Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Google Reader Apocalypse: First Reactions

Last night, Google announced they are going to "retire" the beloved Google Reader, to narrow their focus to products like fucking goggles and self-driving cars.

A feelings collage of my initial reactions:

 From some corners of the internet, there was a collective shrug. "What's Google Reader?" To those people, I ask:


No, seriously. How do you read information on the web? Do you just visit your favorite sites again and again, clicking on the "refresh" button waiting for new content to magically appear? Do you go through your bookmarks on some kind of regular rotation, hoping you catch what your favorite author or blogger has written? What about on your mobile device? How do you keep up to date with info on those? Do you actually visit websites on those tiny screens and pinch and scroll to read a post?

I just can't fathom that.

To understand how awful this development is, I should probably share exactly how I use RSS feeds and Reader. Google Reader is my home base.

I subscribe to things I want to read. As noted above, I have 104 subscriptions that I read on a daily basis. Sometimes, it's to a entire site with a narrow focus (like something on UGA football). Other times, it's to a particular author on a site where I don't want the rest of the content on that site (like Alan Sepinwall at HitFix). Some feeds publish 30+ items a day. Some publish once a week. Regardless of the schedule, when they do publish something, it shows up in Reader. 

Then I have choices. I can read it then, inline inside Reader. I can click it and make the post expand to a full tab on the author's site. I can mark it read. I can "star" it and save it for later. It's great, and I feel completely in control of my news feed.

I keep a tab for Reader open and locked in my browser 24/7.  I'm constantly aware of it, and that's my primary method of consuming news and content.

I also group feeds in folders. There are folders for "General Sports" and "Dawg Sports." There is a catch-all "Entertainment" folder, and one for my preferred, top shelf TV writers. There's one for "Tech & Toys" and one for "Marketing." And so on. All organized to suit my individual tastes, and coming to me without my having to go click around and find it.

Also, the primary collection of all these feeds (now housed and operated by Google) not only comes into Reader, it also feeds third party apps, such as those I use on my iDevices. Personally, I prefer Reeder. Different people use different apps, but the scary thing is, most are all fed by the Google monster, which is going away in a few short months.

I was happy to see "Google Reader" trending on twitter last night along with widespread web outrage over the company's decision to sunset one of their very useful and utilitarian products. (Yes, we all like GMail and search and maps -- but who the hell uses their social network?)

Look, this is Day One of the death march towards July 1. So my complete panic and freakout may be premature. Google may change their mind. Someone may come up with a seamless way to transition. Someone may create a tool that functions exactly like Reader. Surely folks are ready to step into the void.

Last night, I investigated several alternatives. Everyone's needs are different, but mine are basically:

  • Keep all my feeds flowing, without interruption and with minimum hassle, now and beyond July 1.
  • Provide the ability to keep my folders/groups of feeds.
  • Give me the chance to easily "mark as read" in a variety of ways: an individual item, all the items in a folder/group, or even all the items that are current in all my folders/groups.
  • The ability to "star" or "save for later" an item.
  • The ability to easily manage feeds (delete them, put them in folders, etc.).
  • The ability to easily add a new feed when I'm on an interesting new page or blog.
  • The ability of all my feeds to easily flow into whatever app I'm using on my iPhone and iPad, and synchronize back (reads, stars, etc.) so that I can seamlessly pick up where I left off when I pick up a new device.
  • Have different reading modes: seeing only headlines so you can skim, or being able to expand with full content and graphics.
  • And hopefully, be visually interesting.

First, a quick reaction from IOS app Reeder:

So that's cool.

I also investigated a bunch of other options. Lifehacker published a list of alternatives. So did a variety of other publications. I imagine as the crisis continues (seriously, surely this deserves more attention than all this Pope nonsense), we'll get a slew of pieces on just what those of us with the ReaderFever should do next.

I did pick up one app to beta test alongside my current Reader/Reeder set up: Feedly. The primary reason I picked this one, is that it promises a smooth and seamless transition of all your current feeds to their service: now and when Reader goes dark. For more on that, see this post:
Google announced today that they will be shutting down Google Reader. This is something we have been expecting for some time: We have been working on a project called Normandy which is a feedly clone of the Google Reader API – running on Google App Engine. When Google Reader shuts down, feedly will seamlessly transition to the Normandy back end. So if you are a Google Reader user and using feedly, you are covered: the transition will be seamless.
The web version installs an add-on to your browser (I use Firefox. There's one for Chrome, too). It takes you to a page with all your stuff. Visually, it's quite different at first, and will take some getting used to. Same for the IOS app (which is free, and for both iPad and iPhone). There are options and settings which allow for customization, but I'm still exploring those. It's very clean and pretty:

What I most appreciated is that they seem eager to welcome new users, and make things as easy as possible. (Also important -- if you currently use Google Reader, the addition of your account to Feedly couldn't be any simpler, and they assure us that via their cloning of the Reader API, we won't even notice an interruption in service once Reader goes dark). They've also published a handy guide for new users (though eventually I'll want a more detailed and comprehensive "how to"):

Tips for Google Reader users migrating to feedly

Welcome to all the new Google Reader users migrating to feedly. Here are some tips on how to adapt to the feedly desktop interface.
So for the next few weeks, I'm going to run both Reader and Feedly simultaneously to see how they work, and see if I can orient myself to a whole new world. Thus far, I'm pretty impressed with Feedly, and we'll see how they react to a flood of new users coming their way with very specific needs and wants. And I'm sure new RSS Champions will step into the void.

So what about y'all? Is Reader as much a part of your daily life as it is mine? Did you treat yesterday's news like the coming Apocalypse? Have you already experimented with some of the alternatives? Can we all take a deep breath and get through this together?

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