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.

7 thoughts on “RIP Google Reader

  1. Gary

    This is another bummer from Google. It’s dumped a number of it’s services over the years, as Allan Hoffman notes in his column today: http://bit.ly/ZCpFvi and in Google’s blog today it announced it’s killing off the photo app Snapseed Desktop for the Mac and Windows. I didn’t use Snapseed Desktop, but I note that in the post Google said it started “spring cleaning” in 2011 and has dropped 70 features or services since then. When you find an alternative to Google Reader, be sure to share it with us, Richard. Like you, I depend on my RSS feeds to keep up with a variety of news, photography, and blog sources everyday.

  2. Richard Post author

    Gary: The more I think about this the more I agree with Marco Arment: it’s probably a good thing that Google is doing this as it will push independent and no doubt less stuffy, more up to date development. I hope so anyway. I’d hate to see RSS go the way of the dodo.

  3. Andrew

    Richard, Like you I depend on RSS feeds daily and I also use Reeder (which is surely scrambling right now). They are how I stay in touch with the world of photography. I simply cannot imagine a world without it (even though a few years ago we did ; ) ). One commentator said the death of RSS is good because we have “many rivers of constant information elsewhere…” IOW Twitter. I don’t know about you, but I don’t sit at my computer all day and monitor Twitter feeds – I have a job and a life. RSS allows me to check in on my own time.

    But as others have said, you get what you pay for, and in this case it was free and therefore nothing invested. I’m happy to pay for an RSS service. This has me thinking Gmail may someday disappear too. The only reliable option is to roll your own email address, RSS reader, etc… but most of us are not developers. I think some of the Internet elite is out of touch with the general population and their ability to manage technical things.

    I’m not into Twitter or Facebook, so I guess if RSS dies I’ll drop out. Maybe not so bad… the important things in life are not online anyway.

  4. Richard Post author

    Andrew: I don’t think we’re going to have to roll our own, this is going to turn into an opportunity for someone or many ones.

    I too am not on Facebook and I’m teetering on dumping Twitter. RSS and a decent feed reader are exactly the right fit for me and the way I like to organize the things I check often.

    I think, in the end, this may be a good thing: as an Apple user I’d like to take some of the wind out of Google’s sails now and then… Of course, then there’s my gmail account. I doubt they’ll dump gmail; it’s linked to advertising (even if many of us use client apps to read it) and that’s google’s life blood. Still, I do have a .me address but frankly, Apple’s mail servers are slow as molasses by comparison to Google’s.

    Sigh. Change in the fast lane… ;)

  5. Gary

    I’ve moved my feeds over to Feedly, which was super easy, and at first glance, looks very promising.

  6. Gary

    Yes, and I’m enjoying having Feedly on my Mac, iPhone, and iPad. So far so good. I takes some getting used to but the UI is pretty good.

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