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You have choices in the aftermath of Google Reader's demise

Google Reader is being retired this summer. Find out how this affects businesses and consumers using RSS feeds, and explore some alternatives.

Google Reader debuted in 2005 as a web feed content aggregator, which is basically a fancy phrase for "news reader." It relies upon RSS (Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication) to gather news from applicable websites and present this information - news, blogs, sports scores, etc. - via a single interface.

I use Google Reader to subscribe to RSS feeds and it has been a great way to keep track of all my news and entertainment sources. (Figure A)

Figure A

The beauty of RSS is that (depending on the site) you can often read all the articles within your news reader; you don't have to click links to launch them in the browser. This feature came in handy when I connected my Google Reader account to a free Blackberry app called Viigo which downloaded feed lists and made articles available offline.

Sadly, development of Viigo seemed to stagnate (along with the Blackberry platform itself) and a string of constant synchronization problems forced me to finally retire the application last year. Twitter has been heralded as a "next step up from RSS," but even the use of Twitter lists doesn't organize my news nearly as well as RSS can. Twitter is more like the Colorado River while RSS is comparable to Walden Pond.

The end of the line for Google Reader

Google announced on March 13th that Reader will be retired on July 1, 2013. Considering the fact the product and the blog hadn't been updated since 2011, it's not a shock. The official reason as stated by Google was because "usage of Google Reader has declined, and as a company we're pouring all of our energy into fewer products. We think that kind of focus will make for a better user experience." Regardless of whether you agree with this decision, it is apparent that Google Reader is a niche consumer product which seems incongruous with their other large-scale enterprise endeavors.

You can use Google Takeout to export any data you might have in Reader via this tip. Takeout will also let you download information from other Google services such as Picasa web albums, Blogger information, Contacts, Drive, and Google+ Circles data.

What are some alternatives?

Google Reader isn't the only RSS reader out there, so its demise doesn't have to signify the end of RSS. In fact, Google's announcement has spurred an interest in other RSS options that may well revive the standard and make it stronger than before. It's been speculated that many companies that held back on RSS reader development out of a reluctance to compete with Google are now free to create more dynamic and multi-featured options. If your organization has published news or information via RSS it can and should continue to do so since there remains a large and loyal fan base.

Here are some Google Reader alternatives along with pros and cons for each. Some of these allow you to set up free accounts or at least quickly test them out.

1. Feedly

Figure B

Description: Feedly has a comprehensive layout (often compared to a newspaper or magazine) and the general consensus among RSS aficionados is that it looks the best out of all RSS readers. It is free now with a paid version coming in the future. Pros:
  • The arguable frontrunner in the Google Reader replacement arena due to features and appearance
  • Available via browser, iOS, Android and Kindle devices
  • Easy migration from Google Reader via syncing

Cons:

  • Won't run on older browsers (even IE 8)
  • Requires browser plug-ins (for instance browser extension to add to Chrome)
  • May involve a learning curve to adjust to layout
  • Some reported performance issues with the Android application
I tried out Feedly by accessing their main page shown in Figure C.

Figure C

I clicked "Connect to Google Reader," got the standard Google sign-in box, and received the following prompt (Figure D) once I authenticated.

Figure D

I clicked "Allow access" and it pulled all my RSS feeds right in, immediately showing me the information I was used to seeing. Quick and easy!

2. NetVibes

Figure E

Description: Netvibes describes itself as a "social dashboard" with individual and enterprise options. RSS is just one component of what it offers; for example, analytics is another. The RSS aspects are modeled after Google Reader and iGoogle, so it should be easy to adjust to if you're a frequent user of these services. Netvibes is the oldest of the Google Reader alternatives. The basic account is free and provides RSS functionality. Pros:
  • Available via browser, iOS, and Android devices
  • Good layout and organizational capabilities
  • Easy import of your Google Reader settings
Cons:
  • Managing a large number of feeds is difficult
  • Removing feeds is complicated at best
  • Dashboard interface and other options may be "busier" than what subscribers want

I signed up for a free account to test out Netvibes. I had some problems during this process as I was required to type in a series of completely abysmal captchas to prove I was human. After five tries I was finally able to proceed. Then I got my RSS feeds imported with relative ease. The presentation of news items seemed quite useful.

I wasn't able to find a way to remove a couple of dead RSS feeds from my list in Netvibes. I searched the help page and found a "Getting started" list which includes the question "How to remove a RSS Feed?" However, the entire "Getting started" list is a series of rhetorical questions without any apparent answers or links to more information. Not particularly helpful. The user guide also makes no mention of removing feeds.

Not to sound catty, but the inability to easily remove an RSS feed turned me off a bit from Netvibes. It's not that the answer couldn't be found - I'm sure further searching would probably reveal it - it's the fact that simple and intuitive actions like this should be immediately available or at least quickly researched. By comparison, Feedly has a "remove" option right next to the title of a RSS feed. (Figure F)

Figure F

3. Newsblur

Figure G

Description: Billed as a "social news reader" with an orientation towards following "the best stories from your friends and favorite blogs." However, you can add and follow your own feeds as you like. Pros:
  • Available via browser, iOS, and Android devices
  • Can use folders-inside-folders for organization
  • Story sharing could be valuable in both a consumer and professional setting
  • Allows you to view stories and articles in their original format (as they appear on the source site)
  • Easy import of your Google Reader settings
Cons:
  • Limit of 12 sites/10 stories at a time/less frequent updates on the free version (the premium version costs $24/month for unlimited sites and all stories).
  • Newsblur's pricing chart lays a guilt trip on free users by claiming a dog named Shiloh (presumably affiliated with the owner of the site) will go hungry if users don't pay for the service. However, it's an effective guilt trip since it made me want to make a donation for the dog's sake.
  • Free accounts are suspended (as of the time of this article) due to the overload of users migrating from Google.
  • There have been some recent complaints about site performance (which may also be related to the Google Reader exodus).

Since free accounts are currently suspended I didn't sign up with Newsblur, but a link on their main page lets you try it out using a predefined configuration (as shown in the screenshot above). It looks like a fine news reader which can get the job done, so if you like it please ensure good old Shiloh gets a nice meal (the pricing section indicates the dog may be a vegetarian, interestingly enough).

4. The Old Reader

Figure H

Description: The Old Reader is modeled directly after the Google Reader interface; it has many of the same features as Google Reader (including some that Reader dropped). Like the other options above, it is free. Pros:
  • Familiar interface
  • Simple and easy to use
  • No confusing bells and whistles for users who just want their RSS feeds in one place
Cons:
  • Still in beta mode (however many Google services ran fine in beta mode for quite a while!)
  • No mobile apps available - runs in the browser only
  • There have been some recent complaints about site performance (which may be related to users moving off Google Reader)
In addition, importing existing RSS feeds may take some time or not complete at all. When I attempted the process I got the notification as shown in Figure I.

Figure I

The import never did complete, nor even change status. To be fair, the number of people now moving to The Old Reader is a temporary condition, so the import delays may improve once the traffic dies down. The Old Reader site states: "We have a large queue of feed imports to process, so the web interface might be working a bit slower than usual. By the way, even if you have uploaded your OPML file and are now waiting for it to be processed, you can still subscribe to your favorite feeds manually and start reading. There will be no duplicate feeds when your OPML file finally gets imported."

There are also some RSS clients for Apple. One such example is NetnewsWire.

5. NetnewsWire

Figure J

Description: Free Mac application which has a long history and broad fan base. It is free (with ads) but you can buy an ad-free version for a one-time cost of $14.95. A new version is in the works. Pros:
  • Available on Mac or iPad/iPhone
  • Will be revamped soon with a new design
  • Easy migration from Google Reader via syncing
Cons:
  • New version may be delayed by problems using iCloud to sync data
  • Lack of iCloud sync may pose an issue for those who want to use iCloud to synchronize or monitor all their data/settings
  • Can't thread articles or organize news by context
  • No customization of color labels

More choices

Other noteworthy RSS options include Pulse (web-based, iOS and Andoid) and Flipboard (iOS and Android only). Also, Digg is building an alternative to Google Reader for release later this year, and is looking for input from users on what to include. According to Emily Price of Mashable.com, "Digg's reader will rebuild some of the Google Reader features we've come to know and love, including its API. At the same time, the Digg reader will bring the technology into 2013 by adding new features such as Twitter, Tumblr, and Reddit integration."

Stepping Aside

It's been said that when a door closes a window opens. Google's decision to demolish Reader isn't the end of the RSS era, but rather the beginning of a shift that will see the rise of other strong players in this arena. Think about it, anyone still driving a Packard, Edsel or DeSoto? These car manufacturers used to be major contenders (well, except maybe for the Edsel) but their demise didn't alter or destroy the evolving automotive scene. However, I'll leave it to you to judge whether RSS can be compared to fossil-fuel-burning vehicles.

I myself plan to start using Feedly for my RSS needs, but there are more than enough other options here for users of all devices and operating systems. Hopefully one of these products will fill any gap left behind after Google Reader's extinction.

Also read:

About

Scott Matteson is a senior systems administrator and freelance technical writer who also performs consulting work for small organizations. He resides in the Greater Boston area with his wife and three children.

8 comments
dan.sandel
dan.sandel

Bloglines allows tagging to read later and it also allows you to place in folders. I will miss the search feature in Google RSS but Bloglines is a very close second.

guyrcook
guyrcook

I got email from wordpress.com that I could import all of the Google Reader feeds I have and import them into their reader, works fine.

hometoy
hometoy

Now that my links are finally imported (I guess that's what I get for having over 100!) The Old Reader is what I am using. I still check Google Reader, but try not to use it as my primary one. The one thing I have noticed is that sometimes it takes a while for my feed to update. To some degree I can understand since it has been under a Tsunami of new users and imports since Google announced closing Reader. Hopefully this will improve in a few months when they can catch up with being able to handle the new traffic.

bobinorlando
bobinorlando

I like Feedly. But it's not immediately clear to me whether it has actually grabbed my feeds from GR and stored that info in its system It looks like it logs back in to GR every time I launch it. I see that it works now while GR is still up. What happens when it actually does shut down?

cnuland
cnuland

I should mention before I switched to Netvibes, I used a Firefox extension called Brief. I loved it but went looking for an alternative when I wanted something that would store my feeds and read posts in the cloud so I could use either my laptop or tablet.

cnuland
cnuland

To remove a feed in Netvibes, you need to click on the feed (left) and then up at the top it will show an Edit link. From there you can rename, edit, or "Delete this feed". I've had fairly good luck with Netvibes although they had a few glitches when a massive amount of people switched over in the last two weeks.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

If mobility and multiple systems aren't issues, you might be happy with Firefox's 'Feed Sidebar' add-on. I certainly am.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

There are numerous alternatives to Google Reader and there are likely to be more on the horizon. What is your favorite RSS Reader or aggregator?

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