Most people agree that Bloglines pretty much sucks. It’s ugly, it’s slow, it lacks social features, it does not innovate, even the generated source code is as aweful as you can get it. Still most people use it and continue to use it despite many new feed readers entering the scene. Why is that?

Frank Gruber recently compiled an overview of web based feed readers with a detailed feature comparison chart at TechCrunch, and on TalkCrunch there is an interesting follow up podcast. The comments demonstrate that there is a heated debate on which reader is the best, but the simple answer to this question is: there is no answer, it all depends on your feed reading habits and feed reading needs. You have to figure it out for yourself, but no advanced feature set, no state of the art user experience, no web 2.0 goodness and no lightspeed ajaxian item retrieval will make it your best choice as long as your feed reading basics are not satisfied.

In a simplified setup I’ve got two feed processing modes:

  • reading blogs
    I’m subscribed to about 100 blogs and all I want to to is do read them right now and save entries if they seem important to me, or mark them for later review.
  • scanning news
    and I’m subscribed to another about 100 sources (news headlines, linklogs, and so on) and all I want to do is to go there and read and/or bookmark an article, or mark them for later review.

Only two things are really important to me: I want to get out of my feed reader as soon as possible (and with as few clicks as possible), and I want to be able to come back later to those items I didn’t deal with right now (and without having to work my way through the stuff already read again).

The speed for loading an item is a crucial issue, of course, but this speed actually needs to be multiplied by the number of times you have to click to have all unread items displayed. Google Reader might fetch one item lightening fast, but you need to click a few hundred times to see them all. The ability to group related feeds and access all new entries with one click is crucial here, but many readers don’t provide this view.

Other features I really don’t care about (but you might) within my feed reader are ratings, rankings, votings, or recommendations. I’m all social and Web 2.0, but as far as the feeds I’ve subscribed to are concerned: I’ve made up my mind about them anyway, these are all feeds I really want to read, I don’t need suggestions from my feed reader, there are better tools I use for that. (I would love to see these kind of features in my reader of choice, of course, but only after the reading basics are streamlined.)

So for me and my humble needs Bloglines still provides the best overall package, but I can’t recommend it, it really depends on you. One minor feature of any of the other readers might be the selling point for you (as long as the other features are just good enough.) And one minor annoyance might be a complete dealbreaker, even if this reader rocks in all other criterions.