A week with Taptu: A Google Reader junkie's journey

Another week, another Google Reader alternative. Will Taptu live up to the promise? (Hint: no).

Try as we might to pretend it won't happen, Google Reader will die on July 1 when Sergey Brin personally rips out the beloved Web app's still-beating heart, Temple of Doom style, and records the gruesome act on Google Glass for a YouTube livecast.

Guess it's time to start seriously trying to find an alternative.

Previously, I've attempted to aid the suffering Reader community by taking extended test drives with the RSS chomping servicesA Feedly and Pulse. Of those two, Feedly is clearly the better option. Now I'll delve into Taptu, the service that invites you to "DJ Your News."

Organized chaos

As its tagline suggests, Taptu allows users to mix and match their RSS feeds via a DJ button located at the top right of each content "stream" (basically a subfolder of one or more feeds). Once in this DJ mode, users can drag and drop individual feeds into streams, dress the feeds up via an unnecessarily prominent color-switching module, and move the streams around within the main viewing area. The service is big on organization, but that's where its appeal ends.

Taptu offers no options for altering the way the service presents readable content--in an image-centric view that features a few stories at a time. This magazine view is fine sometimes, but ideally the software would offer options to accommodate different types of customers. Deplorably, Taptu lacks a headlines-only (Reader-like) viewing option that would permit easy scrolling through a blog's history. Delving into a site's past is a chore on Taptu--you can go backward in history only five stories at a time, and for each jump you must press the 'Older' button.

This ecosystem may work for light RSS users who follow only a few content sources. But for power users--the kind likely to openly mourn the loss of Reader--these limitations simply won't do.


Like Feedly and Pulse, Taptu allows users to sign in with their soon-to-be-expired Reader accountA easily. Alternatively, if you want to start completely anew, you can sign up via Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. But unlike its two rivals, Taptu makes jumping to your existent Reader content unnecessarily difficult.

To find your old Reader content, you have to click either the 'Add Stream +' button in the left-hand column or the '+StreamStore' button at the top. Both actions prompt the same Stream Store in the right-hand column.

Once inside the Store, you'll see a search box and three tabs filled with individual content feeds that you can drag into the main viewing area. The first tab, 'Featured', lists feeds for Facebook, Lifehacker, Slate, Twitter, and other preselected sites. Here, Taptu's simple drag-and-drop functionality works well. And the ability to easily add feeds from your social circles is a big plus.

The middle tab, 'Topics', offers content suggestions organized by interests, including celebrities, fashion, and lolz. The third tab, 'Reader', hosts your old subfolders, which you can expand to reveal the individual feeds. To begin reading, you must click the plus (+) sign next to each feed, which automatically throws that feed into its own stream in the main content area. Alternatively, you can drag and drop a specific feed into an existing stream.

For some horrible reason, Taptu doesn't automatically transition Reader content into premade streams, as defined by your old subfolders. Instead, you have to laboriously re-create each Reader folder as a Taptu stream by separately dragging each feed over to a stream.

The way the Stream Store is set up leads me to believe that Taptu isn't designed to meet the needs of veteran RSS junkies.

Another drawback: Adding smaller-trafficked blogs seems to be beyond Taptu's ability. For example, when I tried to add my personal site's feed or the personal Tumblrs of my friends, Taptu failed to complete the tasks, returning a message that said, "You've got us stumped."

Hey Mr. DJ, get outta the RSS game

Taptu seems to be positioning itself as the hip alternative RSS news services (also available viaA Android, and via iOS for bothA phones and pads)--and it's not devoid of functionality. The drag-and-drop navigation is kind of fun to use, and may appeal to some light users who want to follow only a few feeds. After an extended test drive, though, I'm not sold: The service doesn't feel even remotely done cooking, and it falls short of Feedly as a Reader alternative. DJing is for massive EDM festivals by the beach, not for news curating.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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