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[personal profile] liv
So I have two problems, which I think are basically the same problem, and I even think I know what the solution is, except I can't quite get it to work for me. Basically what I want is for the future to be even more futuristic, and deliver me all the reading matter I need in a format convenient to me.

Problem 1: Lots of my friends are moving to "proper" blogs now. People look back with nostalgia to mid-2000s LJ, but honestly it wasn't really that great, it was just about the only game in town, which in turn meant it was a lively, active mixed community. (The online equivalent of a Jane Jacobs-approved city, perhaps.) If you wanted to post banal stuff about what you had for breakfast and endless pictures of your kids or pets, you used LJ because there was no Facebook. Likewise, if you wanted to keep in touch with more acquaintances than you could reasonably email regularly, or to organize social events with minimum effort, you used LJ because there was no FB. If you wanted to share links and discuss articles, TV programmes etc, you used LJ because there was no Twitter. If you wanted to reblog memes and post stills from your favourite TV show, you used LJ because there was no Tumblr. If you wanted to post fanfic and fannish meta, you used LJ because there was no AO3. And if you wanted to post serious, thoughtful essays with links and citations, you used LJ because, well, there were alternatives, but they were hard work in comparison, and anyway all your audience was on LJ because of all the other activities going on there.

Nowadays Wordpress and Blogger and other systems are at least as easy to use as LJ, and more fully featured, and often a better way of reaching a wide audience. But they're scattered all over the place, and one feature they don't have is a way of reading all the content on one page, in chronological order, in a layout and format that you can design, with the ability to see at a glance whether there are new comments. If I have to make a list of bookmarks and check them regularly for updates, if I have to put up with a page plastered in flashy blinky adverts and all the text in a tiny narrow column down the middle, if it's a pain to navigate backwards to find old content if I'm away for a while... in the end, I'm not going to keep up very well. And this is annoying, because I miss out on the interesting things my friends are saying, and on updates about what's going on in their life.

This problem is about to become more acute because, rumour has it, LJ is going to start serving friends pages Facebook-style. That means using their ugly blue and white default site scheme rather than a page where I have control of the appearance. And it means a commenting system which is totally dependent on JavaScript and breaks in mobile browsers or image-free browsers. And worst of all, since (unlike many people) I am actually physically capable of reading the small black-on-white text with too much white space default style, it means a page that autoloads earlier content as you scroll down. That's a pain for so many reasons; it freezes up the browser more often than not, even on my fairly powerful, fairly modern computer, and I'll lose phone access, for example, but in specific it's going to make it really hard for me to follow my normal habit of finding the place where I last left off reading and move chronologically forwards from there. If this rumour becomes reality, I'm going to have to start slurping LJ content to another system, because I'll never keep up with a FB news feed style friends page. The problem is, what other system?

Problem 2: I want to follow the giant floating conversation around writing and books and SF, and it's scattered between lots and lots of blogs. I'm not so interested in book reviews or book promotion, it's more things like the recent discussion of portal fantasy, or the discussion earlier in the year about sexual harrassment at SF cons. For years, I've been using LJ as a crude feed reader for this, but this is becoming increasingly unsatisfactory, especially as this kind of mixed professional and fannish discussion is, like all the other interesting material, moving more and more away from LJ. There are probably about 100, maybe 200 blogs that are part of this conversation, some of them being group blogs where I'm only interested in one or two of the bloggers and it's hard to pick them out of the mass of uninteresting ones (Jo Walton at Tor, Sherwood Smith at Book View Café, etc). I can read that much, because I am a very fast reader and addicted to the internet, but not if I have to make more effort than opening a page and reading.

It's probably hard to get through more than a couple of sentences of this without immediately noticing that this is a solved problem: this is exactly what RSS was invented for, right? But what reader is out there that will be as convenient as my DW reading page?

I am not going anywhere near Google Reader; I didn't mind when they told advertisers about what blogs I followed, but now there's a serious danger that they'll broadcast my reading list to everyone I've ever emailed, or everyone that their algorithms thinks might be connected to me. So that's not an option.

I have used two different RSS readers on two different phone OSes (Viigo on Blackberry, and RSSDemon on Android). Both more or less worked for me, with some limitations. The big one was that certain feeds would simply stop updating, for absolutely no reason. Sometimes I'd think, oh, I haven't heard anything from friend so-and-so for a few months, I wonder what's up with them, and find I'd missed dozens of postings. Once this happened, I was never able to fix it; force updating didn't work, deleting the subscription and resubscribing didn't work. I'd be sent back to having to visit their page manually, and the number of people who have blogs outside LJ and DW, and whose RSS feeds have mysteriously stopped working for me is getting too unwieldy for that to be an option. I really don't understand why an RSS reader should do this, but unless someone can suggest a solution I'm a bit reluctant to trust keeping up with my friends to any RSS-based application.

I could get email alerts when pages update, but that's only slightly less inconvenient than going through a long list of bookmarked pages. Ideally I want all the content on the same page, cos that's been my habit for nearly a decade of LJ/DW now and it suits me.

Using DW itself as a feed reader seems like an obvious solution, and it's one I'm leaning towards. There are some slight problems with that, though. Partly, the network effect of DW is a killer feature for me, and if my reading page is cluttered up with several hundred feeds of non-DW blogs that effect is spoiled. People can't readily see whom I'm connected to, and they'll filter me out of their network pages if they're nothing but RSS feeds. DW as a feed reader doesn't do authentication, so I'd miss people who post friends only on LJ. DW feeds don't show new comments at all, so I'd have to keep clicking through to see what conversation is going on. There's also a privacy issue; if my reading list of DW accounts is very similar to my RSS feeds list, it's easy for people to snoop my social graph, and many people who do have "real" blogs want to keep their identities separate from their DW handles.

One approach is to create a separate account, not connected to this one, just for reading RSS feeds. That's what I did with [livejournal.com profile] realwriters on LJ, and the big problem was that I could never be bothered to log out of my main LJ account and log in to the feedreader account to add new people who seemed to be part of the conversation, so my list is getting increasingly out of date. At some point DW has promised us a feature where you can link subsidiary accounts to a master account, but it's one of those pie-in-the-sky things (like full featured image hosting or a decent mobile app) that I'm increasingly losing hope of ever seeing.

So, any suggestions for an RSS reader? I need one that:
  • Works reliably
  • Shows me all the updates in chronological order
  • Lets me customize (at least to some extent) the appearance of the reading list
  • Shows me the posts themselves and at least the number of comments, not just the title
  • Deals with authentication and has reasonable privacy
I'd rather pay than deal with intrusive ads, but at this point I'll accept existing at all.

Assuming I do get this sorted, if you do have a presence not on LJ or DW, and you'd like me to follow you, please let me know where I can find your writing. If you're on Twitter I probably already know, because Twitter at least has an adequate mobile interface. Feel free to add me, u/n individeweal, if we're not already connected. But if you're on Tumblr or a "real" blog please tell me about it. If you are ok with me knowing but don't want the entire internet to see the connection between your DW handle and you blog, feel free to PM me instead of commenting.
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Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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