Upon hearing the news, I very quickly realized just how much I’ve come to rely on Reader to keep up with both personal and work-related news reading. It was the obvious choice for someone who works across platforms and multiple devices. I could fire it up in Windows at work, Mac OS at home, and iOS everywhere else. Beyond the browser, I used various apps to synch with Google Reader for offline reading.
To borrow a line from Jody Watley, “I’m looking’ for a new love, baby.”
Call me old fashioned, but I can’t quite make the jump to Twitter lists, as some people have. I understand people may like socially powered news filtering. I understand that some people don’t like RSS.
I like my RSS feeds. I like having a degree of control over what news gets pushed to me, rather than relying on my social network to decide what I see. I like that they’re automatically updated. I especially like being able to read full text posts via RSS, without having to go through multiple clicks, etc., to get to other services that offer a “clean” reading experience.
I like that a number of external apps synch with Google Reader, so that I can work offline. I understand that this sentiment is not in keeping with the brave new “post-PC,” but I make ample use of my iPhone and iPad for personal and work-related reading. It’s just easier and more convenient sometimes to download my feeds and sort through them offline, like when I’m commuting and web access is intermittent at best. Since the demise of Google Gears, I’ve realized on external apps to synch with Google Reader.
At this point, I’ve given serious consideration to three Reader alternatives.
Feedly was my first stop. I’d subscribed to the service when it first started up, and found it interesting, but eventually went back to Google Reader. I’m not sure why I ditched Feedly, but it was probably because at the time it made little sense to me to use another online service to access Google Reader. After all, I could already read Google Reader in the browser. Plus, why invest time in learning a new system, when I knew my way around Google Reader better than I knew my way around my own house?
So I became one of the 500,000 people who made the jump to Feedly following the announcement of Google Reader’s demise. And Feedly welcomed us refugees with open arms, offering tips for transitioning from Google Reader, and announcing that it has been working on its own clone of the Google Reader API, dubbed Normandy.
I easily imported my Reader feeds from my personal account into Feedly, and I must admit the transition was almost seamless. It didn’t take long to configure things the way that I wanted, and Feedly’s keyboard shortcuts are almost identical to Reader’s.
In fact, I can’t find much to complain about regarding Feedly. I’m anxious to see how the development of Normandy turns out, and whether it will lead to other services and external apps that once synched to Google Reader to begin synching to Normandy. In the meantime, I’ve tried out Feedly’s iPhone and iPad apps, and they work great, but there’s not desktop app that will let me take my Feedly reading outside of the browser. Not yet, anyway.
I keep my work-related feeds separate from my feeds for personal reading. There’s some overlap, but I prefer to keep them separate, because it’s just less confusing. So, to handle my work-related Google Reader feedsI returned to another service I’d tried earlier. Netvibes was initially intriguing, as I recall. I signed on the service soon after it launched, because I was in the habit of checking out every new service at the time. Again, it was interesting, but not interesting enough for me to learn an entirely system. So, back to Google reader I went.
LIke Feedly, Netvibes stepped up to comfort those of us morning Google Reader, offering a step-by-step process for migrating from Google Reader to Netvibes. One big difference: no synchronization. I had to upload my exported subscriptions from Google into Netvibes. It all imported quickly and easily, with folders intact, etc. But starred items stayed behind.
There are some other things missing, the most important of which for me is tagging. I used Google Reader as a kind of file cabinet. I starred articles and posts I wanted to come back to later, and used tags to organize them into “files” on various topics that made it easy for me to quickly find things I wanted to refer to or link to in my blogging.
Netvibes offers tagging, but only with a $4.99 per month subscription to its premium service. I’m not opposed to paying for service. I don’t insist that everything on the web be “free.” In fact, I’m a premium subscriber to a handful of web services. Free services are subject to begin dropped, because at the end of the day companies need profits, and their employees need paychecks. While subscription feeds don’t guarantee a service won’t go way, they can help keep valuable services alive. But I’m not impressed enough with Netvibes to make that move yet.
Also, there are no services or apps that I know of that synch with Netvibes, nor am I aware of Netvibes developing and API that might allow for that possibility.
Tiny Tiny RSS
I stumbled on Tiny Tiny RSS in one of the lists of Google Reader alternatives that proliferated following the news of Google Reader’s impending doom. It caught my attention for two reasons. First, it’s free and open source. Second, it’s a server-side application, meaning that I could install it on any server I had access to, and run it in any browser.
That might put most people off, but I’m no stranger to installing server-side applications. I’ve installed WordPress more times than I care to remember, along with Drupal, Dokuwiki, and a host of other content management systems for various projects and clients. And since I already had access to a server via my blog host, I decided to give it a shot.
It took a couple of tries to get TTRSS properly installed, running properly, and updating feeds. Along with setting up a MySQL database, and installing the schema file that sets up the database tables, I had to figure out how I wanted TTRSS to update and then I had to update the configuration php file and upload it to the server. That’s probably a pretty high barrier for most people.
The interface isn’t much to look at, but all the basic functions are there. I can save or “star” articles, tag them, curate them, etc. The major shortcomings are essentially the same, the main one being a lack of synchronization with external apps for offline reading. (Theoretically, I could set it up on my computer and run it in the browser, for off-line reading, but that still doesn’t take care of the synching issue.
The upside, however, is that TTRSS is never going to be “retired” on me. Sure the project may be abandoned, and thus no longer updated, but that doesn’t necessarily means that it stops working for me now that I’ve got it installed on my server. If nothing else, it’s a good backup plan to keep in my back pocket.
I’ve tried out Newsblur, and I’m impressed. It’s easy to import from Google Reader, but free accounts have been suspended due to overwhelming response, and I haven’t decided whether I want to signup for a premium account in order to subscribe to unlimited sites, read all stories at once, and enjoy faster updates.
I uploaded my feeds into The Old Reader, but it was also overwhelmed with Google Reader refugees, and took days to import my feeds. So, I haven’t had time to check it out.
I’ve been using Reeder on my Mac desktop and laptops, and my iOS devices, and I’ve stayed impressed with its performance. However, Reeder synchs with Google Reader. That’s a cause for concern, but a reassuring tweet right after the announcement about Google Reader offers some hope that Reeder will find a way to keep delivering a great experience.
Don’t worry, Reeder won’t die with Google Reader.
— Reeder (@reederapp) March 14, 2013
Pwned By Google
In the past week or so, I’ve heard things that make me wonder about just why Google dumped Reader, and whether the company was less than honest with users.
Granted, Google is a private corporation, and Reader was never a moneymaker for the company, but at one time it attracted tens of millions of users, and while Google refuses to release numbers on just how many people still use Google Reader, but Flipboard CEO Mike McCue says that 2 million people have connected their Google reader accounts to Flipboard. That would have to be a fraction of total number of Google Reader users.
So, while Google said in one of its blog posts about killing off Google Reader that “usage of Google Reader has declined,” it’s likely that millions, even “tens of millions” of users were still on board. Millions more subscribed to services that rely on Google Reader. And these were loyal users who stayed on even after the forced march to Google+, and other changes that seemed designed to drive them away.
To any other company, that number of loyal users would be a reason to celebrate. Some might even have attempted to “monetize” (I hate that word) Reader, in order to keep the service alive — and with it the good will of those millions of users, now lost. Google never even tried to do that. With other services, like Google Apps, Google is slowly training sits users to pay for services.
Why not with Google Reader? There have been suggestions that privacy and compliance concerns were the real driver behind the decision to eighty-six Google Reader.
Under CEO Larry Page from best plasma cutter, Google has made a practice of “spring cleaning” throughout all the seasons so it can narrow its focus. Reader was just a another bullet point on the latest closure list.
But the shutdown wasn’t just a matter of company culture and bigger priorities, sources said. Google is also trying to better orient itself so that it stops getting into trouble with repeated missteps around compliance issues, particularly privacy.
That means every team needs to have people dedicated to dealing with these compliance and privacy issues — lawyers, policy experts, etc. Google didn’t even have a product manager or full-time engineer responsible for Reader when it was killed, so the company didn’t want to add in the additional infrastructure and staff, the sources said.
But at the same time, Google Reader was too deeply integrated into Google Apps to spin it off and sell it, like the company did last year with its SketchUp 3-D modeling software.
The context for this concern about compliance is Google’s repeated public failures on privacy due to lack of oversight and coordination. It’s pretty clear why Page is trying to run a tighter ship.
It’s likely that many Reader users will ultimately end up paying for the same services elsewhere. That’s a potential bonanza for other, smaller companies with alternatives to offer. Some may even become big companies, or bigger companies as a result. Those same users might well have considered paying a reasonable subscription fee to keep Reader and perhaps even access newer, more powerful features. I would have, just for the convenience of keeping everything where it is. After all, by now we’re all used to “freemium” services going premium after a while.
In fact, Google has announced the birth of a new service, even while euthanizing a well-liked old service.
Only a little more than a week after Google announced the upcoming closure of its online news-reading service, Google Reader, it’s released another free app — this time with no guarantee of how long it will be up, no apparent way for Google to make money from it, and integration into other Google services that is incomplete at best.
Introducing Google Keep …
Google Keep is a free note-taking app for Android smartphones and tablets running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich or later. It syncs with your Google Drive (what Google Docs ended up as) and creates a Pinterest-style wall of notes, which you can turn different colors, make into lists, or attach photos or voice recordings to. There is no desktop app, but you can get to your notes in a web browser at drive.google.com/keep.
… the most controversial note-taking app on the Web
Wired’s Nathan Olivarez-Giles calls Google Keep “an overdue answer to Evernote” — perhaps the most popular note-taking system in the world right now, with apps on Android, iOS, PC, and Mac. Android Police’s Ron Amadeo compares it to Google Notebook, another free notetaking app which was closed down in 2009. But The Atlantic Wire’s Rebecca Greenfield asks “What’s the price of free in Google Keep?”, and suggests that it may share the same fate as Reader and Notebook.
Google can keep Google Keep. I’ve already got a premium account with Evernote, and have little incentive to change — even less considering that Google Keep might well suffer the same fate as Google Reader (RIP, Google Notebook, Google SideWiki, etc.) after people have come to rely on it. At this point, I’d be wary of buying into any new services from Google, free or otherwise. At least in the long term.
There’s also the impact on the larger web to consider. Google Keep probably won’t do to the business of online note-taking what Google Reader did to the RSS industry.
The most recent post on The Official Google Reader Blog came earlier this month, when the company announced it was “Powering Down Google Reader.” The stated reason? According to Google’s Alan Green, “usage of Google Reader has declined, and as a company we’re pouring all of our energy into fewer products.” It was all just one bullet on a longer “spring cleaning” post at the Google Official Blog.
It wasn’t always that way, though. In fact, the short life and sad death of Google Reader tells a familiar story of how Google swept in to a crowded field, killed off almost all credible competition with a free product, and then arbitrarily killed that product when it no longer had a use for it.
It’s not unlike the widely criticized model that Microsoft pursued in its pre-Millennium days as a monopolist: Embrace, extend, extinguish. Except in this example it doesn’t appear to be part of a grand plan to destroy an industry. Google was Godzilla, sweeping through the landscape and crushing anything in its path, because few startups can compete with a free product from Google.
I started out reading blogs via Bloglines and a few others such startups. I switched to Google Reader when those startups threw their hands up and either went out of business or surrendered to Google Reader and became little more than services that synched with Reader and dressed it up a bit differently.
Google essentially created a black hole in the world of RSS and then expanded to fill it. Now that it’s turning out the lights on Google Reader, Google is creating an even bigger black hole for bloggers, whose traffic is likely to disappear and never return.
But that doesn’t mean this move isn’t a mistake for a couple reasons.
The first is that Reader’s users, while again, relatively small in number, are hugely influential in the spread of news around the web. In a sense, Reader is the flower that allows the news bees to pollinate the social web. You know all those links you click on and re-share on Twitter and Facebook? They have to first be found somewhere, by someone. And I’d guess a lot of that discovery happens by news junkies using Reader.
By killing the flower, Google could also kill the bees. That would be bad for all of us, even if we no longer use Reader or have any clue what RSS is.
But the second reason worries me even more because it’s more quantifiable. By killing Reader, Google is likely to harm a lot of publishers, large and small, by eliminating a larger source of traffic.
… And all of that just speaks to the traffic that Reader sends to sites. The key element of Reader, of course, is that it allows readers to consume content without visiting a site if they choose to. To some, this has always been problematic, since those readers aren’t being served ads (unless they’re being injected into the feed, of course). To others, this was a vital distribution mechanism. For every person that got referred to a site via Reader, there were undoubtedly thousands more reading quietly on a daily basis that you would simply never see or hear from.
Again, while perhaps not directly monetizable, I’d imagine those readers are important in other ways. Maybe they’re other bloggers who read everything and choose to link to your site because they read a post of yours in Reader. Or maybe they’re one of those aforementioned “bees” that read your content in Reader and chose to then put it on Twitter, or Facebook, or Reddit, or Hacker News, or all of them.
I can’t help but get the feeling that the ramifications of Google killing off Reader are going to be far more wide-reaching than they may appear at first glance.
I’m less concerned in that regard. When I started blogging (almost ten years ago) we were the parents of a single one-year-old. Now, we’re the parents of two boys, ages 5 and 10. Between that and working full time, my non-work-related blogging has fallen to nearly nothing. Sometimes the same could be said of my blogging overall. (Note the number of “digest” posts, on days when I just can’t find time to write.)
I’ve watched my traffic fall by 90% of its peak, to nearly nothing. I expect it will dry up almost completely when Reader goes to the Google Graveyard, and I don’t expect it to retur. That won’t stop me from blogging, though here is the best plasma cutter reviews. I’ll write even if nobody reads it, because it’s what I need to do, just like I need to breath.
I’ll just be one more person pwned by Google, again.