Fever: A Google Reader Alternative

A big part of many a nerd’s day is reading the news. Especially when it comes to news in the realm of technology and the Internet, RSS is the center of many people’s reading workflow. RSS is a method of subscribing to websites and receiving their updates in a central location for reading. Most people who use RSS do so with Google Reader or an app that syncs with it.

Google has announced that they are going to retire Google Reader. On July 1, 2013, it will be gone. And all of the apps that sync with it will no longer work. This wouldn’t so bad if there were plenty of alternatives, but unfortunately they are not very abundant.

While Google Reader shutting down has it’s benefits, a lot of us have to find an alternative. Fever is one of those alternatives. It is an excellent application developed by Shaun Inman, the creator of Mint.

I set up and tried out Fever a few months ago, and though I eventually moved back to Google Reader, Fever is a great choice for some people.

Roll Your Own RSS

Fever is unique in that it is not a hosted solution. Fever is an application that runs on your own web server. This makes the barrier of entry to Fever a little higher that most other solutions, but it also opens it up to some really cool features.

I am not going to go in-depth on how to set up Fever on your server, but it is relatively simple. Cody Fink wrote a great piece at MacStories on how to set up fever in ten minutes. It is a simple process, and it’s even simpler if you already have a web server that you can upload the files to.

After you install Fever, you will want to set up the cron job. This script will refresh Fever every so often to make sure it has checked for new feed items. Unfortunately, my host did not allow Fever’s cron job to run. This severely hampered my use of Fever because I had to wait for it to refresh every time that I wanted to read my feeds. This process can sometimes take a while. Be wary of this.

Be sure to also grab the Feedlet. This is a bookmarklet that easily let’s you subscribe to feeds. Definitely a must-have.

Hot Features

What makes Fever really interesting is that it has some unique features that set it apart from just a standard RSS reader. The most obvious of these is the Hot list.

The Hot list is a list of the most linked-to feed items sorted by their temperature. The more the item is linked to, the higher its temperature. The Hot list is a great way to keep up on what had happened over a period of time. Even after I switched back to Google Reader, I found myself checking Fever’s Hot list every once in a while to see the big picture of major news stories. This is especially helpful if you are catching up on the news after being gone for a few days.

I really love the playfulness of Fever, and this is mostly apparent in the Hot list. It’s a very fun approach to rating interest. I like that you can change the temperature from Fahrenheit to Celsius. Nice touch.

In order for the Hot list to work its magic, you need to be subscribed to as many feeds as possible in order to gauge temperature. However, most people don’t want to have hundreds of unread items to read through. Fever solves this with Kindling and Sparks.

Kindling are the feeds that are essential. Kindling feeds will show every new item as unread until you, ya know, read it.

Sparks are the high-volume feeds that you don’t necessarily want to see every update of. These feeds are updated, but they are only used to measure the amount of links that an item has received. These help to ensure accurate and interesting items show up in your Hot list.

Having Sparks that fit your interests is key to getting a useful Hot list.

Great, But Not Perfect

As good as Fever is, it is not without issues.

My biggest concern is the lack of development. Fever is very sparsely updated, and not many developers are building apps with its API. Sunstroke is a great app for iPhone, but there are no really good apps for the iPad or Mac. And even though Sunstroke is good, I can’t enjoy it as much because of the slow syncing speeds I mentioned earlier.

Fever also feels dated. The app hasn’t received much love in a long time. It has good keyboard shortcut support, but using the web app feels slow as compared to a native app like Reeder for Mac.

A New Hope

I sincerely hope that Google Reader’s demise will encourage developers to create new, better solutions to our RSS problems. Fever is a good alternative, but there is definitely room for something better.

RSS hasn’t really seen any innovation in recent history. It has remained quite simple, but maybe it is time to rethink it from the ground up. I have hope that a good developer out there will take the time and attention to solve this problem by July 1. I just hope that they charge good money for it and that it sticks around for a long time.

A I going to switch back to Fever? If I have to, I will. However, I am confident that a better, more supported alternative will appear.

Posted in: Reviews