We launched Google Reader in 2005 in an effort to make it easy for people to discover and keep tabs on their favorite websites. While the product has a loyal following, over the years usage has declined. So, on July 1, 2013, we will retire Google Reader. Users and developers interested in RSS alternatives can export their data, including their subscriptions, with Google Takeout over the course of the next four months.
Google Reader is a cloud-based service for aggregating (listing, organizing, updating, and subscribing to) RSS feeds. Every web site that I follow/track/read on a regular basis puts out an RSS feed and I collect them all in one place: Google Reader. I use a client application on the Mac: Reeder, and it’s client cousin on iOS: Reeder for iPhone and iPad to read them all. Because all of my feeds are stored in the cloud on Google Reader I can move back and forth between Reeder on the Mac and Reeder on the iPad and everything is automatically in sync. It’s an incredibly slick and useful way to get through a lot of information.
What do I track? All kinds of major news feeds, dozens of blogs, all of my Flickr activity, photoblogs, all kinds of business and investment sites, a ton of Apple-related sites, political blogs, and a few humor and “cute” related sites. Every time any of these sites posts something new, it shows up automatically in Reeder and I see it. Once I’ve looked at it it’s “read” and won’t show up as new again. Simple. The alternative is to visit that particular site and try to remember what’s new and what’s not. RSS is one of the single most important technologies around yet it’s poorly understood and underused and this is terribly frustrating for me because I’m afraid RSS will be marginalized by the likes of Twitter and now Google pulling the plug on Reader.
I realize that some people reading this have no clue what RSS is or why anyone would care about it and that’s fine. But, just to be clear, my RSS feeds are the center of my connected life and unlike some, Twitter will never replace RSS for me. Frankly, even though Twitter has become ubiquitous (even the stodgy PBS NewsHour lists Twitter handles under people’s names) I don’t find it all that useful and have considered dumping it recently as it takes time to deal with and I’d rather read a real headline in my RSS reader than a 140 character quickly-posted-link in Twitter.
A little over a year ago I posted a long piece Ramblings on Twitter, Tweet Marker, RSS, and the cloud that was prompted by my discovery of a cloud service called Tweet Marker that enables synchronization of a Twitter feed across multiple devices. As I said in that post, I have no idea how so many people can track so many Twitter feeds on multiple devices without such a service. I track less than 100 feeds but some folks are tracking thousands. You get caught up on your computer, then move over to your iPhone and have to start all over again. Tweet Marker, by synchronizing the two, will update the iPhone to reflect where you left off on the computer. I’m still not a great fan of Twitter but with Tweet Marker it’s much more useful across multiple devices and clients.
No doubt developers are scrambling because while the demise of Google Reader is a bummer, it’s also an opportunity for smaller developers to get into the cloud hosting game. I’m sure many alternatives to Google Reader will spring up and we’ll get through this transition without too many bumps but it’s important to make note of the fact that a lot of people make daily use of the Google Reader service.
I’ve been reading various pieces about this all morning and so far the best one is this post by Justin Blanton: Quick thoughts on the death of Google Reader.