Mourning Google Reader

Mourning Google Reader
On any given morning, I trudge into my office, fire up the computer and the espresso machine, and sit down to wade through the hundreds of blogs and news and industry web sites I regularly browse to stay up to date on what’s going on in my field, technology law, and in the world of startups inhabited by most of my clients.

“Hundreds?” you might proclaim with disbelief. “Come on, Dani. Aren’t you exaggerating just a little?” Nope. Sometimes I feel completely overwhelmed by the amount of information out there on the good ol’ interwebs, and the number of sites I feel are “must-visits” in order to stay up to speed. However, a free Google tool called Reader allows me to aggregate my favourite web sources into what one commenter at The Economist called “a one-stop digital news stand,” which makes this daily exercise slightly less painful.

Reader checks my list of news sites and blogs for new content, and I only have to visit one web site instead of, oh, a thousand. So imagine my dismay when recently, Google announced on its blog that it would be retiring Reader as of July 1, 2013.

Apparently I wasn’t alone in my distress at the impending death of Google Reader. The Twitterverse erupted with a level of rage and anxiety I haven’t seen since Facebook introduced Timeline. Online petitions were created (KeepGoogleReader.com), hashtags like #savegooglereader and #keepgooglereader trended, and Google Reader even out-trended the new Pope on the day of his appointment.

Google seemed to suggest this was purely a business decision, to stop putting resources into a product that wasn’t profitable for them. But to us, the loyal masses of Google Reader-readers, this was personal.

What it comes down to is this: we (users) don’t like it when the Powers That Be mess with our technology. Errr. . . their technology. It reminds us in a most uncomfortable way of just how much we rely on proprietary technologies that we don’t actually own to make our lives easier, sexier, more efficient, more entertaining. Change isn’t always good, OK?!

Or is it?

Since the pronouncement of Google Reader’s death sentence, blogs and web sites have helpfully offered lists of alternative RSS (really simple syndication) tools and news aggregators to replace Reader:

•    Feedly, a web-based RSS service, has had 500,000 new users sign up for its service in a week and is offering helpful migration tips to bewildered and grieving Google Readerites.

•    The Old Reader is catering to the most change-resistant of Google Reader users with a tool whose main claim to fame is that it is “just like the old Google Reader.”

•    Social news outfit Digg has immediately gone to work creating its own RSS reader, Digg Reader, which will “identify and rebuild the best of Google Reader’s features.”

•    The Online Journalism Blog created a spreadsheet weighing the pros, cons, features, and limitations of no less than 53 alternatives to Google Reader.

After I’d had a few days to mourn, I realized the death of my beloved Google Reader may, I daresay, be a blessing. It’s re-invigorated interest in a rather un-glamorous but oh-so-necessary technology (RSS), and got people thinking about the most useful, effective, and user friendly ways to aggregate content. It’s allowing users and developers alike to have conversations about what aspects of Google Reader they like and want to keep, what can be improved, and what features can be scrapped altogether in favour of something new.

As a tech lawyer, I can’t help but think about some of the new business opportunities opening up for my clients now that there is so clearly a need for a certain type of product in the market.  So while I am dreading the thought of migrating from Google Reader to another service, I’m excited at the possibilities. It might be time to shop around a little.

But don’t think I’m letting you off easy, Google. We’re still fighting.

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