Published in the November 2006 Issue (#10) Podcast User Magazine (Download)

I’ve spoken a lot about the perfect podcast aggregator, or podcatcher as they are more affectionately known. Always at the top of my wish list is the ability to have access to my subscriptions from anywhere, so I can see what’s new and knock them off the list as they are listened to. There are many PC, Mac and Pocket PC-based podcatchers, but where they all have their stand-out features, none of them has this ability. That was until Google Reader.

Google Reader has been around for a while. It originally started out and is probably better know as an RSS aggregator, giving the ability to keep up to date with the latest news on the Internet. Recently, however, they’ve added the ability to subscribe and listen to podcasts, all from within the browser. This new ability was on the cards, as you’ve been able to listen to MP3s received as attachments in your Gmail account, using a little Flash player that was automatically inserted in the email with the attachment. It was a logical extension to add this to Google Reader, and it’s something that changes the whole nature of this aggregator.

The first thing I did with Google Reader was to import my existing Juice subscriptions. This was relatively easy, as Juice allowed me to export my subscriptions in the de facto OPML format. Google Reader is also able to handle OPML files, so after uploading my subscriptions to Google Reader, within a short time, my subscriptions were all accessible in front of me. The final step I had to do was re-categorize my subscriptions. I have a variety of podcasts, vidcasts and RSS feeds, and it’s nice to be able to view each of the groups at the touch of a button.

One of the only bug-bears about using a web based aggregator is that you have to always have the browser open. That in itself isn’t a huge pain, but it begins to get a little tricky when you have many Gmail accounts and you want to check your email on them. It’s easy to check the other accounts, but if you want to continue sifting through your podcasts, you have to ensure you log back into the account you use for your podcasts. I mainly use Firefox as my browser, so I circumvent these problems by using Internet Explorer for Google Reader and Firefox for everything else. You might also want to investigate an application called Netjaxer Desktop, which not only allows you to create shortcuts to websites but also allows you to minimize the launched website to your system tray. I’ve been using this in conjunction with Google Reader for a few weeks, and it’s been working very nicely for me.

I’ve managed to trim back my podcast subscriptions of late, to around 60, and have so far had problems with only a couple using Google Reader. For example, whilst one side of the screen showed me I had podcasts not yet listened to, when I clicked a show with unread items, it showed all podcasts for that show as read. No big deal, as you can see all read podcasts, and the unread items are usually going to be at the top of the list. This can, however, be a pain, but it’s something I’m prepared to accept, given the benefits Google Reader gives me. A couple of the other problems has been with the Dr Karl podcast, which for some strange reason (probably something to do with the audio compression) plays at nearly double speed. I’ve also had some problems with the Vobes show, seemingly ending in mid show. I haven’t had the time to tell whether this was just Richard having a problem with the show he’d uploaded, or whether Google Reader had a problem determining the show length. Of all my podcasts only two of them are in Apple’s MP4 format, so consequently they will not play in Google Reader. It will be interesting to see if Google manages to find a solution to this.

In conclusion, I have to say Google Reader has impressed the pants off me. I’ve been using it for a few weeks, and apart from the odd glitch, it’s been a joy to use. In fact I’ve been so impressed, I no longer use Juice or Winpodder. I have access to my podcasts no matter where I am, on no matter what operating system I’m using at that time. The only thing that would be nice to have is some kind of software that allows me to synchronize to my Pocket PC so that I could be able to listen to selected podcasts and read news offline. Then, when I next synchronize, it updates the status of my podcasts and news. That’s not much to ask? Is it?

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