Farewell Google Reader

For better or worse, Google Reader is gone, and no amount of complaining is going to bring it back. Google has made up its mind, probably because they couldn’t make money off of it, which is kind of important for a free service. RSS, and other less-used feed formats, are simply amazing. They make it easy to consume post titles and content without visiting the website directly. In a sense, you could visit one site (Google Reader, or any other feed reader) to read new posts from hundreds of sites without visiting each of those sites individually just to see if they even had new posts. Maybe the death of one of the most popular web-based feed readers also signals the death of RSS, or maybe it will usher in a new era of web-based feed reader innovation. No one knows for sure.

Plenty of people have shared what they’re doing in this post-Google Reader utopia (or dystopia), so I figured that I might as well share what I’m doing too, and discuss my compulsion-fueled love/hate relationship with RSS.

I have a compulsion to zero-out all of my inboxes by the end of the day. I do it with email, I do it with Twitter and other social networks, and I even did it with the feeds I had subscribed to. When I first started using Google Reader years ago, I was subscribed to 147 feeds. Making sure that I at least acknowledged everything and read what I wanted to usually took a whole hour out of my day. As I came to learn over the years, especially with encouragement from my co-workers, I really wasn’t learning much and it wasn’t a productive use of my time.

Last year, I switched to Fever, a self-hosted web-based feed reader which promised to automatically curate the content that was important to me from my 147 subscriptions. It worked wonderfully, and I still recommend it to this day, but it didn’t work for me. Despite the handy curated list, I was still compelled to at least acknowledge every single feed, just in case I might miss something important. I can confidently say that Fever’s automated curation never missed anything important, but that never stopped me from checking, just to be sure.

For a variety of reasons, none related to Fever, I went back to Google Reader. This time, I only brought with the feeds that had been updated in the past 6 months, dropping my total subscriptions from 147 to 55. I continued to use Google Reader until the announcement of its closure brought with it the cold, hard slap of reality. I didn’t care about all 55 feeds, I didn’t even read articles from most of them, I just skimmed the majority of the headlines, saved the very few (about 5 a day) to Instapaper for later reading, and clicked “Mark all as read.” Now that I had finally acknowledged this important fact, I cut my total number of subscriptions down to 7 and prepared to move on.

Along with Google Reader, I had been using the WordPress.com Reader to follow the WordPress.com blogs of my co-workers (and to actively use more of the service that I was providing support for every day). I really like the WordPress.com Reader. It has a river-style flow of content (no folders, just a stream of posts as they happen) and my co-worker don’t post too often, plus it’s really easy to import subscriptions from other feed readers, including Google Reader’s subscriptions.xml file.

After cutting my Google Reader subscriptions down from 55 to the 7 that I really care about, I bookmarked the 3 with the most recent posts and now visit them once daily to skim the headlines and save the interesting ones to Instapaper. The other 4 were added to the WordPress.com Reader. Beyond that, I’ll trust the folks I follow on Twitter to curate any important news that I might have missed during the day, and Tweetbot makes it incredibly easy to save linked articles to Instapaper for later reading.

Like magic, I not only gained an hour of my life back each day, but I’m still following the things important to me, and I haven’t missed any important news yet. Thank you, Google, for shutting down Google Reader! Part of me will still miss it, but I clearly needed the wakeup call.