Last nights announcement that Google Reader would be shutdown as of July 1st, 2013 was a crushing blow to some. The web-based RSS reader app was a vital part of the daily work flow for many. For many— though, apparently, not enough. Google is pulling the plug.
This marks the first major public facing project Google is disbanding after investing significant time and resources over the course of several years. Certainly some Reader users would ague that Reader’s development has been largely nonexistent for some time. Several UI bugs were left to bother users for far too long. All the same, the core functionality remained and allowed us all to rely on the service. But no more.
The death of Google Reader will create a vacuum. Though the demise of Reader was only announced last night, some are already calling it the deathblow for RSS. Personally I think that’s sensationalistic and inaccurate RSS has become a vital part of the web. It’s become a core facility for the dissemination of information across the internet. Perhaps not in a public facing fashion as the average internet user still doesn’t understand what RSS is or what it does, but it’s functionality is still critical to behind the scenes operations. The most obvious of which is podcasting. Right now, RSS cannot dry up entirely because podcasting is 100% reliant on it for subscription based distribution.
Prior to Google Reader, I used a Mac application called News Fire. It was perfect for my needs, with a few glaring exceptions. The application had to remain running to gather every refresh of the feeds I was monitoring. It wasn’t a big deal since, at the time, I had a tower running in my home office that was powered on and connected to the web 24/7. But that scenario also meant the only place I could read my feeds was sitting at that computer. Reading an up to date feed from my iPhone was never an option. And, when I transitioned from the Mac Pro to a MacBook Pro, that always-on-computer was no longer an option. This made Google Reader an ideal replacement. Google servers were always online and always pulling in the latest updates to the feeds I was interested in. Reader collated that information and stored it in a central location that was available to me from anywhere I could access the internet, and from any device I chose to use.
Simply put, going back to News Fire isn’t an option. I need my feeds to be reliably up to date. I spend more time on the go so I need to access my news feeds while on the road. Reader may be going the way of the dinosaur but I need a workable solution.
And I may be in luck. Feedly looks like an ideal solution. Right now it acts strictly as an alternate front end to Google Reader’s backend RSS database technology. But a post on Feedly’s blog this morning explains that engineers are in the process of duplicating the behind the scenes Reader API’s to allow Feedly to be 100% self-sustaining by July 1st.
If Feedly can achieve its goal, there may be a bright side to the demise of Google Reader since my experience with Feedly so far is showing the service to be an impressive alternative. It has a first class UI that far outclasses Reader. And, in truth, had I known about Feedly before Google announced the end of Reader, I would’ve transitioned to Feedly already. It really looks that good!
Feedly works as an app in the Chrome browser but it also runs in Firefox and Safari as well. Mobile versions are available for iOS and Android. Links to each, as well as notes about Feedly’s intention to fully replicate the Reader API are better detailed in a blog post here.
Admittedly, Google’s decision to pull the plug on a great project like Reader is a disappointment. It’s had a great deal of time out in the world and, while it might not have the user base Google wants, it had remained a core tool for many internet power users. But, as is often the case with the modern internet, when one resource falls, another rises up to take its place. It’s my hope that Feedly can make its deadline and fully match the functionality of Reader. Feedly is off to an impressive start.
Update: 3/14/13 4pm
Gizmodo had a good post listing 8 alternatives to Google Reader. I’m glad to see Feedly is #1 on the list. Flipboard is an interesting alternative. I have a hard time considering it as a potential feed reader but that’s its functionality in its truest form.
Considering the proposed alternatives, I’m sticking with Feedly. It’s amusing that the screenshot Gizmdo shows of Feedly may quite possibly be the least appealing of all the built-in layouts. If you take the solution for a spin, be sure to look at the “Magazine view.” It’s really nice!