Friday, March 15, 2013

Goodbye Google Reader, it's been real

By now, you've probably seen the announcement that Google Reader is being retired effective July 1st, 2013. Over the last 7 or 8 years, it's by far been my most used web tool, and increasingly was the back-end for a couple of apps on iOS both on my iPhone and iPad.

Quite a few people dismissed Google reader a while ago, and were not phased by this announcement (even saw a few "People still use Google Reader?" around the internet). Many preferring to load up Twitter or some other source with content to page through and draw links from, allowing the good stuff to bubble up to the surface. I've never gotten into this method of consumption - I only follow 250 accounts on Twitter at any given time and mostly individuals, not many companies, or RSS type feeds from blogs. I find that Twitter has sub-par tools for managing too much noise, and isn't really interested in developing them at all.

I still prefer subscribing to a lot of things, organizing and ordering them in a way that allows me to skip the heavy traffic sites when I don't have time while still seeing all content from my friends and other lower frequency blogs that matter to me. Reader was always really good for this once you had it optimally set up.

So to say that Google Reader shutting down was a bit of a fork in the cog of my information consumption is an understatement.

No Surprises
It also wasn't (or shouldn't have been) that big of a surprise to the loyal users of the service. Back in 2011, Google removed all the social features built into Reader (and used by a small but hardcore base of people) and forced everyone to share with Google+ as the main sharing mechanism. I'd say 10 out of the 40 or so people I interacted with on the old Reader social platform moved over to G+, the rest stopped using it at that time. People were mad. Google Reader was a great product back then and it was consistently iterative. Now a clunky redesign and a complete neutering of its features didn't bode well for the service.

But some of us continued to use it. I explored alternatives - NewsBlur looked promising but not many people went there and I was after a better social experience. It also cost money, and Google Reader didn't have any implicit costs to use. It's hard to compete with that anywhere, especially when the product is so dominant. There were not many other options that allowed you to use a web interface which doubled as a back end to other applications. So with Google Reader I continued despite the annoyances.

I got into Google+ sharing as much as could be (and for those of my non-reader friends that follow me there, I often have them tell me that I'm the only one that posts anything in their feed.) and I'm still a moderately heavy user of the service. At the same time this was going on, a contingent of people I used to follow on Friendfeed made their way over to G+ and started using it as a replacement or compliment. Between these two crowds, I have a small but active group that I follow there.

What do we do now?
So what to do in a post Google Reader world? There are several competitors being built from the ground up. They all got slammed the other day in the wake of the announcement. Newsblur is still trying to get back on its feet, and The Old Reader and Feedly are spotty as they get hit with several times their normal load. Several other services have been announced including a promising one from iOS developer David Smith called Feed Wrangler, and there will probably be a few others that come into this space now that they barrier to entry has been removed.

Personally, I took the plunge with Fever, a self hosted solution that is pretty solid. More on that in a future post.