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David Zax

A View from David Zax

Which Google Reader Replacement Will You Use?

Google kills its Reader, beloved by many (but not enough).

  • March 15, 2013

Across the Internet, journalists and news junkies are letting out a sustained cry: “Why, Google, why?” The company announced late Wednesday that it would be killing off Google Reader, its RSS platform. I use Google Reader daily. So do yet more eminent journalists. But the Great Googlers have determined that Reader’s user base is too small for them to justify the upkeep, and who are we to blame them?’

Let’s do our best to speed through the stages of grief: right through denial, past anger, beyond bargaining, across depression, and straight to acceptance. Reader’s case is terminal, and we know exactly how much time we have (three and a half months, till July 1). So what’s an RSS fan to do?

There are a host of other services to try, and I’ll ’fess up to having tried very few of them–I was quite happy with Reader. Here are your options, though–and for those of you who are already loyal to one, please chime in in the comments with which service you use, and why.

For many, Feedly seems to be a frontrunner. Feedly reports that it’s the top app in the news category of the app store right now, and they say that if you try the service before July 1, you’ll be able to migrate your Google Reader info seamlessly. Pulse is another favored service. Steve Jobs called it a “wonderful RSS reader,” and the team behind it won an Apple Design Award in 2011. Pulse says it has 20 million users. Fever, NetVibes, and soon, Digg are all waiting in the wings.

Flipboard is another option–a fine app, and one of the few I’ve tried. Though Flipboard technically replicates some of the aspects of Reader–and more elegantly, in some respects–I’d hardly call it a replacement. Flipboard turns your RSS feeds into a pretty customized magazine, of sorts. But in my experience, it doesn’t offer you the same kind of systematic, commanding control of Reader, in which I can click on a folder of feeds and have dozens of stories from various sources display simultaneously.

The list goes on, and on. One journalist has put together a spreadsheet of countless more options, complete with features, limitations, and pricing.

Best case scenario: these alternatives to Google Reader spring into action, refine their products, and make something that’s truly a worthy replacement to what was the justified leader in the space. Worst case scenario: no one rises to the task, and RSS itself flounders as a way for people to organize and consume the web. Dieter Bohn fears this as a possibility. “I’m a little nervous that this open web standard that I love and that has enriched my life could die off,” he writes.

On some level, much as it pains me to say it, it makes sense for Google to retire Reader. I don’t know any non-journalist friends who use it (though I’m sure there are a few). Most people these days like to have their news surfaced by social networks like Facebook and Twitter; some speculate that Google is killing Reader precisely because it competes, in that sense, with Google+. It’s only the journalist or the obsessive who needs to know every development in a given field as it happens. And that’s probably a small enough market for Google’s move to make perfect business sense. (For an exhaustive account of Google Reader as social network, and the ways in which it was “steamrolled” by Google+, see Rob Fishman’s excellent account in BuzzFeed. Reader’s former Product Manager also offered some intriguing speculation via Quora.)

That’s not to say that Reader–and those services that will take up its mantle–are not important. Twitter is no substitute; not all news that is worthwhile is compulsively sharable. And while it’s nice to have news “surface” by your friends or those with shared interests, there’s also a strong case for having a more methodical way to parse the internet. Here’s hoping one of these services does as good a job at that as Google.

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