Thursday, March 14, 2013

Worst. Day. Ever.

Google announced their annual spring cleaning plans for 2013 yesterday. Spring cleaning is where Google announces a few products or services for which it plans to shutter or end support. Typically these are services that almost nobody uses, or are designed for obsolete platforms, but for those hooked into the Google ecosystem this day is always a little nerve-racking, because you never know if Google might shut down one of the more obscure services you rely on. Personally, I've never been significantly impacted by a spring cleaning. Until this year, that is.

This year, due apparently to declining usage, Google announced the upcoming death of one of my absolute favourite services. As of July 1, 2013, Google will be shuttering Google Reader. Reader is basically an RSS repository. It takes feeds, usually from blogs but sometimes other sources, and aggregates them. It formats them into a nice, clean interface which is especially ideal for mobile, and saves them for viewing at leisure. I use Google Reader primarily to track baseball blogs, but also some tech blogs and other things. I find it particularly useful to keep tabs on blogs that rarely post, because I won't visit them otherwise.

Reader and RSS are a rather dated technology, in the internet world. However, I have yet to encounter anything which functions as well in the same role. Since the demise was announced, many of the people I follow on Twitter have mentioned that they abandoned Reader long ago, preferring to get their stories through Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or other social sharing networks. While I use these services, and I find outstanding content through them every day, they don't work in the same role. When a story is posted to my Twitter feed, and I don't read it right away, I'll rarely remember to go back and find it later. This means that if I'm busy, which is most of the time, I will miss things posted in real time, and I might never read them. Services like Google Currents (which I use on my tablet) and Flipboard have the same problem.

Google Reader aggregates that content. On my desktop and Chromebook I have a Chrome extension that shows me how many unread articles I have (32 at this moment) and link me to Reader. On my Android phone and tablet I have a widget that serves the same purpose. When I have spare time, I open Reader, and peruse content at my leisure. The Android app even syncs it so that I always have something to read on the subway.

Since nothing within the Google ecosystem or my existing stable of services and social networks will fill the void, I'm going to be forced to look outside for a new service. Last month, after it was redesigned, I purchased PocketCasts for Android after growing incredibly frustrated with the buggy, discontinued Google Listen podcasts app, and I absolutely love it. I've seen Feedly floating around as a possible replacement, so I'll check that out. If it can be the PocketCasts of RSS aggregators I'll be thrilled.

This isn't the end of the world, but it's really, really annoying. I depend on Google Reader and use it a ton, and the worst part is probably that it was perfect for what I needed. Honestly, I didn't have a single complaint about the way Google Reader worked. The whole thing is just makes me sad.

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