The inspiration for today’s post comes from this excellent usability study of the desktop versions of Bloglines and Google Reader. As good as it is the mobile clients are only briefly mentioned, and I thought them worthy of their own blow-by-blow comparison.
For the purposes of this test I’m using the not-so-new beta version of Bloglines Mobile, and both it and Google Reader via Opera Mini, the best mobile browser in the world. I should also warn you that I myself am very much on the fence about these two excellent (and free) RSS services, so I’m doing this comparison as much for me as I am for you.
Let’s see how this plays out…
Round I – Start Page:
The default start page for Bloglines shows all of your updated feeds organized by folder, so you’re one click away from reading all the items in a single feed or in an entire folder.
The default view for Google Reader is a dump of every single unread item, organized with the most recently updated item at the top.
Fortunately, you can also view your feeds by tag, the equivalent of folders in Bloglines. Note though, that you cannot click through to individual feeds from this view.
Right from the start Bloglines gives you two options to click through to your feeds, while Google Reader gives you a choice of two start pages. I’ll call this opening round a tie.
Round II – Reading:
Bloglines gives you all the content that any particular feed offers up, be it a summary of the item or the full text with graphics. Click on any headline and you’ll be taken to the original item, optimized for your device
Additionally you have the option of turning graphics on or off if you’re on a skimpy data plan, which I was until recently.
Oh, and one more thing: Bloglines lets you limit the viewable feeds per page to 10, 20, or 200 items.
Google Reader adds what I consider an unnecessary extra step to get to your news, this headline view. Some may consider this a more efficient way of browsing feed headlines but remember, Bloglines gives you this functionality right from the start page.
Three clicks in and you can finally read your content. Google Reader’s “items per page” options are a little more limited than Bloglines — 5, 10 or 20 items per page is all you get.
Winner: Bloglines Mobile
With more options for viewing and less clicks to get to your reading material, Bloglines is the clear winner here.
Round III – Saving & Sharing:
By default Bloglines marks items as read as you scroll through them, which I find more handy than having to manually mark every page read in Google Reader.
To save items in Bloglines for later reading you can mark any item unread or pin it, as I’ve done in the above example. The one disadvantage of this is that you’ll still have to scroll through pinned items every time there’s new stuff to look at in a particular feed.
Google Reader does a better job here with their “star” option — add a star to an item and it gets dumped on a dedicated page for reading later.
Google also gives you the option of sharing your item publicly through a dedicated web page — you’d have to go back to the “classic” mobile (and desktop) version of Bloglines to do this with their service.
Winner: Google Reader
For the option to share a story and getting saved stuff out of the way I’ll give the nod to Google Reader. But it’s close.
I should probably point out that Google Reader, even the mobile version, renders completely differently in the standard S60 WebKit-enabled browser (see above). You might see this as another advantage for Google but I see it as a liability, since: (1) there’s less available real estate on my screen with this iPhone-inspired view, and (2) I think Opera Mini and its web proxy are better and faster than the S60 browser at rendering full-sized web pages — an important factor when you click through from Google Reader to an external site.
I should also point out that Bloglines now has their own (unofficial) app for the iPhone, which you can read about here.
Final Tally: Bloglines = 1, Google Reader = 1, Draw = 1
Well, you can’t get much closer than that!
Choosing between the two is further compounded for me by the fact that I personally prefer the mobile version of Bloglines, but the desktop version of Google Reader. It’s probably not a bad idea to export your feeds from one service to the other, so that if one goes down you can check in on the other and hopefully still get your news.
Maybe it’s not a bad idea to bookmark both on your mobile as well. That’s what I’ll be doing, I think…
:: Update ::
Turns out that Google Reader Mobile does in fact have a view-by-subscription option…
Also, TechCrunch reported late last year on ongoing technical problems with Bloglines. I think things have improved since then, but informal testing over the past few days did show that Bloglines is significantly slower to update feeds than Google Reader — which is really too bad, since I personally find Bloglines easier to read and navigate.