Fever: Roll Your Own RSS Reader

fever-screenshot

RSS is a great way to stay on top of any blogs you read regularly (like Lawyerist!). Instead of remembering to visit every site, you can just check your feed reader, which collects all the updates in one place.

Fever, an RSS reader from developer Shaun Inman, is a smart alternative to traditional RSS readers, which can become a firehose of content as you add feeds.

Fever is software for your own server

First, Fever is not a service like Google Reader, or desktop software like Outlook. In order to use Fever, you have to install it on a server you control. If you know how to upload files to a server and change file permissions, Fever is dead simple to install. In fact, it is easier to install than most desktop software. You just install a small tool, which checks your server to make sure Fever is compatible. You will only be able to purchase Fever if everything checks out.

But if installing software on a server makes you queasy, Fever probably is not for you, no matter how awesome it is.

RSS problems solved

Like most people who use RSS, I have used Google Reader for years. Reader does not discriminate; it aggregates feeds into a reading list with every update from every feed. You can sort feeds into groups, but that is about it. Reader is very basic RSS management. This can be overwhelming, especially if, like me, you are trying to keep tabs on an entire industry — or several. If I go more than a day without checking Reader, I end up just marking everything as read, and on more than one occasion, that has meant missing something important.

Most RSS readers do exactly the same thing Reader does. There are at least two problems with this that become apparent as the number of feeds you follow grows:

  1. It becomes more and more difficult to keep up with your updates. Which means you stop checking your RSS reader or you start marking things read en masse. Either way, you miss things.

  2. You will probably encounter multiple posts on the same topic — perhaps even identical posts. (The ABA Journal, for example, offers over a dozen feeds, and identical updates will often appear in multiple feeds; of course there is no option to just get all the updates from everything in one feed.) But Google does not apply any automatic sorting to feeds so that you have to dig for all the new posts on, say, the new iWatch everyone is talking about.

Fever solves both of these problems, and a few others.

(There is one other problem with Google Reader, in particular. It seems to be one of Google’s lowest-priority projects, always just hanging on by a thread. I fully expect it to get canceled one of these days, and I want to have something else available, instead.)

Kindling, Sparks, and Hot topics

Fever uses heat as its metaphor, and it is an effective one. Your feeds are either kindling or sparks.

Kindling are the feeds you are most interested in reading in their entirety. Industry publications, for example

Sparks are where you put feeds that are more hit-or-miss or especially high-volume. I have full feeds for BuzzFeed and Huffington Post in my Sparks, for example. I don’t want to read everything coming out of those firehoses, but they will amplify posts in my Kindling or in other Sparks that are worth checking out if they make it into my Hot topics.

Here is an example of how Sparks work. I follow Philly Law Blog, where Jordan Rushie recently posted pleadings from some lawsuits, without context. I noted them, but I had no idea what they were about. Fortunately, Fever noticed that Ars Technica also wrote about the lawsuits, and explained what they were all about. Fever noticed and grouped the posts into a Hot topic post, which gave me the context.

Or take the White House’s statement on cellphone unlocking. Fever noticed four of the blogs I follow mentioning it, which bumped it to the top of my Hot topic list and gave me a variety of perspectives, from the technical background to a consumer advocate’s perspective to the statement itself. If I were still using Google Reader, I would have had to dig around for those links, two of which would not have even been among my feeds.

Check your feeds less often

Another benefit of Fever’s approach is that you do not need to check in with Fever as often as you might check in with Google Reader. Once a day is more than enough. Check your Hot topics to see if anything big is happening, check your Kindling to see what’s happening on the feeds you care about most, and check out for another 24 hours or so. It works just as well if you go away for the weekend — or the week. Come back, set your Hot topic range to the time period you were gone, and see what you missed.

In fact, if Fever has a fault, it is that refreshing your feeds is very slow by comparison to Google Reader. I assume that’s because Google’s massive infrastructure is constantly updating a caching feeds, while Fever has to go and fetch each one. In the end, it doesn’t really matter, though. Fever is not meant to deliver instant results. It is meant to catch you up on what you might have missed in the last few hours, days, or weeks. And it is really good at that.

To get a better idea of how Fever works, check out the demo.

Take Fever with you

Fever includes a great-looking mobile UI. From your iPhone, all you have to do is visit the app, then add it to your home screen. This makes it a “webclip,” a web app running in Safari without the chrome.

If you would rather have an app, Fever works fairly well with Reeder, and Sunstroke is specifically built for Fever.

For what it’s worth, I prefer the web app.

Summary

Fever

Reviewed by Sam Glover on March 4th, 2013.

Summary: If you are looking for a way to keep up with all the websites you want to read without actually reading everything on them, check out Fever. I’ve all but forgotten Google Reader already.

Overall score: 5 (out of 5)

Legal Technology

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  • http://ps-law.com/ Nancy Heller

    What if you don’t have access to a server or want to fuss at that level? I agree that Google Reader is a clusterf*** of data. I loved the RSS readers in the Flock and Rockmelt browsers (built on Chromium and now unsupported and not safe to use). Isn’t there another browser or plug in that lets you organize and prioritize RSS feeds for easy perusal without all the hassle?

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      I don’t think there is anything else like Fever. For what it’s worth, once it is installed, you don’t have to mess around with it. It kind of takes care of itself, including software updates.

      You could try one of the “discovery” readers like Zite, instead. They take your Google feeds, mash them up with your social media profiles, and try to figure out what you like. It’s not the same as curating your own feed and providing your own “Sparks” to refine what flares up into your Hot topics, but it can be a very cool way to find good stuff to read.

  • http://ps-law.com/ Nancy Heller

    Zite is only available on the iPad, iPhone, HP TouchPad and Android phones. Any other suggestions for PC platform?

  • http://www.avvoblog.com Sachin Bhatia

    Well, you called it. No more Google Reader after July 1 – http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2013/03/a-second-spring-of-cleaning.html

    I guess it’s time to switch to Fever. Thanks for the tip, Sam.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      Sucks to be right. I’m really liking Fever, but I’m not aware of any other good alternatives.

  • http://thedroidlawyer.com Jeff Taylor

    Sam, I only disagree with one comment in the post: “if installing to a server makes you queasy, Fever isn’t for you.” As you know, I was queasy, even as an experienced techie, but I jumped anyway. Fever is literally a 3-5 minute setup (took me longer to process my credit card).

    Even if you’re queasy, getting someone else to setup the service is easy enough. Then, there’s zero maintenance later. The queasy reader could still use the Fever service.

    Nobody should hesitate getting Fever. Or almost nobody.