Blogs, blogs and more blogs + R.I.P. Google Reader




Have you ever had one of your favorite television shows cruelly ripped out from under you? You invest every Tuesday or Thursday night in a gripping drama, and then right after a major plot twist, or as the show is on the verge of revealing the “killer” or the “baby’s father” it just ends. No happy (or sad) ending. No closure. It just comes to a screeching halt and goes away forever. Well, this has happened to me a couple of times, and let me tell you, it is CRUSHING. Especially when your beloved show gets bumped for the 437th season of American Idol (guilty as charged for the first few seasons, but do people still watch this train-wreck?!) or a show featuring uncoordinated adults stumbling through obstacle courses constructed to make them look like bumbling fools (but for the record, I would dominate this show).

The two most notable instances of this in my life were ABC’s “October Road”and FOX’s “Reunion.”Now, most of you have probably never heard of either of these shows. They weren’t hits. They weren’t going to win any awards. But I formed a genuine attachment to the characters and the storylines, and I’d like to think a loyal cult following of weeknight television watchers did as well. In case you’re curious (which you’re probably not), “October Road” was a show about a guy from a small town in Massachusetts who abruptly left said small town after high school, abandoning all of his childhood friends. To make matters worse, he wrote a “tell-all” best-selling novel based on his past and pretty much made them all look like losers. He then decides to return ten years later (genius move), and what do you know – his high school sweetheart has a kid. And how old is this kid? You guessed it, ten! She is in a new relationship (conveniently with the former high school nemesis of the main character), and claims the child belongs to this new boyfriend. But as the show progressed, it became more and more clear that there was a DEFINITE possibility this was the love-child of the beautiful hometown girl and the handsome, tortured writer who was desperately trying to mend the broken relationships he left in his wake when he skipped town. So this super exciting plot-line went on for two full seasons, and then literally, JUST as things were getting juicy and we were on the verge of a possible “you are not the father” Maury Povich moment – the show never returned for a third season. No warning, no explanation from the network – nothing.

Now I know this happens all the time, and when ratings are bad a show isn’t going to survive. But regardless of my apparent horrific taste in television, you KNOW ABC had episodes written for a third season! Why not push them out on DVD for those of us that needed closure! Or syndicate it on the Hallmark Channel or some other d-list network! I would have paid a pretty penny to find out once and for all who that kid belonged to. Ugh.

The other show, “Reunion,” was a bit less memorable, as it only aired for about one season. I thought the premise was clever though. It starred a group of high school friends and each episode would alternate between 1980 and the present day where they were all finally back in the same place for their 20thhigh school reunion. A racy plot full of sex, lies and murder unfolded, but once again the show ended almost as quickly as it began, leaving me frantically searching the FOX website chat boards for any information about what had happened to show. When I finally realized it was never coming back I vowed never to watch another TV show on FOX (television brings out my dramatic side).

Now what does this have to do with tech you ask? Well, I wanted to draw a comparison that more of you might be able to relate to before I start talking about one of my favorite pieces of technology that is about to meet its maker all too soon. Enter Google Reader. I’m sure a lot of you read blogs, and if you don’t, honestly, you’re missing out on some fantastic stuff. The beauty of the Internet is that there is an endless amount of content floating around about ANY topic you could possibly think of. Do you like fun “lifestyle” blogs? Cup of Jo has you covered. Cooking and baking? How Sweet It Isis my most favorite cooking blog ever. The author is an amazing cook and her writing is witty and entertaining. Are you a world traveler looking for new destinations? Kristin Luna, the author of Camels and Chocolate, is a fantastic writer with some absolutely stunning photos and accounts of her journeys around the world. Or maybe you just like blogs that deal with completely random topics. The Burning House is incredibly clever and fun to browse through during a moment of boredom.

My point is, no matter what you are interested in, someone out there is writing about it. And while it sounds cheesy, reading such a variety of content has helped me learn new things, network with new people within the blogging community and discover interests I didn’t even know I had. However, the downside to all this crazy awesome blog reading is that eventually it becomes unwieldy to check all of them on a daily basis. You can certainly bookmark them, or save the links in a spreadsheet, but neither is an elegant solution and still requires you to click all over the Internet to consume the content you’re interested in. Furthermore, I have about 40-50 blogs that I like to peruse during the week so those simply aren’t solutions that will work for me. The better solution – using an RSS Feed Reader.

I know, the term “RSS Reader” sounds complicated, but let’s break it down:

What does RSS stand for?
Real Simple Syndication (or sometimes referred to as Rich Summary Site). I like Real Simple Syndication better. It’s well, simpler.
What does an RSS Reader do, and how does it work?
Essentially it aggregates (brings together) and organizes content from websites into one central location so readers (you and me) can more easily consume the content. Publishers (e.g. blog writers) add a few lines of code to their website which then allows them to syndicate the content on their blog automatically, whenever it is updated with a new post. Think of it as pushing the new/updated content out to other websites without having to manually go to each site one at a time and add it to each individual site. That would be totally inefficient.
As a reader, through an RSS Reader (like Google Reader) you can “subscribe” to each blog or website you’re interested in, and then have those updates pushed into that central location so you’re able to read new posts all in one spot. To subscribe, typically all you have to do is add the blog or site web address (www.xxxxx.com) to a specified location within the RSS Reader and it will do the rest. Google Reader even had a small bookmarklet you could install in your browser that would allow you to simply click a button on your toolbar no matter where you were on the Internet and it would add that website to your Google Reader feed. How the technology actually works isn’t that important. For all I know, it’s voodoo magic. Once you’ve set up your subscriptions, the RSS Reader “goes out” and continually checks each site for updates, and then organizes them into one nice, neat user interface like the one Google Reader offered. This makes reading content from 40 different blogs a much less painful process.
So the RSS Reader simply provides an interface for you to view the content, and for as long as I can remember, Google Reader has been my Reader of choice. It has been around since 2005 and much like other Google products, it is clean, simple, works on both mobile and desktop and syncs well with almost any website out there. Design-wise it isn’t head-turning, but it just flat-out works, and that is something I came to appreciate over anything else.

Check out the screenshots below to get a visual view of what all of this looks like.


Sadly, Google has made the decision to shut down my beloved Reader in a couple of weeks, and much like ABC and FOX, has given us very little explanation as to why, and no sense of closure (in the form of an alternative product). Google is somewhat notorious for these types of moves, and Rebecca and I saw it more than once during our time as Googlers. I’ve scoured the Internet for articles that would give me any insight into why Google is choosing to shut down such a great product, but all I’ve found is vague corporate speak from Google…”usage has declined,” and speculation from other writers…”maybe they are going to roll this feature into Google+ in the future.” There are rumors Facebook is planning an RSS Reader for its platform, so maybe the Google+ idea isn’t completely out of left-field. Whatever the reason, it’s a huge bummer and has left me scrambling for an alternative. It would be devastating to lose all of my data and have to rebuild from scratch, so with the July 1 execution date looming large, I have begun to research viable alternatives.

My search is still ongoing, so this post will be less of a “How I Use It” and “Why I Love It” and more of an joint-exploration into potential alternatives. 

So ideally this post will serve two purposes:
  1. For those of you that DO use Google Reader (I know there has to be a few!), this will give you alternative products to test out.
  2. For those of you that either don’t read a lot of blogs, or don’t use an RSS Reader to aggregate the content, hopefully this will encourage you to give it a try.

I am going to offer up what I feel are the top five alternatives I’ve come across, and then Rebecca is going to follow-up with an in-depth review of her new favorite RSS Reader (but I won’t tell you which one it is just yet!). Being the proactive early adopter that she is, she immediately migrated all of her blogs over to a new product before the tears I shed onto my keyboard over Google Reader’s impending doom had a chance to dry. But truthfully, Rebecca is even more of a blog-junkie than I am, so I trust that she’s done her research and picked a winner. She’s also going recommend some must-follow blogs that we read religiously, and that we think you all would enjoy as well.

So without further ado, here are my Top 5 (but know I will always hold a special place in my heart for you, Google Reader).

Feedly
In almost every article I’ve read about Google Reader alternatives, Feedly has been mentioned. The interface is slick, and after poking around for a few minutes, Feedly appears to offer a few more features than Google Reader. It allows you to easily share stories with friends or across your social networks, and also offers a variety of layout formats to suit your reading style. Previously, you had to install a browser extension in order to run Feedly. A browser extension is a computer program that extends the functionality of a web browser in some way. By adding an extension, you give your browser (Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Internet Explorer) more advanced functions – like accessing an RSS Feed Reader. While installing one is simple, and you probably have done it in the past and not even realized it, it’s just an extra step. Thankfully, Feedly has enabled a new cloud-based infrastructure that allows you to use a completely stand-alone Web version of the site. You can access Feedly from your desktop here, and it also has mobile apps for Apple (iOS) and Androiddevices. As you can see from the Feedly homepage, the site is making it incredibly easy and painless to import all of your Google Reader data with just the click of a button. In less than 30 seconds I loaded all of my existing subscriptions and everything populated perfectly.




The Old Reader
Stange name, yes. But this was another recommendation that I frequently came across when looking for a replacement for Google Reader. The Old Reader is still in beta, but with Google Reader on its way out, I imagine the site will want to snatch up those of us that are reluctantly migrating to new products and therefore continue to develop the product. You can log in using Facebook or your Google account and just like with Feedly, easily import all of your existing feeds. To me, The Old Reader looks the most like Google Reader (for better or worse). If you’re stubborn and don’t like change, this might be the way to go. But honestly, as I’ve begun researching these other options, it’s clear that Google kept Reader’s look very simplistic, opting for functionality over style and design. That being said, this site is simple and very easy to use, and the only major drawback is that it does not currently offer a mobile app. The site does seem to work well on a mobile browser though, and hopefully at some point an app will be introduced.



NewsBlur
NewsBlur is another site that uses a very similar layout to Google Reader, but offers a few more bells and whistles. It also allows you to view articles in several different ways, which is a nice option. There are certain blogs that I like to view in the format that they appear in on the actual blog site or website – and then there are some where pictures and visuals aren’t as important to the content and that I just want to read as text only. NewsBlur gives you options to toggle between different views, as well as options to share articles or save articles to read later. NewsBlur offers free and premium accounts: free accounts are capped at 64 blogs, ten stories at a time and the option to share publicly; premium accounts cost $24/year but allow you to subscribe to as many sites as you want, get all of your stories at once and give you the ability to share publicly or privately. Unfortunately, according to Lifehacker, NewsBlur isn’t offering free accounts right now but the hope is that once demand dies down, that option will return.


Flipboard
If you consume most of your news/magazine/blog content on your tablet or mobile device, I would definitely check out Flipboard. It has truly one of the most gorgeous user interfaces I’ve ever seen, and as a few articles have pointed out, sometimes the stunning aesthetic appeal of the app distracts you from actually focusing on the content of the articles! Flipboard allows you to sort your content into sections (like Art, Food, Politics etc.) and you can even add Twitter, Facebook and Instagram feeds right into the app as well. In my opinion, Flipboard isn’t what immediately comes to mind when I think of a traditional RSS Reader, but it’s certainly beautifully done and a lot of fun to use.


Twitter
Now I know I’m stepping outside the box on this one, but I think one can make a strong case for Twitter being a viable replacement for an RSS Reader. While it’s maybe not directly comparable to Google Reader, or even to any of the alternatives mentioned above, aggregating interesting content is exactly how and why I use Twitter. Very few of my college or graduate school friends are on Twitter (although I’m trying hard to convert them!), so I don’t use it in the same way I use Facebook. Facebook encompasses my personal network, whereas I use Twitter as my information network. It functions as my own personal newspaper, with content that is tailored specifically to my interests. Almost every blog or website I follow in Google Reader has a presence on Twitter – so theoretically I could access the same exact content via Twitter that I do through my Google Reader subscriptions. 

Now, to make use of Twitter in this way, it will take a little effort on your part, especially if you don’t already have an account or don’t quite “get” what Twitter is all about. But trust me – you are not alone! Twitter confuses a LOT of people, but I’m determined to show you guys that it’s not as complicated as it appears to be. Right now this might be a bit of a tease, but stay tuned for a much more in-depth Twitter 101 in the coming weeks. Yes, I worked there, so I COULD be slightly biased, but I truthfully think so many more people would love and embrace Twitter if they understood it better and realized how powerful the platform really is. And that’s what I’m hoping to help with! So stay tuned.

Finally, here are a few other RSS Readers you may want to check out if none of the above suits your fancy:
·       Reeder
·       Netvibes
·       Newsify
·       Pulse
And if any of you are using a great product/service that I haven’t mentioned, please feel free to leave a comment and tell us about it!
Happy reading.

One response to “Blogs, blogs and more blogs + R.I.P. Google Reader

  1. Pingback: “What the Tweet?!” + Twitter (Part III) | Tech in Real Life·

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