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RIP, Reader?

I'm more concerned about the future of RSS.

20130314-rssGoogle Reader, the great RSS service, is shutting down, it was announced yesterday by Google. I don’t think there is a single web site or service or, on Android, a mobile app that I have spent as much time in as Google Reader, and I can’t really do justice to how essential Reader has been in the collating of material that has, subsequently, appeared on Disquiet.com and in my writing and projects elsewhere. At times people would ask where I’m going on vacation and I’d say, “Google Reader.”

My friend Rob Walker over at Yahoo! News agrees with the hopeful assertion of Marco Arment (Tumblr, Instapaper, The Magazine) that Reader’s end will inspire alternate services, yet I am anxious that the end of Reader will allow short-sighted product managers to ditch RSS from current and future websites. RSS to me is one of the key defining characteristics of the music phenomenon known as the netlabel. In allowing for easy redistribution of material, it is, to me, the very pavement of the Creative Commons, as I touched on in my 2011 list of proposals to new netlabels.

I’ve been looking around this past half day or so at alternatives. Feedly.com is quite lovely and has both an app and a web service, but the absence of an automated alphabetized view is confusing — not just confusing to navigate, but confusing in its absence; based on initial experience, it feels like one of those semi-belligerent UI/UX moves such as Gmail’s initial lack of a delete button, or OS X Mountain Lion’s version of TextEdit.app, in which the unchangeable default when creating a new file is to save it not to your computer but to iCloud. If you find Feedly promising, as I do, and want to promote the implementation of an alphabetal view, this appears to be where you can vote it up. The Feedly app, at least on Android, feels more like a design portfolio piece than a reader-oriented service, but it’s still promising. And it does appear that you can move feed-grouping order around to achieve alphatetization in the Organize tab or just in the left-column view (on the web, not in the app), but that is time-consuming, and why it’s not automated is unclear. At a buck a month, newsblur.com seems reasonable, but I’m just beginning to understand its UI eccentricities. A lot of folks have recommended theoldreader.com; a reader service without an Android app would be a stretch for me, but I’m not entirely against it.

There’s a petition to save Google Reader at change.org that I have signed. I also signed the one at keepgooglereader.com. This is what I wrote at both those sites:

RSS is among the key sources of my research. It may not be valuable for casual reading, but it is essential for information gathering. And information gathering is the basis of much that is published, including casual reading. I understand it may not have caught on with the vast majority, but the vast majority is a worthless threshold to employ as a gauge of utility. I didn’t ask you to save Wave, and I didn’t ask you to save iGoogle. I am asking you to save Reader.

As we await the potential pardon, suggestions appreciated for alternate services in addition to the ones listed above.

By Marc Weidenbaum

Tag: / Comments: 6 ]

6 Comments

  1. Ken Mistove
    [ Posted March 14, 2013, at 3:16 pm ]

    I tried Feedly and The Old Reader. At this time I prefer Feedly. I think the Old Reader crew are overwhelmed at the moment. Time will tell. Stupid move on Google’s part…

  2. Kevin Seward
    [ Posted March 14, 2013, at 4:51 pm ]

    Signed petitions at both links.

    My private joke is: I’m only as cool as my Google Reader. In place of “cool” one might insert “informed” or “in touch”. Dunno if that line’ll ring as true if G. R. is replace by Feedly.

  3. Noah Phonaut
    [ Posted March 14, 2013, at 4:53 pm ]

    Agreed 100%! And killing a cloud tool which so many find useful smells suspicious.

  4. gurdonark
    [ Posted March 15, 2013, at 5:00 am ]

    I liked Google Reader, too. I am a bit surprised that Google did not “spin off” the reader, because I suspect the same UI combined with light ads on the side would have been a workable business. I cannot complain about google going the closure route, though, as the service is free.

    I listen to a lot of netlabels, but never used RSS to keep up to netlabels, so that impact will be less for me. But I have begun the process. I am also experimenting with newsblur, but thus far the linux program Liferea has the interface that works best for me. If I could get liferea on my phone, it would be nearly perfect.

  5. tom moody
    [ Posted March 16, 2013, at 7:43 am ]

    I’ ve been using bloglines forever – it was purchased a while back by another company that has kept a hands-off stance. I only got Google Reader to check my feeds and as a backup when it looked like bloglines was going down, prior to that rescue. I never cared about sharing feeds or rating them – just need a place to keep up with blogs that update semi-frequently. Also I never trusted Google for anything but search, and now I increasingly don’t trust that.

  6. Baxter Tocher
    [ Posted March 16, 2013, at 1:46 pm ]

    I’ve been using Google Reader since way back, and thought I could never do without it. But – two days into feedly – I’m loving it.

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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