RIP Google Reader

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.

What is RSS?

Nerding out on a rainy Sunday

RSS = Really Simple Syndication. Right… that doesn’t help much so this article will go into a bit more detail about what RSS is and why it might be useful to you.

To most people, a web browser is the internet. Email through Outlook and the web through IE. What else might there be? Well, there has been more for years, as long as there’s been an internet but most of the “side technologies” have not made it into the mainstream and have been used mostly by serious computer users and hackers (in the best sense of that word).

But, in the same way that iPods are changing what it means to carry a lot of music around and cell phones can do text messaging and web surfing, categories are changing and we ought not be stuck in only the paradigms that are familiar.

I started getting an inkling of this when I first installed the beta of OS X and saw the then crude but effective Sherlock. Sherlock reads database information from various sources out on the internet and displays that information in its window: stock quotes, phone numbers, maps, dictionary definitions. Yet, Sherlock is just a “reader,” it doesn’t have any dictionary definitions or stock information in it: it reads that information from sources out on the internet and it formats the information in a way that’s easier to look at than most web sites. So, on the web or the same data through Sherlock? No brainer. Sherlock wins every time.

What this meant to me was a paradigm shift: the information at was separable from the web site and could be subscribed to by applications like Sherlock. Wow, that was a huge revelation to me at the time.

If you get what I just said about Sherlock reading, then RSS will not be a hard concept to swallow. An RSS reader (sometimes called “newsreader” is simply an application for aggregating (collecting), displaying, and reading feeds. Just as Sherlock can display the content from’s dictionary database, an RSS reader can display the feeds from any web site with a public RSS feed.
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