Skimr: A Simple Browser Based RSS Feed Reader

Skimr, a simple and beautiful alternative to Google Reader

Skimr is a browser based RSS feed reader that launched two weeks before Google announced the end of Google Reader.

Skimr was developed by three guys in Prague who used Google Reader, but thought the interface was too complicated. They decided to build something simpler designed around what they wanted in a feeder. It was such a pleasure to use, they decided to share it with the world.

The reader shows headlines and excerpts. Clicking a headline takes you to an article’s source. One of the nice features is a toggle switch that lets you see photos or not. With photos turned on, it’s like scrolling through an Instagram feed.

You can add feeds to Skimr from the its Directory, import an OPML file, or add a website URL or RSS feed.

UPDATE: Website owners can share a feed as it appears on Skimr. It’s a really nice way to look at a feed. Here’s an example of my feed from Bacon.TV:

Since it’s browser based, you can give Skimr a test drive without having to download anything, and without signing up. Signing up is free and it gives you the ability to add and edit feeds.

The team knew that Google Reader would eventually shut down, but didn’t know when. The day after the Google announcement they went from a few feeds added an hour to hundreds of feeds a minute.

Google Reader Alternative Skimr

We asked Petr Kral a few questions about Skimr and its sudden growth:

Social News Daily: Skimr was launched two weeks before Google announced they were killing Google Reader. Is that announcement helping your launch?

Petr Kral: Yes, Google’s announcement is helping us a lot.

There are many people all around the World wondering what product to use instead of Google Reader. There are many alternatives, but they have been around for a while. Some people switched to them, some people didn’t. But now, when the need for something else is urgent and a new solution comes at the same time, it’s quite natural for people to give it a try. And that’s what makes this whole timing so unbelievable. We launched at the best possible time. I think this happens once in a lifetime.

SND: Skimr was started as a hobby, and now you’re having to scale faster than you expected. Are you going to be able to keep up with all the sudden growth?

Kral: This is a great question. Each internet project starts with a basic dilemma – should we build a proper solution that can handle many users (takes longer) or should we just quickly hack it and see if people actually want a product like this? Well, in this case, we went with the simple way. We wanted to have something out very soon. If we chose a more conservative way of building Skimr, we would have completely missed this unique opportunity created by Google’s decision to retire their Reader product. Therefore, it is a big challenge for us now to quickly move to a proper solution. We have the experience to do it and we certainly will.

Skimr RSS Reader photo toggleSND: Skimr is beautifully designed, and it looks great in my Web browser, but it seems like you guys optimized the design for a perfect mobile experience. In particular, when I toggled the photos, it seemed so much like Instagram that I wanted to see it on my phone. How much of a consideration was mobile in the design of Skimr?

Kral: Actually, Skimr started as a pure desktop solution. I asked my friend if he could take Techmeme’s RSS and build a simple feed I could access in my browser. He did that and it immediately struck me. This was a much better solution than traditional RSS readers. Much simpler and less stressful. There were no unread article counts, etc. I showed this to a few people and they all told me they liked it but they wanted to add their own feeds; Skimr was born. And since we are used to building consumer web apps using responsive design, Skimr just naturally works on mobiles and tablets.

SND: One of the reasons people give for leaving RSS readers behind is that they prefer how social media causes important news to bubble up and stand out. Do you have ideas or plans to develop a way to highlight popular stories or to integrate social sharing into Skimr?

Kral: I think the general public never really understood RSS. It’s a bit geeky. But the concept is good – you have a few websites you visit every day, so use a reader to see what’s new from one place instead of visiting each site individually. What we are trying to do is to focus on the user experience and leave the whole RSS thing in the background. That is why we have a directory of popular websites. People can add these without actually knowing the content is fetched using RSS. Also, we use the RSS to create headlines and short snippets. Clicking on these takes people to the original websites. We think this is more fair. Traditional RSS readers often pull in the whole articles so the corresponding websites loose traffic. Or they trim their articles which is not very good from the users’ perspective.

Regarding social sharing, we will implement it only if we find a way that will feel natural within the Skimr user interface. We have a few ideas, so stay tuned.

Highlighting popular stories is something I do not believe in too much. I think it’s better for people to decide themselves what they want to read instead of some sort of an algorithm chasing them wherever they go so that it can recommend content. Curation is a different story and there are a few ideas we would like to try coming forward.

SND (but really just Neal: Next time I’m in Prague lets have a beer!

Kral: Absolutely!

You can give Skimr a try a

Neal Campbell

Neal Campbell is a writer and artist with a Master’s Degree in Psychology, which may or may not explain why he is a writer and artist. In 2005, he launched and produced GeekBrief.TV, one of the first and most successful video podcasts. Neal writes about technology, pop culture, science, TV, the Internet, and sometimes bacon. He lives on the Internet, and loves his Chihuahua, Zoe, who hasn’t left his lap in eight years.


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