Losing Google Reader

Google announced last night that they are sunsetting Google Reader on July 1:

There are two simple reasons for this: 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.

By which they mean “we started cutting features from Google Reader, so fewer people enjoyed using it and ended up stopping,” and “no one was developing it anymore.” I’m also curious to see where this “better user experience” will appear. Certainly not for Google Reader. :)

Anyone who has been paying attention has seen this coming; Reader has been neglected for some time and in some cases has had features removed from it over the last couple of years. It was clearly not receiving much love. I haven’t used it in well over a year, which was sad because I lost the use of Reeder across all my devices, which I have gladly purchased three times over on all my devices.

A lot of the chatter has been about available alternatives. The big ones that I’ve seen kicked around are NewsBlur, The Old Reader, Feedly, and Fever. I’ll tell you why I use Fever and why I think that—for now—it’s the best alternative.

When it comes to the content I create, I’m really big on ownership. I have my own domain, I run on open source solution for blogging that relies on a deeper open source stack to run, and I act as my own gatekeeper. I have argued in the past that you should do the same and that the blog is still the atomic nucleus of individually-generated content on the internet.

That’s why I’m using Fever. If there were an open source alternative that were just as easy to set up and configure, offered a robust API, had at least some of the same features, and ran on the same stack as my WordPress installations, I would switch in a heartbeat. But for now, Fever is it. Here’s the bulleted list of things I like about it, for those of you who are in to that sort of thing:

  • Easy to set up (LAMP stack).
  • Includes a bookmarklet that leverages autodiscovery to help me add feeds without fuss.
  • Has an API that now works with Reeder for iPhone to sync subscriptions (wish the iPad and iOS apps would catch up to this).
  • Has great keyboard shortcuts, including one that sends the selected article to Instapaper (my primary information flow relies on this).
  • Can be cron’d so subscriptions get updated on a schedule I like (I prefer hourly and will turn that down if I feel like it’s ruining my life).
  • Has the “What’s Hot” list, which I don’t use as often as I should, but aggregates the links that appear in all my feeds to show me what they are linking to—and helps me discover new things in the process.
  • Allows me to hide read/unread counts.
  • Allows me to add feeds just for the purpose of the aggregation feature so I can add news sources without feeling that I need to read everything they post (I prefer to aggregate things friends are talking about, anyway).
  • Includes a referrer anonymizing solution for when I go to stories that are in my reader.

And here’s the list of things I don’t like about it, in case you want to know that:

  • Not open source. (Though I don’t mind giving Shaun money. He’s a pretty cool dude.)
  • Non-cron syncing takes a long time, but that’s probably more to do with my feeds addiction.
  • Mobile browser view sucks, and it’s awful on iPad (this is the main thing that would get me to switch away). Reeder’s API syncing is what brought me back to Fever after I tried it once and dropped it to go back to Google Reader for a time.

All of the other alternatives I have listed above are hosted services. They aren’t under my control. Out of all of them, I find NewsBlur the most compelling and the option that appears to have the greatest chance of success as a Google Reader alternative.

NewsBlur is available as an open source DIY project, but the instructions for it are more work than most humans are willing to undertake to set up something on their own, and I’ll bet that a lot of hosts wouldn’t support it based on its requirements. I’d love for someone to tell me there’s an easy way to set it up on Webfaction, because my wife is now looking for a Reader alternative and something that supports more than one of us at a time would be great.

The most important thing I can say is that if you are/were a Google Reader user, please take a look at the alternatives that are available and use one. RSS is still out there, and you should use it: it’s a robust, open solution to aggregating content. If everyone stops using it, there’s always the danger that it will stop being supported by even more services and eventually disappear completely.

If that happens, then the alternatives won’t matter.