Tobold's Blog
Thursday, March 14, 2013
Replacing Google Reader

Google today announced that they would shut down their Google Reader service this summer. As an immediate reaction I signed up with Feedly, who are offering a seamless transition. Problem solved? Well, I think the event should give us food for thought.

Google Reader is just one of many free services we use on the internet. Google has a lot of other of those free services, from their search engine to Blogger/Blogspot where this blog is running. But they are not the only ones, millions of people use Facebook and Twitter every day. And because we use these services, we feel some sort of entitlement to them. But the harsh reality is that if you are using a free product on the internet, you are not a customer, you are the product. Any of these services can be shut down any day, either because the company running the service decided it wasn't profitable enough, or because the company went bankrupt.

In terms of our virtual lives, that is a rather scary thought. The very existence of "Tobold" as a presence on the internet depends to 99% on Google. If they would shut down Blogger/Blogspot and GMail, "Tobold" would pretty much cease to exist. Sure, I could open up a blog elsewhere using the same name, but I would have lost my network, and thus my pagerank, so the new blog would be very hard to find.

And there is nothing I can do about it, except for the rather paradoxical solution of not using the free services in the first place for fear of losing them. I have no legal contract with any of these service providers that would force them to continue offering their service to me. The only advantage I have is my experience with MMORPGs or other online games which I played and which shut down: Lose your in-game social network a couple of times like that, and you are at least aware of the possibility of losing other social networks when the service shuts down.

I also find that Feedly is an inadequate replacement for Google Reader in many ways.
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The real "bonus" of Google Reader is its integration into the Google world/cloud. There are/will be other viable solutions, it's not the end of the world. But... it's like awaking from a cool dream and realizing it was -indeed- just a dream.

We are the product, yes. But we also use a LOT of stuff at zero cost: blog platforms, social networks, email addresses, hosting, storage, forums, games, software etc. The list is infinite.

It's a pain in the back, mostly because we have to reorganize ourselves. But that's how "free" stuff works (not to mention that sometimes you get screwed by paid companies too, of course).

The Reader seems a nice alternative too.

I was quite shocked this morning when I read the news. I think out of any online service I probably rely on Reader the most. Very integral part of my day to check news and then update the site I run if anything newsworthy comes up.

Very disappointed Google decided to close the service instead of seguing into some sort of paid option or more heavily ad-supported model.
It's not like the paid services are guaranteed to be around forever either.

Especially for Google; A product that generates 50 million US$ a year is just one-thousandth of their revenue and probably not worth the distraction.

Also I think this is exacerbated by the Google culture where I think is a lot of engineers going off without having to do as many business/marketing plans. Great for innovation but not longevity; some corporate ADD.


But I am so sad about this.
The problem is: If I can't even rely on Google to keep offering a working and popular service, who can I rely on? The fact that it was free is rather unimportant there. Even if it wasn't a company could just decide that it doesn't generate enough profits to warrant the attention or that they want to focus on their core or something like that.

In this specific case I doubt monetary considerations even played a role for google, because they never even tried to monetize Reader. I think they just judged that Reader no longer fit into their portfolio, because part of that featureset is already occupied by the strategically more important Google+.

So..what to do? I don't want to switch to another webservice, because the chance that it will go out of business some time in the future is rather high. I'm a bit at a loss right now.
"In this specific case I doubt monetary considerations even played a role for google, because they never even tried to monetize Reader."

You think that a multi billion dollar marketing firm wouldn't utilize page hits and rank different themes on popularity?
@ Kiseran: there are no "forever" solutions, paid or free. You just need to find services which let you backup everything to be reused somewhere, just in case.
I suppose the advantage is that there will always be other free services to jump to. They may not be the same, but they can still work well.

When it comes to readers, I've given up on online ones. I just use FeedDemon, a piece of desktop software. It feels less graceful, but it gets the job done so far. Again it's free (ad supported) so it may not work forever!
@Camo: I have no doubt that a lot of the generated information from Reader went into their search engine somehow, which will surely have profited them. I merely wanted to point out that on top of that they never tried stuff that was an actual drawback for their users, like ads or a fee.

@Rugus: Sure, nothing is forever. But there's a difference between using a solution by a billion-dollar-company and a small startup. The latter one has a 90% chance of vanishing within two years. In addition I don't really know what they will do with the data i (have to) give them. With Google I had a vague idea that it is used for machine learning, producing better search results and from there I can see where Google is getting money. Google manages to monetize without actually hurting their users any. With other services it might very well be like "lets gather lots of users and then see what we have to do to make them pay".
Tobold has an option, which is to make his own 'Tobold' website, with enough links back and forth to this blog that it gets a reasonable number of hits. [For example, host interesting images or occasional special articles there, and link to them.]

If blogger died, tobold would then still be found in a search and he could rapidly get a new site up and running.
What Gerry said, I agree. As a web developer I strongly encourage my clients to use their own stuff. First of all a custom domain such as And its custom email address.

There are infinite great blog platforms. Just register a domain, grab a hosting plan, install Wordpress and you're done.
Actually I already own :) It just goes to the blog at the moment.
My entire internet life is crashing down around my head this year. I really use relatively few free internet services compared to what most people do, but iGoogle, Google Reader, and MSN messenger all dying this year have been crushing blows to me. I don't know how much more I can take before I go cry in a corner...
I just opened my four Google Reader identities in Blogger, where it seems I had fooled around before using Wordpress. That's it, I saw all of my feeds.

So, get a Blogger identity. You do not need to actually do a blog.
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