Trying on some alternatives to Google Reader

As I posted recently, Google is killing off Reader on July 1.  Having moved past denial, anger, and bargaining, I am now sadly seeking another feedreader.  Here are the two halves of the solution:

  1. I need a front end that shows me the contents of the blog posts - preferably on both a computer and on my phone
  2. I need an online database of what feeds I've subscribed to and what stories I've read

The second point is important because to date, many alternatives to Reader (to name just one example, Newsrob which I used for a while) provided custom front ends but behind the scenes they synced with Reader's database rather than maintaining their own.  That approach will soon stop working.

I began with the Lifehacker article where I first heard about it.  A desktop app would be cumbersome for me, so I started with the four online services they named:  Netvibes, Feedly, Newsblur, and The Old Reader.  Here are my first impressions:

  • Newsblur has a nice look and feel, and it has the functionality I'm looking for.  It also has some nice spiffs (scroll down to "the next three months") such as the ability to "learn" and afterwards filter or prioritize posts for you.  It's a one-man operation staggering under the load of something like 30X growth in one week, so it's throwing a lot of errors right now.  The free version is limited but I'm willing to pay the $24 a year if it stabilizes.
  • Feedly came highly recommended (to be precise, by 65% of respondents to a Lifehacker poll).  But for some reason they require users to install a browser plugin (see below).  I was a bit put off by such a brash request, but I went along with it.  Then I discovered that you cannot create a Feedly account without providing login credentials to either Facebook or Google.  You can't just make up a new username and password and be anonymous.  Maybe I'm paranoid but allowing a company to see everything in my web browser and have access to my Facebook or Google account made me fear I might be leaving myself open to identity theft.  Not necessarily from Feedly, but maybe from somebody who hacks them, or buys them.
  • Netvibes appears to be oriented towards social media professionals, that is, marketers.  What they call a "basic" account is free; they charge for things like analytics for brand management.  This is a very nice feedreader considering that it's built for people who read for very different purposes than I do.  I suppose I shouldn't be surprised it's good, since marketing people actually get paid to read the internet all day.
  • The Old Reader was actually patterned after a previous design of Google Reader.  You might recall the teething pains of the last few years as Google rolled out its "MOAR WHITE" look-and-feel.  The implementation of that look on Reader was particularly ugly and difficult to use, so some folks coded up a new site that looked like, well, the old Reader.  When Google stripped the "sharing" functionality out of Reader a year and a half ago, The Old Reader retained it.  Encouraged, I went to the site to create an account, only to discover that they too demanded that I log in either with Facebook or Google credentials.  Since I already had two good alternatives at that point, I declined to open my kimono to another stranger.

Reader's death sentence has created a power vacuum, and some growth-minded dotcoms are stepping in.  Digg has announced they're working on a reader, so I've filed that away to keep track of.  If you want to read more, the Google Reader tag on Lifehacker has been busy.  You can also visit the Google Reader Users community on Google+.  In fact, there is so much being said about the passing of Reader that I'm confident you could spend the next three months reading it all and not have any time left over to actually do anything about it.

This Is Bullshit

Since you're reading this, there's a fairly strong chance you've already heard that yesterday Google announced the imminent demise of Google Reader.  (The upshot:  sorry you're SOL.)  Reader is the most popular service for subscribing to RSS feeds, which is how most of us bloggers keep track of each others' posts.  If it weren't for RSS, we'd have to subscribe to blogs via email - or, worse, visit every site every day to check for new posts.

This is bullshit.

Google, here are some thoughts going through my mind:

  • How do you build an utterly dominant tool, crush the competition, and then abandon it?
  • Are you trying to obsolesce the underlying technology, RSS?  If so, in the name of Faraday, Einstein, Tesla, Edison, and Newton, why?
  • How do you keep supporting Blogger but take away the network that links bloggers together?
  • How do you fail to provide a migration path to a new service, like, say, Google+?  Surely you have someplace you'd like to have our eyeballs.
  • Were you not making enough money from ads on Reader?  Is that it?  If so, couldn't you have bothered to try pushing a few more ads to support a team to maintain it?

I have 323 subscriptions in Reader.  I use it not only for reading blogs but also for comment threads on blogs, and for totally unbloggy things like local Groupons, tour dates for bands, new Meetup activity, jeez, the list goes on forever.  I probably spend as much time on Reader as the average american spends watching TV.

Yeah, there are some people talking about alternatives (most of whose sites are currently down under what amounts to a DOS attack from tens of millions of techies freaking out) and gamely stocking their digital fallout shelters.  But I'm pissed.  You know what?  Outlook has an RSS reader.  There's probably a way to get a list of feeds in Outlook to sync between two computers and a phone.  Fuck you Google, I'm going to Microsoft.

There's nothing like righteous indignation to wake a slumbering blog, eh?