For the past few years I feel like I’ve seen headlines proclaiming the death of RSS on a regular basis. RSS (really simple syndication) isn’t dead. It provides a way to distribute the latest updates from a website to Twitter, Facebook, news apps like Pulse, and to old-school RSS readers like Google Reader.
But those old-school apps… they’re a dying breed. Google Reader is probably one of the most popular around, and it’s about to go kaput.
Google Reader is an online news reader that lets you organize and view news updates from as many sites as you like. Like many early RSS readers it has a sort of Microsoft Outlook-style user interface, with a list of news feeds in a column on the left and a list of headlines and stories on the right.
It’s been part of my work flow pretty much every day for the past 7 years and I will miss it.
Pulse, Flipboard, and other news apps (even Google Currents) are prettier than Google Reader. They put a heavy emphasis on pictures and a magazine-style layout. They’re great for keeping up on the latest news from a handful of sites.
They’re not much use for skimming through headlines from a few hundred sites, which is what I do every day. But I’m a full-time blogger. Most folks who use RSS readers probably do so much more casually.
It’s been a long time since Google offered any significant updates to Google Reader. The company’s Android app hasn’t been updated since last July. So it’s not a huge surprise that Google is finally retiring Google Reader. A lot of folks have been expecting this to happen for a while… but I was still kind of hoping it wouldn’t.
But today Google announced a new round of spring cleaning, with the company planning to retire some of its older apps and services that may not be as popular as, say, Gmail or Google Drive. And Google Reader was on the list.
Users have until July 31st to find an alternative. In the meantime, you can download your existing data using Google Takeout.
Incidentally, Google also runs Feedburner, one of the most popular services for syndicating and optimizing news feeds. But the company hasn’t really done much with Feedburner lately either, and recently eliminated its AdSense for Feeds service which allowed publishers to include advertisements in their RSS feeds. So I wouldn’t be surprised if Feedburner itself is killed off one of these days too.
Some of the best alternatives to Google Reader for long-time users include The Old Reader (which mimics an older version of Google Reader), Bloglines, NewsBlur, and Feedly. Apparently I’m not the only one who thinks so — as of Wednesday night, all three are cracking under the increased traffic from Google Readers looking for an escape boat.
Update: Right now Feedly is starting to look like the best existing option for my needs. It offers most of the features I’ve grown accustomed to in Google Reader and the mobile app for Android is pretty good too.
But Feedly lacks a search box and doesn’t provide at-a-glance notifications that are as simple to see and use as Google Reader.
Feedly is doing a better job than most competitors of standing up to the rush of traffic that cloud-based RSS readers have seen since Google announced it was closing Reader last night. And Feedly also plans to clone the Google Reader API, offering a way for other developers to offer cloud synchronization for their own RSS readers.
Meanwhile there might be another solution from an unexpected quarter: Digg. The makers of the social news service were already planning to build an RSS reader, and with the announcement that Google Reader as we know it is dead they’re promising to incorporate as many Google Reader-like features as they can.