How Lightread converted a reluctant RSS reader

Lightread’s good looks make using Google Reader great.

Although I do nearly all of my news reading online, I’ve never been a big fan of Google Reader.

I developed a habit long ago for simply bookmarking my favorite sites and visiting them when I had the urge to check in. For regular news I use Google News and have lately mixed into that routine Pulse Reader. Google reader seemed like a good way to organize all my favorite sites, but I was never crazy about the layout or the look. And I guess I’ve never been terribly well organized.

Then earlier this month, a desktop RSS reading application called Lightread won the Ubuntu App Showdown. I was skeptical. Why would anyone want a desktop client for Google Reader? How could it be a better experience than using Google Reader on the web? Or better than another popular application like Feedly, which is available on Android, iOS and as a Web app? I decided to give the app a spin, expecting it to be nice looking but not terribly useful to me.

Turns out I was wrong. Lightread’s not only really nice to look at, it made using Google Reader very useful and easy to manage. It quickly earned a locked spot on my launcher and is now one of the first apps I launch every morning, and I return to it several times a day.

What makes it stand out?

To begin, it works really well. It syncs nearly instantaneously with your Google Reader and quickly updates your subscriptions in a left-hand sidebar. Like the web interface, each subscription name is followed by a number representing your unread items. Any changes you make to Google Reader – folders created and subscriptions added – are quickly represented every time you refresh Lightread. You can also add feed subscriptions right in the app itself. Toggling between individual feeds, folders and all items is easy and intuitive.

After that, the interface design begins to really beat the standard Google Reader experience on the web. A center left column – and this is probably the handiest part of Lightread – contains a scrollable list of thumbnail descriptions for individual posts. It’s instantly sortable by feed and folder, read or unread. Instead of flipping through larger clips of stories, you get what is essentially an overview that’s very easy to sort through. Two handy buttons at the bottom of this column let you batch mark your selection as read or search. This makes finding what you want to read and handling those piles of unread stories really easy to manage.

The right column holds the actual stories. Click on the headline and you’ll get the original page on your default browser. Below each post are a number of buttons that let you toggle each post as read/unread, star and even a share on Instapaper or Pocket for reading later. One button even allows you to format the text for Instapaper.

Finally, Lightread has a number of handy settings that allow you to customize the way it syncs with Google Reader. You can set how often it syncs and how long it keeps read and unread posts. The settings also allow you to control the notifications, which are built right into the Unity launcher and desktop notifications – every time you sync, a notification will let you know how many unread items you have in Lightread. And Lightread’s launcher icon contains a little notifier with the same info as long as it’s open. The settings are accessed through a little gear icon on the bottom right corner or through the menu.

A great app

Overall, Lightread is a really nice way to organize and control Google Reader in a way that’s built right into the Unity desktop. In fact I like the interface so much, I’d really like to have something similar for Android tablets. It would be great on the Nexus 7.

Perhaps if people already have well developed routine for Google reader, it won’t seem so revolutionary. But if like me, you like the idea but it just hasn’t clicked, give it a try. It’s not just an excellent RSS reader, it’s an excellent desktop application. It made me a convert.

Lightread is available in the Ubuntu Software Center now.

How Lightread converted a reluctant RSS reader
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  • Ankur

    I have the same habit of bookmarking and viewing sites on browser. However, your review has prompted me to try this rss reader.

  • Philip Jones

    Okay, you’ve sold me … on trying it, at least. I’m a pretty dedicated Google Reader user, though, so you’d better be right.

  • Philip Jones

    Dammit, Pete; you’re absolutely right. It’s esthetically pleasing (okay, gorgeous), and I really like the way it works. I’ll give it as week’s trial. Thanks for the tip.

    • Pete Mazzaccaro

      It’s that kind of app… It seems so simple but you use it and you can’t believe you’ve used a computer without it.

  • Philip Jones

    Well, I tried it and liked it, and then for some reason it stopped working. The “refresh” whirligig whirls and whirls but never finishes. I’ve tried un- and re-installing it to no avail. Too bad, because I really did like it.

    • Pete Mazzaccaro


      The same happened to me…. It seems to get hung up with too much content saved. If you go into settings you can set it to only sync a week or two of stories and auto delete the rest. I set that up, logged out and logged back in. Has worked ever since.