Sunday, March 17, 2013

Google Reader’s Demise: A Big Deal for being not that big a deal

At first I almost overlooked notice that Google Reader service was shutting down this summer.

Fortunately for me a wealth of articles burst forth on the Web and the noise couldn’t be missed.

I’ve enjoyed reading the perspective and comments left by users of RSS and Google Reader in most all of the above articles I’ve found.

As a very recent user of Google Reader, my perspective is a bit unusual.

Very early on, I realized the power and usefulness of RSS/Atom feeds to collect, centralize, and allow rapid mass monitoring of consumption of the wealth of material on the web.

Without RSS/Atom feeds that I subscribe to, I seriously doubt I could process the 90-120 sites I go to for news, tips, and areas of interest.  On any given day, they provide me between 300-400 articles to sift through.  And because of RSS/Atom feeds, I can usually complete that process in about 30 minutes or less.

There is no way I could do that by checking each site directly via bookmarked web-pages. I would miss tons of updated content and probably get loose hours of my time trying to do so.

For years I have relied upon Windows RSS feed reader clients running on my system.

First I used Sage which is an add-on for FIrefox. for a while development slowed and a few issues pushed me to the NewsFox add-on next. It worked very good.

I had flirted back in 2008 and did a RSS Reader Roundup…Valca Style. There were lots and lots of feature-rich RSS feed reader clients for Windows back then.  But I kept with reading my feeds in Firefox through the add-ons.

Eventually, however some of the peculiarities of running a RSS feed reader in your primary browser began to create issues.  It would run in a background tab session, but would “lock-up” the browser as it pulled feeds down during refreshing.

So in 2012, I revisited the search for a desktop Windows RSS feed client and eventually found that Omea Reader fit the bill for me a bit better than my runner-up choice, Feedreader.

Since I am using a local-client-based RSS feed reader, Google Reader was a service I was aware of but didn’t care about. When I found a new site to follow, I would subscribe directly in my client to the RSS/Atom feed and move on.  If you use RSS/Atom feed reading with this approach you too might overlook or care very little for the status of Google Reader.

But here is where the impending loss of Google Reader does matter to me, a lot; I got an iPhone.

This is the rub. While I am feed reading directly on my PC, my feed client does all the work pulling in and managing the individual feeds.

When I got my iPhone, I looked at the RSS iOS apps available and they all seemed to require some third-party back-end API to manage the feed subscriptions, and would then pull the article/feed information down and present it.

So I got my Google Reader set up by exporting my Omea Reader’s subscription pile as a single OPML file, imported it into Google Reader, downloaded Phantom Fish - Byline. Ironically, “Google Reader on the go” is their product tag-line.  Then I connected Byline to my Google Reader and away I went with my RSS feeds on the road.

While I can live without checking my RSS feeds during the day (as I survived just fine before my smartphone adoption), it does make the time spent at the end of the day on my local PC client reader that much faster since I come at it mostly caught up.

However, at this time Byline hasn’t seemed to offer any information about their plans to cope with the shut-down of Google Reader.  Reeder for iOS also looks pretty good, but it also can use Google Reader. Feedly is working on a back end API that hopefully will mimic Google Reader. I like the thought very much, but the iOS app itself is a bit too GUI/graphic intensive. I like the streamlined, more text-based format of Byline and Reeder. Is it possible to recreate a Byline/Reeder experience in Feedly?

There are lots and lots of RSS apps for iOS. However they all seem to leverage a back-end API to collect the feed subscriptions from.

What I really would like is to find a RSS iOS app that allows me to import my OPML file directly to it, and let it operate as a “standalone” RSS feed client directly in-app (like my desktop RSS feed reader) and not need to depend on a third-party API to pull the feeds down from.

I’m confident that other developers will step into the void, and as Samer Kurdi at freewaregenius posted, this might indeed turn out to be a good thing.

It’s just going to cause a fair amount of anxiety and chatter among hard-core RSS feed users until it sorts itself out.

At least we have until July 2013 to see who steps up and delivers, both for the RSS feed ecology in general and the iOS/smartphone app ecosystem in particular.

Until then I will keep on RSS-feeding with my desktop client with nary a worry, but obsess about a future without RSS feeding on my iPhone until a savior is found.


--Claus Valca


Izzy said...

I've been using Reader since 2009. The reason I used it over a desktop client was mostly because I go back and forth between three different computers over the course of a day, and none of the standalone desktop clients had a way to sync what I had read back and forth. Google Reader filled that niche perfectly, and had a very simple interface without a bunch of clutter. I did later find a client that synced with Google Reader, FeedDemon, and I was quite happy.

Now this news comes along, and I can't find a similar setup that doesn't use Reader. Most of the standalone apps that include syncing have some "newspaper-like" interface, rather than just giving me the articles as they were written.

I've mostly given up, as everything's still under insane load from the mass exodus from Reader... I've taken to TT-RSS running on my home server. Though I still miss my popup notifications, I haven't found anything else that will fill the gap.

FF Extension Guru said...

I had used Brief for Firefox for a long time, but as I shifted from Firefox to using Chrome more and more...I ended up with Google Reader. The biggest reason I like Google Reader is it does not matter if I am on my desktop, laptop or checking my feeds via my Google Nexus 7 tablet, it syncs across all my devices.

I had tried to use Brief again for a project I was working on within Firefox but found after a few days it stopped working and removing the settings/config files (something a family member has to do occasionally when Brief malfunctions and starts "mixing feeds") failed to resolve. I ended up creating a new gmail account so I could keep the activity for this project separate from my main/personal gmail activity.

So I am not taking the news of the end of Google Reader very well. I have looked some, but have yet to come across anything that will sync across my devices. I suppose there are some readers out there that will do this, just haven't had the time (or desire) to go hunting and test driving them.

Claus said...

@ Izzy - I totally get the benefit of being able to access all you feeds, consistently, in one place, across multiple platforms and system.

I don't have that challenge but I understand the great benefit Google Reader provides in just that circumstance.

Hopefully once the panic settles down, some of the other services will be responsive again...until they start releasing product for consumption and then the crush will be on again!

Many of the internet masses don't do/get the RSS thing. But it seems that a hard-core techy group expect continued vocalizing on Google Reader for some time to come!

Thanks for the comment.


Claus said...

@ FF Guru - I tried to find a RSS client I liked in Chrome (comparable to NewsFox or Sage) but I just wasn't satisfied with the selection. And then there is that whole lack of a sidebar thing in Chrome unlike Firefox.

That remains a deal-killer for me to move heavily to Chrome as a primary browser.

Google Reader does allow you to see all your feeds in one place so it seemed particularly suited for the Chrome environment.

I am sure that solutions will will just be hard being patient in the meantime.


--Claus V.