Google Reader Gets Axed
March 14, 2013

Google Reader Is (Almost) Dead – Long Live Reader Alternatives!

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

Last night, amidst the chatter about the New Pope and SXSW happenings, Google quietly announced that they would be “sunsetting” one of their more popular free services. “Sunsetting,” of course, is corporate-speak for kill, and on July 1, 2013 the Mountain View multinational will mercilessly kill its Google Reader.

The company made the announcement as the fifth item on a list of other services that few people ever use, euphemistically calling the slaughter “a second spring of cleaning.” Google has performed these spring cleanings in the past, most notably killing AdSense for Feeds and iGoogle. Now, as loyal Google Reader users raise a stink on Twitter and Google+, many have begun looking for alternatives.

Farewell, Poor Google Reader. We Knew Thee Well

For the uninitiated, Google Reader was the largest and most reliable RSS (or Really Simple Syndication) Feed Reader. RSS is still something used by the nerd-ish set. It allows people to subscribe to different blogs, sites and other feeds capturing all the posts in one place. What´s more, other news readers allowed users to sign in with their Google Reader accounts and read their feeds in different formats. Flipboard and Zite, two very popular iOS apps, have this functionality as well as built-in discovery features. Now that Google Reader is dying, many faithful RSS fans will now have to look for other solutions.

What makes this process particularly painful is many fans have configured their setups just so, with different apps sending content between one another. Killing Google Reader will mean going back through these setups and spending several hours working for the same functionality. It´ll take hours of work for many, leaving fans to ask why Google would kill a service with such a faithful following.

The Explanation and the Backlash

“While the product has a loyal following, over the years usage has declined,” reads Google´s official blog post about the ordeal. Reader´s faithful fans have no doubt been reading these sentences repeatedly in utter disbelief.

“So, on July 1, 2013, we will retire Google Reader. Users and developers interested in RSS alternatives can export their data, including their subscriptions, with Google Takeout over the course of the next four months.”

In the wake of this news, loyal fans flocked to the Internet´s Wailing Wall (Twitter) to share their disbelief and mourn with other like-minded Reader users. Since Google is the one laying the product on the killing floor, many assume this has something to do with advertising and marketing.

After all, Google can´t really impregnate these feeds with their own ads and, therefore, can´t earn any more of that sweet revenue. True, Google can´t sell ads through this service, but they can get what they consider the next best thing: personal information. For those who use a myriad of other Google services, this information could be used to sell ads on other parts of the Google-sphere.

The Twitter account for Pinboard (maker of an alternative RSS feed and link aggregator) sent out some particularly biting comments about the murder.

“We need to focus. Keep the self-driving cars, magic glasses, laptop, handheld OS, and Brazilian social Network. Ditch the feed reader,” tweeted @Pinboard before later saying, “Thank God they spared Orkut.”

There was also a bit of a competition to mix the news of a New Pope with the news of a dead Google Product.

“White smoke from a chimney in Mountain View, CA can only mean that Google has killed Google Reader,” mused Gwendolyn Ann Smith, @Qwenners.

And of course, it wouldn´t be an Internet outrage with a meme. The #OccupyGoogleReader hashtag has been popping up all over Twitter, Tumblr and Google+. There´s even an online petition for Google to change their mind and keep Google Reader alive forever.

The Replacements

The news has also sent developers of reader alternatives into hyper drive to improve their offerings or promise their customers that their content will be safe. Though Google reader has been a powerful engine for other feed readers, Flipboard has said that any Reader user with a Flipboard account will have their RSS feeds saved.

“Today, Google announced it´s going to retire Google Reader. If the service has been an essential part of your media diet, don´t despair. Your Google Reader subscriptions will be safe on Flipboard,” reads a recent Flipboard blog post.

“If you already have a Flipboard account and you have signed into your Google Reader, you don´t need to do anything. Your feeds will be saved.”

For now, many of the “Google Reader Alternative” articles on the big news sites have focused on the same three options: Feedly, Netvibes and NewsBlur.

Feedly is still fed by Google Reader, but they claim they´ve copied the Reader API and will use a clone service to allow for a “seamless transition.” Feedly also works with Chrome, Firefox and Safari extensions. For those who do an equal amount of reading on the web as they do on their mobile device, this could be a great alternative to their current setup.

NetVibes works a little like the old iGoogle but also gives users the choice to set up multiple pages and feeds. NetVibes also runs an analytics service that allows web professionals to monitor their traffic.

Finally, NewsBlur looks the most like Google Reader for those who aren´t entirely ready to give up their beloved. Like Feedly, there´s also an app for both Android and iOS to keep your feeds in sync.

Always Look On the Bright Side

The news isn´t all bad, of course. As Marco Arment of Instapaper fame points out, this could open up the door for some revived innovation in the reader space.

“Google Reader is a convenient way to sync between our RSS clients today, but back when it was launched in 2005 (before iPhones), it destroyed the market for desktop RSS clients,” writes Arment in his blog. “It may suck in the interim before great alternatives mature and become widely supported, but in the long run, trust me: this is excellent news.”

This could be especially great news for not only those who have cobbled together a system which relies on Google Reader to feed other apps which they prefer, but also for developers of reader apps which deserve some extra attention. This doesn´t take away the initial sting of death, however, and loyal fans will no doubt remember this wound for years to come.