I’m doing it in less time. Some of this is a result of the way Fever° is set up, but also the way it makes you think about your feeds and your use of them.
Fever° has apparently been around since 2009 and it’s been the topic of much reflection on my part how exactly I’ve missed it all these years—in the end, I think it’s one simply of having something that I’ve always used, that worked great and was free. So why would I even entertain the thought of going elsewhere?
I think this is an important lesson on disruption in general—how it can be actually be a tool for improvement, not just a major PITA. All of this came at a price—I had spent $5 on Feeddler, but Gruml and Google Reader were free. I’ve spent $5 on Sunstroke, $5 on ReadKit (both well worth it) and $30 on Fever. But again, very well worth it. The $40 will pay for itself in short order in terms of time saved.