Google’s Reader replacement options

April 2, 2013
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When Google announced Reader, their RSS service, was being shuttered… news junkies everywhere revolted. Reader was the easiest, simplest, cleanest RSS feed available. Everyone wondered why it was being shut down, and a groundswell of support was initiated to bring it back.

There has been no sign of Google reversing their ‘spring cleaning’ initiative, but it’s really hard to believe they’d simply abandon RSS altogether. Google Reader may not have been a powerhouse service, but it had a very devoted following. A recent comment by the CEO of Flipboard suggests two million people ported their Reader subscriptions over, which may give an indication of just how many used the service religiously.

Rather than dwell on what’s been decided, we look to the future. Will Google bring us something new, or will the features of RSS be cobbled into another service? There are options, but unfortunately nothing as sublime as Reader.

A new service?

This option, quite bluntly, feels unlikely. It makes very little sense for Google to abandon Reader to start anew with another service. Why build something from the ground-up, when Reader was already there? An RSS feed can only go so far, and do so much, before it reaches the limit.

Google, however, is very good at being secretive. There could very well be some mind boggling service in the works to replace Reader, and we’ve just been blinded by our rage. Nothing has been announced, and that would have been the right thing to do if a replacement was in the works. There is still an outside shot at seeing a new service… but don’t hold your breathe.

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Google News

News is a handy desktop service from Google, and very close to what Reader is. It may be one of the easiest transitions for Google to make, also. It shares a lot of the same information as Reader, but is just different enough to cast doubt.

The layout of News is something that needs to change for RSS fans, as those who use it tend to use it want as much information in as small a timeframe as possible. The “Headlines” interface for News is close to RSS, but still a little bulky. Scanning for headlines that are pertinent to our needs is important, not pictures or related articles.

The personalization options in News are good for getting concentrated information on a specific topic, and you can adjust how much of that info gets into your stream. Sound familiar? More on that in a bit.

The downside? You can’t load your current RSS feed into news, so you’d have to rebuild your intake from scratch. Google News also doesn’t have an Android app, which makes many wonder just how seriously Google takes it… and if it’s here to stay.

Google-Currents

Google Currents

If Google News doesn’t have an Android app, it’s because Currents exists. Currents is a bit of a hybrid service, straddling the RSS feed platform with the look of Google News. Searching for topics is easy, and gives a few different methods for results (sites, articles, etc.).

The problem is… there is no desktop service. Google News may be the desktop “version” of Currents, but they don’t share info. You basically have to re-create your feed on both platforms, and would get info differently because of it. Saving a favorite article in Currents wouldn’t show in News, and the information stream would be different for both, essentially duplicating your efforts if you navigated between the two.

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Google+

Google’s social service acts as the spine running through the company, essentially linking everything together. It also has the benefit of being a really useful information aggregate. Circles can be manipulated to reflect interesting topics or types of sites, and a search for popular hash-tags can be performed.

This, however, relies on proper usage. You have to build out your circles to suit your needs, which can be tedious. The layout doesn’t make it conducive to information-hoarding folks, as the constant cycling of stories and bold design make it easy for things to be lost in the shuffle. It’s a prettier layout than anything else we’ve discussed here, but it’s also the bulkiest. RSS doesn’t thrive on bulkiness, just bulk information gathering.

While the layout could use a tweak for those certain circles RSS is needed for, it’s a slippery slope. Offering a more RSS-like look and feel jeopardizes the entire service, as it becomes more utilitarian and less inviting. Google+ is also lacking one key thing, which is integral in making it a go-to source for information.

The API

The API for Google+ isn’t public, meaning websites can’t publish directly to it. If you picked this story up on Google+, that means I wrote it, published it to our site, then had to manually go into Google+ to post it. With other sites like Facebook or Twitter, the story just populates there… and the author, social media manager, or whoever posts articles has no additional work. This is because the API for those sites is public, which was a huge benefit to RSS.

So when is the API coming? Google can’t confirm when an API update would take place. They mentioned to me they want to take their time to make sure both developers and users have a great experience. Google+ puppeteer Vic Gundotra made some very salient points at SXSW 2012 regarding the API. What’s clear is that Vic is very passionate about Google+, along with this API issue… and admirably shoulders all criticism for it.

An RSS-like function on Google+ makes a lot of sense… but it also has some very tough internal dialogue to navigate before seeing the light of day. Google has ‘social’ figured out, and putting the ‘media’ back into social media could push google+ over the top.

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Conclusion

If the intent is to keep RSS around in some way, Google’s method for eliminating Reader was terrible. Many have lost faith in their conviction to services, while others simply shrugged and moved on. There are plenty of other methods for getting information, but none as good as Reader.

We may never know the true reasons for eliminating Reader, but that doesn’t matter much. What’s done is done, and we all need to move on to something new. What we’ll use or where we’ll get our news from, we may not know yet. We would like to keep it Google-y, but that may not be possible… yet.

A good replacement for Reader would satisfy a lot of hurt feelings, and silence much of the outcry. Reader was available on the desktop, as well as via an app/widget. Only one of the services Google has internally shares that attribute, which is Google+.

If Google really intends for Google+ to be the nerve center of all services, it needs users glued to it. A solid news feed could end up pushing people onto the site, or keeping them there longer. According to the former Project Manager for Reader, the case for Google+ taking over is a strong one. I hope he’s right.

 

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