With less than seven weeks to go before Google Reader shuts down, we still have plenty of time before making a switch, but reviewing our options is nevertheless a worthwhile endeavor. I talked before about Feed Wrangler, a yet-immature hosted solution that’s looking to do a bit more with RSS feeds than Reader ever did, but the service will likely need a couple more months before it’s core feature-set gains parity with what we’ve come to expect from Reader. While there are other hosted solutions that spring up in conversations about Reader replacements, there’s also a self-hosted solution that keeps being mentioned: Fever.
I learned about Fever years back, and about every six months since, got pretty close to pulling the trigger on a purchase. Fever is written in PHP and runs for $30 plus whatever hosting you decide to use. Like Feed Wrangler, Fever is about doing more than just reading feeds, but while Feed Wrangler does this through so-called smart streams, Fever does this through a Hot list, which is a collected set of articles based on how popular a subject is in your overall stream. Fever accomplishes this by giving you an option as to how you wish to categorize a given RSS feed. While the nomenclature can be confusing, the system itself works fairly well.
Feeds that you consider important, which you want to always read, are categorized as Kindling. These are the feeds you probably already have in your current RSS reader, either as solo feeds or in Reader folders that you routinely check.1 In contrast, feeds that you keep on hand but don’t necessarily read through on a daily basis are best-categorized as Sparks. The best Sparks are feeds that link to a lot of external content, as cross-referencing these feeds with what Kindling you have pushes certain topics into Fever’s Hot list.
The Hot list is Fever’s killer feature. While you’re welcome to ignore it and just create groups of topics that mimic Reader’s folders, the Hot list is what really differentiates Fever from other readers functionality-wise. The Hot list is an overview of noteworthy news topics in your stream, and each topic header contains several related posts from different streams below it. In other words, the Hot list is a topical breakdown of your stream,2 letting your view, at a glance, what topics are currently popular and who’s writing about them. The time-frame for the Hot list is configurable, so you can look at what’s popular today, over the last month, or several intervals in-between.
After experimenting with Feed Wrangler, and discussing Fever over on app.net, I decided to finally give in and pick up a copy of Fever. Installing the software was pretty painless, and I followed the guide macstories published two years ago. I already had an account at nearlyfreespeech.net (NFS), and some quick research suggested that the only significant change from the guide was the type of server you have to select in order to get Fever up and running.3
If you already have hosting elsewhere, you may not need to go the NFS route, but if you don’t have PHP-enabled hosting, NFS is a pretty cheap host to go with, since you’re only charged based on the resources you actually use. I originally set up an NFS site when I switched this blog’s hosting provider over to one that’s WordPress-specific, so I lost the ability to run my analytics engine Mint.4 To host Mint, I typically submit a $5 micro-transaction to NFS every few months, so the hosting is indeed cheap.
Fever lets you add feeds manually, or import an OPML file. Unlike Feed Wrangler, Fever imports Reader’s folders as well as your feeds, so the migration should be quicker if you already have your feeds organized. Fever has several configurable options once installed, so you can tweak the program to hide or display read items, adapt a fluid layout, et al.
Unlike most RSS readers, Fever refreshes feeds when loaded, so typically you have to wait a short period of time for the most recent feeds to render. If you’re hosting at NFS, you can schedule a refresh hourly, or if you have access to cron, can set the feed refresh interval to be even more frequent. With that, you can turn off refreshing feeds every time you sign into the service, but if you’re viewing from the web, this scheduled refresh can be annoying as it interrupts your reading when it happens; a refresh will force your view to the latest article in the section you’re viewing, so Fever “jumps” to the top of the stream after a refresh kicks in.5
Fever’s web client supports keyboard shortcuts to navigate articles, and also has shortcuts to send articles to Delicious, E-Mail, Instapaper, and Twitter. Unlike Feed Wrangler, however, Instapaper integration in Fever requires a prior login, so articles aren’t sent to Instapaper behind the scenes; you have to click through the default article add dialogue box in Instapaper, then close the Instapaper tab.
While there was a time when Fever support on mobile was limited, there are two native iOS clients that go above and beyond the default mobile web view: Ashes and Sunstroke.
Ashes runs $7.99 as a universal app, and supports several sharing options. The app is actively in development, and will soon have custom sharing options to send articles to any app that can handle URL schemes. Ashes is also introducing themes, so users don’t need to stick with the current orange default UI.6
Sunstroke is $4.99, and is also a universal app. Sunstroke is also in active development, though seems to get minor updates less frequently than Ashes.
If you can’t decide between Ashes and Sunstroke, don’t over think it – both apps fundamentally offer the same features. You can navigate the Hot list, view your Kindling and groups, and review your Sparks if you want to as well. That said, Ashes is currently on my home screen, as I consider the $3 premium a trade-off for a slightly nicer UI design. If you’re not a design freak or don’t care about custom sharing options, however, Sunstroke is still a feature-rich Fever client at a slightly cheaper price.
Fever’s not perfect, mind you, but it does everything Reader did and more. If you estimate most Reader replacements as coming in at $20/year, your first-year Fever experience compares negatively at about $30 plus hosting costs. After the first year, you’re only paying for hosting, which many people are already doing anyway, so Fever effectively becomes free at this point. Perhaps the biggest perk with Fever is the insurance you gain, however. With any other RSS service, you’re at the mercy of the host, whereas with Fever, you’re in control of your own RSS subscriptions, and even if your host goes away, you can simply move Fever to another one.
Time will tell whether other Reader replacements gain the features that make Fever look outdated. Fever’s developer is currently not focusing on the app, though that doesn’t mean the software has no support at all. Additionally, since Fever is already pretty mature, not having the developer’s full attention isn’t nearly as necessary as with fledgling services like Feed Wrangler. At this point in the game, Fever has won out as my Reader replacement, with the web client used on the desktop, and Ashes on iOS. Let’s see who steps up to challenge the new champion.
If all your Fever feeds are Kindling, you’ll still get a benefit from the Hot list assuming several feeds reference the same subject matter. ↩
Other RSS readers are typically limited in breaking down a stream by date, feed, or group of feeds. ↩
You have to choose the “flex” server option. ↩
Mint is another PHP application written by Fever’s developer Shaun Inman. ↩
I tested this on Chrome. ↩
When I first bought Ashes, I was put off by the orange UI, but now rather like it. ↩