Is fav.or.it a Google Reader replacement?

favoritlogoJust before I went on holiday a discussion emerged around what the RSS feed service fav.or.it is or isn't starting with Louis Gray's post "Fav.or.it Beta Effort is Not My Favorite. Not Even Close". In this post he argues that fav.or.it is not living up to its initial potential citing a confusing interface, OPML import problems and "limitations" on the service in that you could only import 25 of your RSS feeds in to the system. Louis was also unhappy that any feeds imported were shared will all users of the service.

Mark Hopkins over at Mashable picked up on Louis' post and tends to agree with him but in less vociferous tones - asking the question "If you are seeing something that Louis and I are missing, please explain it to me".

Sure enough Nick Halstead, the mind behind fav.or.it, leapt in with both feet to show that Louis had missed the point, unfortunately the manner in which this was done may not have won him any friends - a fact which Sarah picks up on and explains the to-ing and fro-ing which have surrounded the incident.

What is fav.or.it?

According to Nick, fav.or.it is not a personal feed reading system - it is intended as a feed reading community where members add feeds which are shared with the community at large thus enabling users to discover more blogs in given topics. The other main focus of fav.or.it is the ability to pass comments made on fav.or.it back to the original blog post providing the blog platform supports the API but more on that later.

Louis may have got the wrong end of the stick by treating fav.or.it as an alternative to Google Reader but Nick has not helped in the matter. I have been testing fav.or.it and after a  new version was released which introduced new features was asked by Nick Halstead on Twitter if fav.or.it was a Google Reader replacement. I replied that I must be one of the few people that doesn't like Google Reader (I've never hidden the fact that I prefer Bloglines mainly due to the mobile view) but I said that I liked fav.or.it. Does that mean I think it could replace the Google offering? Not necessarily but the potential is there.

As currently packaged fav.or.it is not - and could not be - a Google Reader replacement so why then was Nick trying to pitch is as such on Twitter?

Selling your product

The key to launching any product - even one in a limited beta - is to market it correctly not just in getting the exposure it needs but in what you are exposing potential "customers" to. Fav.or.it seems to fail here as the message coming out of the camp is mixed or missing vital information.

If all you do is check out the fav.or.it website and read through the Overview and About sections you will be bombarded with great teasers about an integrated blogging solution (the feature which really excites me) but nothing about it being a news reading community or how that works - you can therefore understand Louis' frustrations with the sudden realisation once he has come to import his feeds.

I do indeed applaud the efforts that Nick and his team are making but feel that he is making a rod for his own back by not actually doing the selling correctly. Demonstrations at web 2.0 conferences may go off well but that is because you are talking directly to your audience, showing them how it works and fielding questions from those who don't get it. You can't do that with a static About page so need to be thorough in your description of the service or you will not catch the audience you intended.

The good, the bad and the ugly

I agree with Louis that the interface can leave you wondering what's going on and that "slices" are not handled in an intuitive way - I had to do things to understand how they worked rather than it being apparent or explained - there's the bad. The limitation on importing only 25 feeds could well just be to keep the beta under control so we'll let that slide for now. The ugly is definitely fav.or.it's handling of some feeds which I also noticed along with Louis. Take those operated through FeedBurner. As Louis says when you import a feed fav.or.it does not resolve the correct feed name - just says it is from http://feeds.feedburner.com - not good!

The good, however, is the comment handling which as mentioned passes comments back to the originating blog providing it is on a support platform or is linked in to the fav.or.it API - this feature alone made me seriously question hosting my blog on SharePoint and switching to WordPress which is already supported by fav.or.it.

The system works (albeit with a few glitches importing comments already on posts) and goes a long way to alleviate the worries bloggers have over the decentralisation of the conversation.

What next?

What does Nick need to do win over his audience? The way I see it there are a couple of options:

  • stick to the present product but market it properly - do not send mixed messages and fully explain exactly what it is/isn't
  • expand the present product by allowing more imports so that we can use fav.or.it as a true replacement of our current reader of choice 

Nick may be targeting the less tech savvy but his integrated solution really calls out to the more advanced web heads out there but if they cannot get all of their feeds within the system then a perfectly good feature will be going to waste.

Why not let those of us who currently use other systems to have fav.or.it as a personal platform? I hope the number of feeds you can import is extended - at the very least the import should check if the feed is already "in the system" and not have it count towards your import allowance. Personally, I can't see why you should get offended if the feeds you import are categorised and added to a database to allow others to discover them more easily but if people are concerned about it why not give us an option to opt out of the feed sharing?

The service needs a good mobile interface so that it can be used on the go - as I said, this is what I really like about Bloglines and is what keeps me there. If fav.or.it could match or better the mobile experience and give me integrating commenting to ALL of the feeds I want to read then I would switch in an instant.

Your take

What would make you switch feed readers? Do you like what fav.or.it is doing or is it heading in the wrong direction?

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Fractured comments and owning the conversation.

conversationThe discussion has continued around the issue of conversations prompted by blogs and where they should be held.

Back in February I discussed the possibility of being able to comment directly from your feed reader in my post "It's the conversation that matters". Now with services like fav.or.it and FriendFeed this is happening (we love choice) but the problem becomes how we keep track of the conversation when it is decentralised - or, as is now being said, when the comments are fractured.

The debate as to who owns the conversation has been rumbling along, Louis Gray says bloggers should be aware of where interaction could be taking place and engaging wherever we can. Sarah Perez echoes this by saying that "Thoughts, opinions, and conversations don’t belong to anyone, anywhere, at anytime" - perhaps a bit too far but I get where she is coming from.


As I said previously, the argument for having comments centralised is context. Having trains of thought spread throughout a number of different services is not conducive to a fluent conversation so - rather than wanting ownership over the discussion - I personally would like all comments referring back to one place for the sake of context in order to aid the flow of conversation.

The problems come when different services do not integrate and each services ends up with its own thread relating to any given subject that does not refer back to anywhere else. Either all services should aggregate content from everywhere else (which isn't going to happen) or all comments should come back to one central location for the sake of clarity - the most obvious place is the material source: the blog.

This is why I get so excited over the potential of services such as fav.or.it. If RSS readers support comment pass-back then we can keep the choice of feed readers but allow any conversation to be visible in its entirety.

The advantage of now using one of the most popular blogging platforms means that you are more likely to have people design solutions to do what you want and, sure enough, Glenn Slavin has done just that with regards to FriendFeed with his FriendFeed Comments WordPress Plugin. Whilst still in beta this plugin checks for "likes" and comments to your post on FriendFeed and brings them in to your blog.

So now two sources of fractured comments can be drawn in to one central location. This is only the beginning and I hope that other services take note and follow similar lines or that developers work with APIs and aid the flow.

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Colin Walker Colin Walker colin@colinwalker.blog