Linux

Losing your Google Reader? Try Tiny Tiny RSS instead

Marco Fioretti recommends a free software RSS reader that won't leave you in the lurch.

Google Reader will close shop soon, apparently leaving millions of users in despair. Or so they say, at least.

In my opinion, instead, the termination of Google Reader is wonderful news. I've already explained the general reasons for such a statement on my personal website. Here, instead, I'll show you one of the practical solutions: Free Software that may not be just as complete and polished as Google Reader, but offers a very similar service, in a way that will never leave you alone as Reader is about to do. This week, I'll cover its basic installation, and the next one its advanced usage.

Enter Tiny Tiny RSS

Technically speaking, Google Reader is more or less a Web-Based RSS aggregator. One of the easiest and richest Free Software applications of the same category is Tiny Tiny RSS (TT from now on for brevity). I downloaded, installed and configured the copy you see running in the screenshots here in about ten minutes. I did it on my own home desktop, running Fedora 17, just as a quick demo for this post. You can (and should) do the same on any computer permanently accessible from the Internet. In this way your very own RSS aggregator will be accessible from any computer you may use.

Installing TT is not difficult at all. You just need any Web hosting account with PHP support and access to one MySql or PostGreSql database. Sure, if it is the first time that you try something similar you'll likely need more than ten minutes, but between the official installation instructions and the extra explanations below you shouldn't have any problem.

The actual installation

Download from the TT website the ZIP archive with the last stable version of the software (1.7.2 when this post was written), and unpack it in your Web space. You will obtain a folder called Tiny-Tiny-RSS-X.Y.Z. I suggest that you move it to something with a shorter name, as I did:

  #> cd /var/www/html
  #> mkdir tiny
  #> cd tiny
  #> wget TT.zip
  #> unzip TT.zip
  #> mv Tiny-Tiny-RSS-1.7.2 tt
  #> cd tt
  #> chown -R apache:apache cache/ lock/ feed-icons/

I changed the name of the unpacked directory from Tiny-Tiny-RSS-1.7.2 to tt to make its URL shorter. I then changed the owner of some subfolders to be the same as my Web server user. This made those folders writeable, as requested by the official instructions. If you install TT on a hosting account, check with your provider on how to perform the same operations.

The database

Here are the exact steps to create and prepare a Tiny Tiny RSS database with MySql, which is by far the most common option on economic Web hosting accounts. I am showing the command line version, but the same basic operations are available in any MySql administration GUI:

  #> mysqladmin create my_tt
  #> mysql -u root
  mysql> use mysql;
  mysql> CREATE USER 'tt_user'@'localhost' IDENTIFIED BY 'helloRSS';
  mysql> grant all privileges on my_tt.* to 'tt_user'@'localhost';
  mysql> exit;
  #> mysql -u tt_user -p my_tt
  mysql> source schema/ttrss_schema_mysql.sql;
  mysql> exit
(Note: I have edited for clarity the commands above, leaving out all the MySql output!)

In plain English, the first six lines above create a MySql database (my_tt), and a MySql user (tt_user, with "helloRSS" as password) with full access rights to it. The last three lines mean that that user will have to execute, in any MySql client, the commands in the file schema/ttrss_schema_mysql.sql included in the TT distribution. This action will populate the database with all the tables it needs to work.

Basic configuration

Once the database is ready, you must go inside the TT folder, copy the config.php-dist file to another one, called config.php, and edit to suit your needs. For a basic, single-user installation, you should need to change only these six parameters:

  define('DB_TYPE', "mysql");
  define('DB_USER', "tt_user");
  define('DB_NAME', "my_tt");
  define('DB_PASS', "helloRSS");
  define('SELF_URL_PATH', 'http://localhost/tiny/tt/');
  define('PHP_EXECUTABLE', '/bin/php');

The first four ones are self-explaining. SELF_URL_PATH is the root URL of your TT installation. The right value of PHP_EXECUTABLE varies from system to system. If the Web server is a Linux or Unix box, you should type which php at a command prompt to know what to use.

In addition to these steps, please make sure that the mb-strings and xml extentions for PHP are installed and enabled. Otherwise you'll get more or less cryptic errors instead of the login page of Figure A:

Your feeds, finally!

After doing everything explained in the previous paragraphs, you'll be finally ready to point your browser to http://localhost/tiny/tt (or whatever your URL will be, of course) and start configuring the software. Log in as "admin" with password "password" (and change it immediately, of course). You'll find an intuitive environment, accessible from any browser (there is also an Android client!). Tiny Tiny RSS lets you easily define as many feeds as you wish (Figure B):

Organize feeds in categories (Figure C):

TT can display all your feeds in one chronological stream, sort them in several other ways, or limit the view to some categories. To give you an idea of what the result may look like, I shamelessly loaded the feeds of the TechRepublic Open Source blog and those of some of my own blogs, and got the view of Figure D.

Conclusion (for now)

What you've read so far should be enough proof that, with any luck, the dismissal of Google Reader won't be the end of RSS, blogging or Civilization in general, no matter what you've heard online. Next week, we'll look at what else Tiny Tiny RSS can do, which is much more than what you have already seen.

About

Marco Fioretti is a freelance writer and teacher whose work focuses on the impact of open digital technologies on education, ethics, civil rights, and environmental issues.

20 comments
successyiquan
successyiquan

Share a one step way of using Tiny Tiny RSS Good news, simpnews is an Android client for Tiny Tiny RSS, it is more conveniet than offcial version as it has a built-in Tiny Tiny RSS server. you can just download simpnews from Google play, and then use it, it's simple and funny. yes, no need to spend several days for setting up a Tiny Tiny RSS server.

successyiquan
successyiquan

Good news, simpnews is a Android client for Tiny Tiny RSS, it is more conveniet than offcial version as it has a build in Tiny Tiny RSS server. you can just download simpnews from Google play, and the use it, it's simple and funny. yes, no need to spend several days for setting up a Tiny Tiny RSS server.

cgm707
cgm707

Does it work on a mac?

Gisabun
Gisabun

With google's track record of wasting money on R&D on projects that crap out, I guess the Chrome OS will be going soon.

ju23
ju23

The point of using a web app instead of installed software is to be able to access your feeds from any device, anywhere, with synchronization. If you install ttrss on localhost it doesn't have more value than an installed rss feed reader. Yanobs Reader is based on ttrss and is free, you can access it here: http://yanobs.com/reader

conseil
conseil

What's all the fuss about Google Reader. anyway? IMHO there's lots of good RSS readers out there. My favorite...FeedReader3. I use it every day and It's free. www.feedreader.com

nate.irvin
nate.irvin

....but it seems you are advocating setting up your own RSS reader host and running the software yourself. The whole appeal of Google Reader for me was that I could access the site anywhere, on any device. I didn't have to think about it - it was just there, always on. Yes, I could spin up a publicly-accessible AWS virtual machine and install TT there, but that would take more than 2 seconds. I realize that seems petulant and lazy, but again the whole point was that Google Reader was super easy, and in the end that's the point of software and services, to make something you want to do so mind-numbingly easy an untrained chimp could do it. Also, running TT yourself is all well and good for us techies, but what about everyone else? I have many non-technical friends who are being impacted by this and they don't have the skills to setup and use TT. TT is still the best alternative I heard so far - I don't like Feedly - but I doubt it would be a good solution for more than just a few people.

techrepublic
techrepublic

I heard ttrss cannot display UTF8 feed. another less known alternative is Rnews.

mfioretti
mfioretti

of course there isn't more value in using ttrss on the local computer. I have explicitly said in the article and already in another comment that that is just a demo, but that the real way to use ttrss is to put it on some web space, not on one's personal computer!

kylehutson
kylehutson

TT-rss isn't a desktop application like you are thinking. It's a web-based application that you hit with your web browser or mobile app.

kylehutson
kylehutson

In my case, I need to have something where I can sync what I have or haven't read on my phone, tablet, or any of several computers (OS-X or Windows). Yes, I *could* use the web interface of web aggregators on my mobile devices, but those generally don't adapt well (haven't tried feedreader itself). TT does have such an app, including an "offline mode" where it will cache everything, and then sync when it goes back online. I'm familiar with it because a coworker setup TT for our department when we found out Google Reader was going away. And since we host it ourselves, I can assure you that the service won't be discontinued.

dentier
dentier

For non "confidential" feeds you could use an open tt-rss installation like http://tt-rss.dedikewl.fr/. The service can be closed any time like GR but at least you don't need technical skills to use TT-RSS and you get the same features as GR.

mfioretti
mfioretti

Nate, "it seems you are advocating setting up your own RSS reader host and running the software yourself" of course I am! "The whole appeal of Google Reader for me was that I could access the site anywhere, on any device. I didn't have to think about it - it was just there, always on" which is the same thing that TT-RSS does, when you install it on an hosting account (see part 2 next week to know how to share one instance among many users). I have explicitly said in the post that the screenshots come from a locally installed copy only for convenience, and that is not the reason to use this software. "running TT yourself is all well and good for us techies, but what about everyone else? " My real, main point with this and similar articles is exactly to show that this kind of things is a) way easier than it may sound b) shareable (one "techie" can set up a service for as many friends as she wants) and, above all, necessary. Read the post on my own website linked at the beginning of this one to know why. Looking forward to your comments.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I guess it's a question of how badly you need access to your feeds from multiple devices. How many toys would you have to own to make this worthwhile? I admit, all of my feeds are entertainment ones: web comics, radio podcasts, and other stuff that I don't need to know immediately when they're updated. I only access them from home, where a browser plug-in is more than satisfactory. Maybe there's more value here than my limited e-life has exposed me to.

nate.irvin
nate.irvin

I think we understand each other: TT is a self-hosted web-based solution that is easy to setup and can be used privately or shared with multiple users. And I agree there is 'risk' in using any online service, because someday it might go away. But my main point was that Reader was nice because its setup took 2 seconds, and any setup that takes longer than that amount of time is a step backwards, for everyone. I'm not upset about Reader going away - I'm disappointed - but I fully realize that was the risk I took by putting something in 'the cloud'. I'm just saying I would rather move to another push-button service, like Feedly or FeedReader (though I personally don't like either of them), and I think that's the more realistic solution for most people.

kylehutson
kylehutson

I have a few entertainment feeds, and I could certainly go there on a regular basis. The beauty of Google Reader is for cases like this: I have some relatives that blog something somewhere between once every two weeks and once every six months (usually personal, family-type stuff). Going to those sites daily only to find that there's still nothing new gets tedious. However, I don't want to miss it if any of them do update their blogs. Google reader was amazing for this because I would setup my normal "daily reads" and if something from one of these people popped up, I wouldn't miss it.

mfioretti
mfioretti

Nate, I am sure you personally know what I'm about to say, but let me write it anyway for all readers: all this is not only to gain control as in "being sure to use something that will not disappear or start charging more than I could afford". It is also to _avoid_ control, that is not giving any third party a complete list of what news you like to read and which ones you actually read. This is an issue with Google Reader, Feedly etc... that would remain even if those companies could guarantee the service for many decades. Of course, doing by yourself will only be less "convenient" than using ready tools, just as walking is less convenient than being carried by somebody else. When it comes to online services, sometimes it's worth to use ready services, sometimes (much more often than we'd like to admit) it's not. It's crucial that EVERYBODY knows what alternatives are available, in order to make a personal, but really informed decision.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Agreed. If Outback closed, I'd switch to Longhorn before I bought my own grill. It's just not worth it to me to provide my own solution.

mfioretti
mfioretti

Kyle, you wrote "The beauty of Google Reader is for cases like this:...". That is NOT the beauty of Google Reader. That is the beauty of RSS, that is the mechanism the blogs of your relatives use to broadcast updates. That mechanism is still in place and can be used with many other RSS readers, including online ones

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