Let me preface this article by saying I am not a regular user … of anything. I use the web differently than most people. I use my phone differently than most people. I even use my tablet differently than most people.
However, among the regular users of Google Reader? I’m a pretty average user. That’s why I feel qualified to explain why Google Reader closing its doors is a catastrophe and why there are not substitutes currently available that meets the needs of users like me.
What is Google Reader?
At the core, Google Reader is an AGGREGATE tool; that is – it takes many sources of information and brings them together in a single view; while providing a consistent usable interface for consuming that information.
Along with that, Reader maintained status of your consumption of this information. That means if you read an article on your PC, when you look at your phone – the story is no longer presented; you have already read it. This is often called “state” – the state of your information is stored on Google’s servers, creating a seamless experience regardless of device.
The information Google Reader presents is called RSS; Really Simple Syndication – possibly the greatest invention ever; and yet gets practically no love from anyone. If you use Flipbook or Taptu or any number of other “news” programs on your phone or tablet – you’re using RSS every single day.
Understanding RSS Enough To Care
Today’s information on the web tends to fall into a couple of different forms; blogs, articles and posts.
RSS takes all that information and creates easy little envelopes of information. It stacks these envelopes up – and delivers them to an RSS reader where the envelope is opened and the contents displayed.
Aggregates like Google Reader, Flipboard, Currents and hundreds of others accept those feeds and presents the information to you without you ever visiting the sites they come from.
Chances are – you use RSS every single day; whether you know it or not. Therefore, whether you use Google Reader – or anything else – RSS is important to you.
Alright, so now you care about RSS. So what? If Google Reader is gone, there are hundreds of alternatives (right? I just said so) – so why is everyone making Google Reader’s death out to be the loss of a major person of interest?
Because for some of us, information isn’t just to be consumed and thrown away (although I can safely say that 90%+ of it gets disposed of – even before it is fully consumed) – it is to be stored (and subsequently recalled) and more importantly – shared.
Google Reader offers more than just blind consumption. It offered organization, sharing and retention of RSS feeds. Want to read the rest of this article at home on the couch with your tablet? STAR IT and it will be waiting for you under STARRED ITEMS later. Want to share an article on deep sea fishing with Uncle Bob? Hit EMAIL (and include a note so he knows it’s you).
Maybe you are using Google+ and want to share the article with you TECH GEEKS circle. A single click on SHARE and you’re good to go.
Maybe you are researching a paper. Add some TAGS to help you find the article again and categorize it at the same time.
Perhaps you read a cool article this morning at work, but forgot to star it? No problem – Google Reader keeps track of your last read articles.
Google Reader also can be used to catch and listen to podcasts.
The backbone of Reader is synchronization across devices. You might call Google Reader a “cloud-based aggregate”; since everything you do in one version of Reader syncs up to every other version of Reader.
So, if you star, read, tag, etc. articles on your desktop before you run to work – then hit your phone or tablet at lunch time – you don’t have to read through the day’s news you’ve already consumed at home; you pick up where you left off. After spending your lunch hour consuming news, you go home and plop down on the couch with your tablet – again, picking up right where you left off at lunch time.
Being able to “skim” articles (marking them with a star) for later, proper consumption and consideration is a huge feature to me. Being able to then re-share that information with my social network of choice or via email is important, too.
Anything that saves the state of an application across platforms (web, phone, tablet) requires a cloud back end. This back end is what Google Reader has that other apps do not. Those that claim they do? Typically are using Google Reader’s APIs to do it – so when Reader is gone? So is your favorite non-Googler Reader app. Keep that in mind.
A Way of Life
For many people, RSS (via Google Reader or Reader compatible apps on their phones and tablets) is not just the equivalent of “reading the morning paper”. It is integrated into our very existence. In fact, those with their nose to the RSS feeds often know about news, new gadgets, weather alerts and even tragedies LONG before the “regular news services” pick it up.
We are informed. Well informed. We like it that way. Some people have dozens – or even HUNDREDS of feeds they follow every single day. We are empowered to consume; anywhere … anytime – and that is thanks to cloud-based APIs like Google Reader.
Consuming information via RSS helps the many, busy people among us to fill small spaces of time with a useful evolution.
What does it mean?
Google Reader is the biggest nerve center of RSS consumption – used by millions. To lose this is to lose significance of the RSS feed as a whole – not just the apps and programs it drives.
Look – you may not use this app; but I promise you – you ARE benefiting from RSS every single day. Your favorite WordPress blog is probably piping an RSS feed into the home page. Your favorite “news magazine” app is DEFINITELY sucking in RSS to give you what you are consuming every day. There are aggregates of aggregates that use Google Reader’s API
There are DOZENS of Android (and iOS) apps that will die on the vine on July 1st, 2013.
What’s worse? It will drive development AWAY from RSS – pushing other technology in its place; technology NOT designed to provide the same level of service and capabilities.
Can’t we stop this?
Probably not. Google isn’t the type to reverse a decision. It is entirely possible that Google has a replacement in mind; very likely tied to Google+. However, it is quite unlike them not to announce the NEW service in the shadow of closing down the old one. This doesn’t give me warm fuzzy feelings that this decision will be reversed.
What you CAN do is sign the petition at Change.org to convince Google to rescind their decision.
Are there any GOOD alternatives?
Right now? No. At least not from my point of view – and probably not MOST people that use Google Reader religiously.
There are five main advantages to Google Reader.
- Available across any and all platforms with full syncingThis allows you NATIVE access to your feeds – not trying to view them in a web browser on your phone or a “phone app” on your tablet. If you don’t care about this, you have some options like The Old Reader. Feedly is the one most excited about Google Reader closing because they are trying to take over that space. They are making themselves the champions of the new world RSS order; and while they DO cover the platforms with native apps and web views – they are currently dependent on Google Reader’s API to do so. They claim to be duplicating Reader’s API – but the proof is in the pudding. It is a lot of work and a lot of data storage and retrieval. Feedly is currently free, but how on earth can they afford to continue to be if they fulfill their promises?NetVibes might be a solution – but they appear more interested in portals with a “twist of news feeds” – and they have no native apps for phones and tablets. Added to that, sharing is extremely limited.
- Offers clean, minimalistic viewsThis is a big issue. While you have tools like Currents, Flipboard and DOZENS of other “Google Reader” compatible apps – these refuse to offer minimalistic views of your feeds; instead giving you 20% real estate for actual text to read – and 80% goes to a giant picture (which may or may NOT even apply to the story you’re reading). That’s fine if you consume 20 or 30 articles a day. But if you have HUNDREDS of feeds with THOUSANDS of stories – the “magazine layout” pretty much sucks.This is the biggest current issue I have with Feedly (other than what I mentioned above); they refuse to give the clean, minimalistic views on their Android apps.Most apps that offer this (like gReader and many others) are using Google Reader.
It is amazing how few apps and services offer what might be the important feature of Google Reader; heavy textual content with limited media. If you can live with a web-only interface and a severe shortage of features, try The Old Reader.
- Has dozens of apps available for smartphones and tabletsThere are solutions out there like NewsBlur and Taptu. They offer both a web interface as well as mobile apps; but suffer their own issues. Taptu has limited sharing and only offers THEIR layout. NewsBlur is limited to 12 feeds – or costs $2 a month.Unfortunately, most native apps fall into the “magazine layout” category – regardless of where the data comes from and do not offer syncing outside of the soon-to-be-dead Google Reader.
- Offers sharing across existing social networks and email (no special registration)I find that this is a real problem. The replacements for Reader don’t want you sharing with anyone you want. They want you sharing with others on their service … that’s a huge waste of my time. Or they want you to use Facebook, Twitter and email only.At least with the Android apps, sharing is controlled by the platform.
Feedly goes so far as to REQUIRE an extension on your browser to use it, and they have a very limited outlet for sharing. NewsBlur only shares with itself, not “your people”.
I couldn’t find a single one that would share directly to Google+.
- Aggregates YOUR news feeds; not curations by someone elseThere is a place for curated aggregators. I use them as my “back up news source”; when I want to browse by TOPIC – not by specific sources. News360 is like this. If they aren’t letting you put in your RSS feeds, then they aren’t going to be suitable replacements. Some, like Tapatu are much more designed for this sort of experience.
But wait … what about hosting your OWN solution? Yeah, that’s actually a possibility. But you’ll need server space, database and some free time and knowledge. This is how I am personally leaning.
There is no Good Solution
There are issues with every single other solution out there. That may change – but if Google Reader disappeared today? Most of us would be screwed.
For light users – those that aren’t particular and such – there is probably a solution out there that will “get you by”. For we – the power users – we are currently on a bullet train to oblivion.
Finding Potential Solutions
Here are the best locations for trying to find a fit for your needs. This list may change over time.
Here are some other good articles that will help explain why this is such a travesty and why the format is so important to so many people.
Do you have a solution for me? Found one for yourself? Login below and let us all know!