RIP Google Reader, ignored by many, loved by few

The service is being shut down, with Google giving users just over three months to set up their RSS feeds elsewhere
  • @willydean

If you have a Google account, and if you're reading this on a computer you most likely do, you'll probably have used it to sign in to Gmail, or maybe YouTube, Google Maps or its burgeoning social network Google+.

Fewer Google users use Google Reader, one of the company's slightly more niche services (like 3D model builder SketchUp, or the social organiser Groups), which is why – to the dismay of those who organised their reading around its RSS feed collection – Google announced it was binning the service on 1 July.

Reader is a service which allows you to select the websites you want to read – say – and it will automatically sync any article published by the site with the your Reader account on your computer or phone. The result is a personalised newswire, a service that's indispensable for many – particularly some journalists – which is perhaps why the outcry at its closure was so loud yesterday. At the time of writing, 50,000 people had signed a petition at to keep it open. 

It may well have been the continued rise of Twitter which did for Google Reader. Most news sources will have Twitter feeds putting out their content as soon as it goes live. And, if you're following the right people, the best stories will be recommended to you without having to sift through Reader. The service quickly filled up with stories too, making it difficult to pick out the ones you were most keen to read.

Though some, like CNET's Scott Stein, have rubbished the comparison. Stein tweeted "Google Reader is to Twitter as a well-labelled filing cabinet is to a bag of insane cats."

So if Twitter isn't a direct replacement, then what are people who relied on Google Reader for their news supposed to use? Members of the Reddit community quickly offered a few suggestions on a thread mourning the demise of Reader, including the paid-for Fever, the long-running Netvibes (which offers easy Reader migration) as well as an independent take on Google's product called The Old Reader. 

The death of services we rely on is an inevitable consequence of free web services which require large user bases to be profitable to advertisers. For instance, Posterous, the mobile blogging platform acquired by Twitter in 2012 will be shut down at the end of April. Google is particularly brutal when it comes to ending services – mainly because it has launched so many. Anyone remember Google Notebook? Which allowed you to take notes while browsing. Or, did you ever sign up for its fledgling social network Buzz, whose first hit on the search engine reads "Google Buzz has gone away."

Dan Worth, news editor of technology website V3, understands users' annoyance at losing favourite services but suggests that – like when a beloved high street store fails – there's not much they can do: "It's understandably frustrating when a service is discontinued but mostly firm's make these decisions for their own reasons, rather than the users, especially when the service was free to begin with."

If there's a product you can't work without maybe, hints Worth, have a few alternatives ready and back up the information you've got save on them: "The internet makes seems thing very tangible but if the company behind a product goes bust, is bought, changes market or some other reason, there's little that can be done. Backing data up to your own laptop is always a sensible idea and most firms will give you notice and a chance to export content from their service before it disappears."

Which gives Google Reader readers three and a half months to set up their RSS feeds elsewhere. And maybe take some solace in the news that while Google can read your email, know what videos you're watching and what websites you're looking at, it will no longer know which news feeds you use. Take that Sergey!