Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Review of Fever self hosted RSS web reader

I talked about the Google Reader demise a few weeks ago, and the search is on for a replacement. In an attempt to assess the current solutions, I'm going to write a couple of posts about the different ones I've been trying. One of the intriguing near term solutions (available today) is Fever, a self hosted web based solution. Several geekier types in my social circles had already switched to this prior to the Google Reader announcement, and it works somewhat seamlessly with the Reeder app for the iPhone, which I was a heavy user of with Google Reader.

The self-hosting part of Fever is a bit of a challenge for me, seeing as I did away with my hosting a few years ago because I didn't have the time or wherewithal to continue to deal with it.

I stumbled across this 2010 post from MacStories which motivated me to try it out - seemed low risk and relatively inexpensive, and in the near term, I wouldn't have to deal with the crushing load on some of the other alternatives. So I took the plunge and installed it on a Nearly Free Speech instance. It took a little bit longer than 10 minutes, but not much.

I'm pretty happy with it so far. The web interface is slick and well designed with keyboard shortcuts for just about everything you could possibly do in the program. It has a sharing interface with a few key services built in and the ability to add more as long as they support a share link (I was able to add Google+ in a few minutes and it's as seamless as Reader was). This is key, as I want to be able to add services besides Twitter and Facebook and most other services don't bother or give you the interface.

You can set it up through cron to refresh feeds periodically as well - this was easy on my host as they have a GUI to add scheduled commands. I'm not 100% clear on if it's working all the time, but it does seem to usually come back with feeds somewhat updated if I haven't visited for a while. The downside if you don't do this is that you'll wait for the feeds to refresh for a few minutes if you don't have anything cached already. This is particularly noticeable on the iPhone clients. I think you could also just leave it up in a browser window on a running computer and it would refresh every 10-15 minutes.

I'm Feeling Kind of Warm
While Fever can be used as a straight feed reader a la Google Reader, it's unique feature is that it bubbles up hot topics into a Hot List using a degree scale based on the temperature of the human body (hence the name "Fever"). It does this by dividing feeds into two groups - the Kindling and the Sparks. Kindling are your must read feeds, and Sparks are other feeds that you'd want to influence your Hot list but not necessairily read all the time. I haven't used this feature much yet and haven't added any sparks - Gabe over at MacDrifter tries to quantify this feature and his review is worth a read if you're considering Fever.

Some of the suggestions for using sparks I've seen elsewhere include putting mostly link blogs there, or putting a feed from Pinboard or Instapaper or other services there. It's something I may or may not get to, but as some of the other reviews point out, it's not necessary to use Sparks to use the service mostly as a straight reader.

Mobile Devices with Fever
Shaun Inman, the Fever developer, is a Mac/iOS/Web guy so there's no support for Android devices - a showstopper if you're an Android user. He admits this in his Google Reader fallout post (a few other caveats there to be aware of as well - he's full time on another project right now so his support is minimal). I'm currently an iOS user, so no issues there. I hooked it up to Reeder on my iPhone and also bought Sunstroke, another iPhone only Fever client.

Both Reeder and Sunstroke are good clients - Reeder is the same experience on Fever as it is on the Google Reader back-end (except it takes longer to refresh if you don't set up the aforementioned cron job). Sunstroke handles the Fever specific features of the Hot List better than Reeder, but that's the only major difference.

Sadly, there is no viable native iPad client.  The iPad Reeder app is not compatible with Fever yet - it's due for a refresh and I'm sure that might get pushed out a bit as the developer of that product figures out what else he can use as a back-end with Reader's demise. Adding Fever functionality to this client would be a great solution for me in the short term. The web interface is passable in Safari on iOS, but this is definitely a gap that I would run into sometimes. I'm hoping with Reader's demise that we get more apps that will hook into Fever's API as an option, but I'm realistic in that this will probably never be a big enough userbase for some clients to support.

Fever is not for the casual user, or for someone that doesn't have any server side self hosting experience. But I don't have tons and I was able to figure it out, and once you set it up, there's nothing terribly technical about maintaining it. The host I'm currently using is inexpensive, at the most I should have to pay a dollar or two to self host. I'm planning on firing up full service hosting at some point in the next year and I'll move it over there if I'm still using it.

Fever is also probably not a good idea if you're a heavy consumer of feeds on your iPad, at least until a native client comes along.

If you primarily consume on your desktop and iPhone, though, this is a viable solution - which you will not have to worry about scaling or going away anytime soon. It's in your complete control.

I'm going to keep using it while continuing to check out other services. I'll write up the other two services I'm trying, Newsblur and The Old Reader, in the coming days. I'm also intrigued by Feed Wrangler, which should launch in the next few months.