July 1… Google Reader’s Done

Google Reader

Given recent news you are likely aware (or perhaps are not depending on how you routinely consume your Internet content), Google Reader ceases to exist from 1 July this year.

For those who this means very little to, perhaps you should skip the rest of this article, or, if you are interested in a more efficient way to stay up to date with your favourite websites, then read on. If you are in the category of people that do use an RSS reader but this means very little to, then you definitively need to check out what is below, otherwise the reader you use will be a little light on for content come July.

Why should you care about this?

Probably the answer to this question begins with a description of what RSS is and actually does, and whether you therefore really need to be in any way concerned by what is coming in a few days.

What is RSS?

Really Simple Syndication (RSS), put simply, is a way to subscribe to your favourite website content in a way that avoids having to provide your email address and go on some sort of distribution list, which often involves receiving numerous emails with content you may not necessarily be interested in. It also provides a way around needing to bookmark and check in on your favourite sites regularly to avoid missing anything of interest that may be posted. In summary, it is a great way to stay up to date with a large (or small) volume of content in a time efficient way, and depending on what ‘feed reader’ you use, provides an easy means of saving articles to read later, or sharing with others.

The process itself is best summarised as follows:

  • a website creates an ‘RSS Feed’
  • once the feed is created, it is stored on a server ready for subscriptions
  • a feed ‘aggregator’ (most often Google – which the consumer creates an account with) then supplies the content to supported ‘RSS readers’
  • viewing or reading a particular feed is through an ‘RSS Reader’ application (through which the user logs in to their aggregator account and accesses their feed)

Therefore, the entire process requires the feed creation, storage and aggregation or collection at the back end, and a front end experience for the user that allows reading of the articles in their feed. This is where Google reader comes in (and for that matter is about to go out). Google Reader for many years has provided both the back end feed aggregation, as well as the ability for users to view their content through Google Reader (though the proliferation of mobile devices has increased many-fold the number of third party ‘Reader’ applications).

Google was not the first service of this nature, though due to its scale, and being at no cost to the user, quickly became the standard for this type of information transfer on the web. I am not sure of the exact statistics, but I would expect the majority of RSS Reader accounts use Google as their feed aggregator.

So, after July 1, Google will no longer be providing the feed content to the many third party applications currently utilising this service, with these applications either needing to develop their own back end feed aggregation, or support other services that have stepped in to fill the void.

As far as possible replacements go, remember we are talking about two distinct services here. Firstly, the feed aggregation (supply) of content, and secondly, the viewing or reading (consumption) of the content once it is delivered to you through a ‘reader’ application. Some alternative applications will do both, some will not.

Feed Aggregators

There are a few providers that are ready to step onto the breach and lead the charge in RSS feed aggregation (all of which also have readers):

  • Feedwrangler ($19 per year)
  • Feedbin ($2 per month or $20 per year)
  • Feedly (Free; paid pro option rumoured)
  • Newsblur (Free or paid options with additional features)
  • Digg (in development)

Those listed above are the more likely replacements for many users, and all have have their own forms of readers, either through a web app, and/or platform specific mobile apps. As can be seen, some are paid options, with the benefits of this being ongoing support of the developer, likely increasing the longevity of the service, and providing resources for ongoing support and upgrades or advanced features. As with many apps or services, there is always the fear that ‘free’ results in an unsustainable business model over the longer term (Google Reader was free remember; and no, Google is not struggling for cash, however part of the reason for shutting down Google Reader was to allocate resources to areas of the business that will generate revenue).

Readers

Although the feed aggregators above also serve as readers there are some very functionally and visually appealing third party readers that have relied on the Google feed for some time now. These will continue to exist, though will need to rely on feed content from elsewhere, most likely from the providers listed above. Some of the available reader applications include:

What do I use? Currently Feedly, which, once I created an account, synced all of my Google Reader feeds across, and is now running its own aggregator, Feedly Cloud, which I understand will also provide support to other third party reader applications. In the past I have also used Reeder, Flipboard and Feeddler Pro. All have good saving and sharing options, however very different interfaces. I switched to Feedly only recently, as it was one of the free services that offered replacement feed aggregation quite soon after Google’s announcement. Depending upon feed support options, I would be happy to recommend any of these apps, with personal preference playing a role in what type of interface you like to interact with. You will simply need to match the reader you choose with the supported feed provider – information readily available on the respective websites.

Should to wish read more, the following may be useful:

There are many resources out there regarding what may be better for you to use, and a simple Google search will bring up numerous articles to read on the subject. This brings us back to the original question of why you should care about this.

What you should do

If you are a ‘power user’ of these types of services you would already have a strategy in place and most likely aren’t reading this article anyway. For the rest of us, my recommendations are as follows:

  • export your list of feeds from Google Reader prior to July 1, instructions are contained in this Lifehacker article
  • open an account with a free service such as Feedly

The above options will give you an XML file of your exported feed list ready to import to another reader, and also a working aggregator and reader (Feedly), to keep things running in the short term when the shut down occurs. This will allow you more time to consider your options for the longer term. There will also be numerous reviews and opinions written after July 1 on how the various services are working, which is a good opportunity to read about any issues that may be occurring with a particular service, and allow any early bugs to be rectified before you commit to one or the other.

Another possibility that has been suggested is to abandon RSS altogether and use something like Twitter for following when your favourite creators post something new. Personally, I prefer the RSS type of view, and would not rely on Twitter for this, though I can see the logic.

In conclusion, I hope the above is of some assistance, and maybe you should spend a little time over the weekend looking at your options, though as I have noted above, there are a couple of fairly straightforward ways to ensure your feeds continue in the short term at the very least.

I am optimistic this is an opportunity for great improvement in the RSS realm, as more interest and resources are thrown at this area by developers, with the coming months an interesting time to see what ultimately ensues.

 

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