Switching to Tiny Tiny RSS

With the imminent demise of Google Reader, and FeedDemon consequently being end-of-lifed, my next task was clear: find a new RSS aggregator. This was not something I was looking forward to. However, as things turned out, I actually got to solve the problem in more or less the way I'd wanted to for years.

The thing is, I never really liked Google Reader. The only reason I started using it was because I liked FeedDemon and FeedDemon used Google Reader as it's back-end sync platform. (And if you've ever tried to use a desktop aggregator across multiple systems, you know that not being able to sync your read items across devices is just painful.) But I seldom used the Reader web app - I didn't think it was especially well done and I always regarded the "social" features as nothing but a waste of screen space. Granted, the "accessible anywhere" aspect of it was nice on occasion, but my overall impression was that the only reason it was so popular was because it was produced by Google.

The other issue with Reader is that I don't trust Google or hosted web services in general. Paranoia? Perhaps. But they remind me of the saying that "If you're not paying for the product, then you are the product." And while I know a lot of people aren't bothered by that, I think that Google knows far too much about me without handing them more information on a silver platter. Furthermore, you can't rely upon such services to always be available. Sure, Google is huge and has ridiculous amounts of money, but even the richest company has finite resources. And if a product isn't generating enough revenue, then the producer will eventually kill it, as evidenced by the case of reader.

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What I'd really wanted to do for some time was to host my own RSS syncing service. Of course, there's not standard API for RSS syncing, so my favorite desktop clients wouldn't work. But with FeedDemon going away as well, and having no desktop replacement lined up, I no longer had to worry about that. So I decided to take a chance on a self-hosted web app and gave Tiny Tiny RSS a try. I was very pleasantly surprised.

The installation for TT-RSS is pretty simple. I use a shared hosting account, and though the documentation says that isn't supported, it actually works just fine. The install process for my host consisted of:

  1. Copy the files to my host.
  2. Create the database using my host's tool.
  3. Import the database schema using using PHPMyAdmin.
  4. Edit the config.php file to set the database connection information and a couple of other settings.
  5. Use my host's tool to create a cron job to run the feed update script.
  6. Log in to the administrator account and change the default password.
  7. Create a new account for myself.
  8. Import the OPML file that I exported from FeedDemon.

That's it. Note that half of those steps were in the TT-RSS UI. So the installation was pretty much dead-simple.

In the past, I wasn't a fan of web-based RSS readers. However, I have to say that Tiny Tiny RSS actually has a very nice UI. It's a traditional three-pane layout, much as you would find in a desktop app. It's all AJAX driven and works very much like a desktop client. It even has a rich set of keyboard shortcuts and contextual right-click menus.

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As an added bonus, there's also a pretty nice mobile site. While the latest release (1.7.5) actually removed the built-in mobile clientweb site, there's a very nice third-party JavaScript client available. It uses the same API as the mobile clients, so the installation pretty much consists of enabling the API, copying the files to your host, and editing two settings in the config file to tell it the path to itself and to TT-RSS.

But who cares about the mobile site anyway? There are native Android clients! The official client is available as trial-ware in the Google Play store. And while it's good, I use a fork of it which is available for free through F-Droid. In addition to being free (as in both beer and speech), it has a few extra features which are nice. And while I may be a bit cheap, my main motivation to use the fork was not the price, but rather the fact that the official client isn't in the Amazon app store and I don't want to root my Kindle Fire HD. This was a big deal for me as I've found that lately my RSS-reading habits have changed - rather than using a desktop client, I've been spending most of my RSS reading time using the Google Reader app on my Kindle. The TT-RSS app isn't quite as good as the reader app, but it's still veyr good and more than adequate for my needs.

Overall, I'd definitely recommend Tiny Tiny RSS to anyone in need of an RSS reader. The main selling point for me was the self-hosted nature of it, but it's a very strong contender in any evaluation simply on its own merits. In my opinion, it's better than Google Reader and is competetive with NewsBlur, which I also looked at.

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