In just a few days, Google Reader will be history. I've used it to create over 18,000 Tweets, so yes, I will miss Google Reader. The end has pushed me into a divorce (or maybe it's just a separation?!) — from Google. I describe my Google divorce as kind of like when a married couple with children decide to separate … they still have to see their exes for the sake of the kids (and I still have my blogs with Google's Blogger, for now anyway), and it may be a cordial, but not quite blissful separation, but is still necessary.
A number of my fellow diabetes blogging peers have already migrated from Google's Blogger to Wordpress (which offers its own RSS reader, incidentally) over the years because of the expanded functionality there. I've actually thought about doing that, too, and I've had a Wordpress account for several years (mostly to claim the user name), so it remains theoretically possible that I could someday move my blogs there (I have another blog called "Harvest Gold Memories" which shares the sstrumello.com domain name, the difference being that's at "HGM" rather than "Blog" at the beginning, in other words http://hgm.sstrumello.com, rather than http://blog.sstrumello.com), but I've got so much going on right now, I don't want to deal with trying to import my customized blog templates over to Wordpress, so I'll stick with Blogger right now. Down the road, all bets are off.
iGoogle: i'm History
My Google separation began late last year. It all started when I had to start looking for alternatives to my web start page, iGoogle, which the company will officially be retiring on November 1, 2013. I don't understand why they're keeping this product around for so long as the announcement was almost a year ago, but I can keep using it until its gone. I've found one (actually I've found several alternatives, and signed up with all of them for redundancy) that's perfect for my needs and I've gotten it all configured so its ready to use now (indeed, I've been trying to transition myself to that already so that I'm ready when Google officially cuts the cord on iGoogle). That part of the transition, once I did all of the work to set it up the alternatives and configure them properly, was pretty seamless for me.
Google's reasoning for killing iGoogle (see the official announcement at http://goo.gl/GZRWm) is as follows:
"We originally launched iGoogle in 2005 before anyone could fully imagine the ways that today's web and mobile apps would put personalized, real-time information at your fingertips. With modern apps that run on platforms like Chrome and Android, the need for iGoogle has eroded over time, so we'll be winding it down. Users will have 16 months to adjust or export their data."
No offense, but I don't especially like looking at content from a microscopic smartphone screen; that's not how I want to consume and certainly not how I plan to share content. iGoogle enabled me to see my top news stories, all the diabetes blogs I follow, gave access to a few, very frequently used links, as well provided instant access to stuff like Google Music (now branded Google Play Music) at a single place. The experience on a phone just isn't the same (and my eyesight isn't what it used to be), and frankly, I don't want to use up my phone's batteries doing stuff like that. For me, those tasks are better suited from a genuine computer with a real keyboard.
"We're not Google's customers. We're Google's product."
That raises an interesting issue: John Simpson, director of the privacy project at Consumer Watchdog, an advocacy group put it this way: "People need to understand the fundamental business model of Google. We are not Google's customers. We're Google's product."
Well, maybe so, but when Google kills the stuff I came to them for, I'm no longer their product. The logic of killing iGoogle escapes me because I was a captive user of most of Google's services with it, but now I'm kind of cutting them out of the equation. Oh well … that's not really my problem, its Google's.
Goodbye Google Reader
Then, to add insult to injury, Google also announced it would discontinue Google Reader as part of its spring cleaning exercise, which means that effective July 1, 2013 (see http://goo.gl/ePgrf for details), Google Reader will be gone, and their speed in killing this app was remarkably quick; as they're shutting the service down only about 6 months after the announcement, so they really didn't give Google Reader users very much in the way of advance notice, which annoyed the hell out of me. That decision really pissed me off a lot more than killing iGoogle did, and I, like a lot of other people called journalists, who used Google Reader quite extensively as a giant mailbox to gather news content from all over the web (and from all over the world) enabling me to quickly sift through all of it, but apparently, Google couldn't turn RSS readers into a profitable revenue stream (see http://bit.ly/ZRySDr).
Here's the official word from Google about killing Google Reader (see http://goo.gl/ePgrf for details):
"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."
To be sure, RSS is far from dead as some are suggesting. RSS was developed in 2000 and provides a format for simple and structured, standardized disclosure of changes on websites such as news sites, blogs and other sites. Once you've subscribed to an RSS feed, whichever feed reader you use searches in specified intervals (Google's Reader was great for that, updating content constantly). Relax, RSS isn't going anywhere because it works so efficiently, but its akin to your local post office being closed even while the U.S. Postal Service still operates. To send your mail after your local post office disappears means you'd need to trek to a post office located someplace else which is still in operation. Its a hassle, but the postal system doesn't stop just because a local post office is gone.
Twitter: Not a Viable Alternative to RSS Readers
I already follow most (not quite all, as not everyone has migrated) of the entities I have in my RSS feed on Twitter (I did that very early on), but contrary to what Google may be implying, Twitter and social media outlets like it are NOT perfect replacements because using Twitter means I have to stay glued to those networks all the time or else sift through all of the Tweets for each of the over 1,700 entities I follow separately, which is slow and cumbersome (especially if they respond or retweet someone else) — a real pain in the @$$ and most of the software apps out there don't make the task any easier, and certainly no faster. I prefer the bare-bones aspect of RSS readers because I can make a decision on whether to read an article in a matter of seconds, rather than opening something, waiting for the damn article to load up, only to learn its irrelevant junk. Through its various incarnations, Google Reader has remained a solid and reliable tool for those of us want to ensure we're getting the content from our favorite sections of the Internet.
For the record, my Twitter feed wouldn't even exist if it weren't for an RSS reader, whether its Google's, Yahoo's or some other provider's. I use an RSS reader to sift through literally hundreds of articles daily (several thousand weekly), so finding suitable replacements was very important to me, and I should note that I sort through an awful LOT of junk, so I actually filter out the most relevant news for my Twitter followers (lucky you!). Most of the recommended alternatives like Feedly (which has a cloud reader accessible from the web at http://cloud.feedly.com/) and Flipboard were not at especially well-suited to my needs because they are designed exclusively for use of consuming media on mobile devices, and while I've adopted Feedly for use on my mobile devices (phone/tablet), I honestly don't love it.
Let me go on record as saying I don't really like smartphone apps for sifting through a LOT of content like I subscribe to, I prefer a real computer (I did migrate to a laptop, but even that took some getting used to and I still plug in a mouse, and I'm not crazy about the small, built-in keyboard, either). As much as I like my tablet computer for consuming media content (and maybe if I were like twenty years old, I might enjoy looking at a 3 inch screen all day long, but my middle-aged eyes find that annoying as hell). Using a smartphone, whether from Apple or otherwise, is NOT where I want to be spending my whole day. Also, I hate typing on a virtual keyboards (whether its on an iPad or an Android device, those things still suck!), and don't even start me on autocorrect!
After looking around and sampling the different options, I found that a number of the alternatives for Google Reader suggested by magazine and newspaper reports (see http://nyti.ms/10rOfVn) seem to be designed for people who are in love with Instagram and their mobile phones, and those people probably can't read (or spell), with annoying graphics and designs that are supposed to look like magazines from a phone, but they really just take up too much bandwidth and are cumbersome, clunky and inefficient to use. Those apps aren't at all suited for my needs - they stink.
Viable Replacements: The Old Reader, NewsBlur, AOL Reader, Digg Reader, G2 Reader and Bloglines
There are a few replacements for Google Reader I've been experimenting with. Below is a quick summary of the options:
Free RSS Readers
Bloglines http://www.bloglines.com/. This RSS reader pre-dates Google's reader (since 2003, Google Reader wasn't launched until 2005), but has a new lease on life. It was announced that MerchantCircle is planning to keep Bloglines up and running after facing a near-death experience in 2010. The functionality here is excellent, but there's no mobile apps … yet. Still, its a very solid replacement and its free. [Author P.S. February 2015: It appears Bloglines is no more; the site has quietly been disabled. No news as to whether it will be resurrected. Its not my favorite reader anyway, but another classic reader is gone.]
The Old Reader http://theoldreader.com/. The Old Reader feels a lot like Google Reader. Its experiencing some major growing pains right now so it took a really, really long time for my feeds to upload when I did it a number of months ago and they'll likely have the same issue when the flood of Google Reader users start to panic soon. But I enjoy using this product, and while there are a few quirky things I've encountered with it, they're nothing major. There's no mobile apps (yet), although the developers promise those are coming in the future. Author P.S. as of July 29, 2013: It looked like the developers were close to shutting the public site down (slated for August 12, 2013, see http://goo.gl/EUNWaJ for details, but then, on August 3, 2013, the news was looking decidedly better, see http://goo.gl/wrUIZK for that). I enjoy using the mobile app gReader which uses The Old Reader's API, and the interface is pretty much a resurrection of Google Reader's with a few minor differences. Fortunately, if you aren't into Feedly's app (and you can count me among them), you can actually use Feedly's Cloud Reader with the gReader app on your Android mobile device(s), which makes it much easier for some of us to use.
AOL Reader http://reader.aol.com/. This one was a very, very pleasant surprise for me. AOL Reader is another new reader hoping to cash in on Google's exit. This one came as a surprise, but keep in mind that these days, Arianna Huffington whose Huffington Post was acquired by AOL is now a big executive at the company. AOL Reader is fast, and the layout is familiar yet slightly modernized. On the topic of speed, my full Google Reader subscription library was uploaded in just a few minutes compared to a process that took well over a week with The Old Reader. There was some speculation that the AOL reader might be a subscription-based product, and perhaps the launch version will be. But the company is really no longer a subscription-based business, but an ad-driven business (much like Google). The beta reader was gratis, and I've been impressed with it so far. Native Android and iOS clients are promised for the near future, but right now it's web-only on both mobile and desktop.
Digg Reader http://digg.com/reader. This one has been hyped ever since Google first announced plans to kill its RSS reader. It launched officially on June 26, 2013, but beta tester reviews were few and far between. I finally received my invite on June 26, so I've had only a day or so to try it. So far, I've been impressed. The speed and interface are very easy-to-use, and its an uncluttered looking RSS reader which is also appealing to me, too. They say it will be a 'freemium' product, which means they'll have a paid version of the product, which is less likely to be killed off, so maybe this one can be included in both the "free" and "paid" categories? Digg described the 'freemium' aspect HERE.
So far, my assessment is that this reader has indeed been worth the wait. Speed and ease of transferring my Google Reader library couldn't have been easier. The interface is clean and easy to use. Supposedly they've built a an accompanying mobile app for both iPhone and Android, although I don't believe those haven't launched yet, but we can expect them soon. Either way, Digg Reader is definitely worth a look.
G2 Reader http://www.g2reader.com. This one is, right now, my personal favorite. It resembles Google Reader in layout and function, and it gives accurate counts of unread posts in each folder you create. The biggest downside is that updates can lag a little, so the latency issue (if you rely on it for breaking news) may be an issue. But if you use it to aggregate content that doesn't have to be as fast as a story or press release breaks, its ideal. There's no mobile app for it, but they do have a special mobile version of the site (making it more conducive to small screens without mouse access).
Paid RSS Readers
I guess Digg Reader could (potentially) fit into this category, but details on the paid product have not yet emerged. But, the key is they say paying customers have a different relationship with them, so there might be a benefit. For example, its possible mobile apps will be available only to paid customers, so stay tuned!
NewsBlur http://www.newsblur.com/. This one is a bare-bones but highly-functional product. Its not free (it is if you follow less than 65 blogs or news feeds), but the cost is cheap enough ($24/year) to justify itself. There are also a few nice features, such as the ability to save articles to read in the future. I don't especially love this reader, but I do like the fact that it already has mobile apps, and its fast, plus I've paid for it, so I don't think they'll be cutting me off as Google did.
Privacy? For Free?!
As I've hinted, I'm open to good alternatives. All alternatives. Multiple alternatives. The only thing is, Google won't be playing a very big role. Too bad for Google!
I've also been more willing to switch search engines lately in part because of Microsoft's effective Scroogled ads, but I'm using not just biggies like Yahoo! and Microsoft's Bing, but some lesser-known providers like DuckDuckGo.com [http://duckduckgo.com/], which is a Pennsylvania startup which claims that it doesn't track users (yet, see http://donttrack.us/ for details on their policy) and Startpage.com [http://startpage.com/], which is based in Europe and must adhere to Europe's tighter privacy standards.