As some of you may know, Google has decided to terminate Google Reader as of July 1st. This announcement was bad news for Robin and me, as we’ve been loyal Reader users for years. I also thought it was an ironically timed decision, occurring just two months after the death of Aaron Swartz, one of the creators of RSS (the web protocol used by feed readers). Google claims that Reader has been losing users, but I don’t think this explains its demise. The power of feed readers (aka RSS readers, blog readers, news readers, news aggregators, etc.) is that they allow users to directly control their content. You pick your subscriptions and read what you like. Detailed content is encouraged. Clicking an entry takes you directly to the source. Supposedly competing services such as Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Google Now and so forth use computer algorithms to decide what you want to see and target their advertising. The death of Google Reader is a loss for the open and free web as envisioned by activists such as Aaron Swartz.
I realize most of our readers are not affected by the end of Google Reader. This post enumerates some alternatives for those who are affected and requests some feedback from those who are not.
“What’s a feed reader?”
If you follow blogs by manually visiting each site, I have a helpful suggestion: get a feed reader! It will save so much time. A feed reader is a program or web service which lets you define a list of blogs to follow, and then it automatically monitors the “feeds” and notifies you when new content is published. The interface is often reminiscent of an e-mail client, with new entries shown in bold until you view them. You can subscribe to any site which publishes RSS, so that includes ordinary blogs like this one but also less obvious sources such as online news feeds or even local Craigslist searches.
The next section suggests some feed readers to try.
“I use Google Reader — now what?”
If you use Google Reader regularly, your first step should be to visit Google Takeout and download your reader data before July 1st, 2013. That link will select the required files for you. Just click “Create Archive” and then “Download” on the next page. Some alternative feed readers will allow you to import this data to more quickly set up your subscriptions.
The most obvious successor for Google Reader is another free online feed service: Feedly. Feedly formerly depended on Google for much of their functionality, but they’ve invested in a lot of new gear over the past 3 months and are now a completely standalone service. If you sign up for Feedly before July 1st, they can automatically import your blog list from Google. By default, Feedly provides a magazine-style interface, but you can switch your feeds to the new “Title Only View” to restore some of that Reader simplicity. I’m pretty happy with Feedly.
I have also seen recommendations for these feed services, but I haven’t tried them:
If you’re leery of online services and would rather not share your list of favorite kitten blogs with the NSA, a desktop feed reader might be better for you. These fall into two categories: browser plugins and true desktop applications.
If you use the Firefox browser, there are at least two popular feed reader plugins:
A plugin makes a nice feed reader because you never have to leave the browser. There are feed reader plugins for Safari, Chrome, Opera, and Internet Explorer but I don’t use these browsers.
As far as dedicated desktop applications go, we only use Linux at home so I can’t make recommendations for Windows or Mac users. I know the RSSOwl reader gets good reviews and works on all three platforms, but it might not be the best choice for your operating system.
If you also use Linux, other feed readers to try include Liferea and Akregator. Both should be easily available through your desktop’s install tool. I plan to import my subscriptions into all three and see if they offer any advantages over the web based services.
Am a missing a feed reader you love? Let me know in the comments.
“I don’t use Google Reader”
Perhaps you use the subscription system built into Blogspot, one of the services listed above, or something else entirely. For all of you, is there anything we should add to our site which would make it easier to follow? We plan to update our theme in the coming months with more social tools, so any feedback is welcome.