Google announced today that they will be shutting down Google Reader as of July 1, 2013. I am sad to see it go both for the convenience and blog traffic.
With social media and magazine-style aggregators taking over the web, RSS readers have fallen in use. For those of us who want to regularly scan a large number of web sites, RSS readers are more complete than the random suggestions from Facebook friends and from tweets. Of course these are not mutually exclusive. A good old fashioned RSS feed will not have the pretty graphics of programs such as Flipbook, but they allow for getting at much more actual text information. Google Reader also allows me to read a feed on any computer (including phone or tablet) and keep what I have or have not read synchronized.
Starring items of interest makes for an easy way to go back to web sites if I don’t have time to read when going through the RSS feed when the article or blog post isn’t important enough to save to Pocket, Instapaper, or Evernote, but I do want to look at it later. It is also how I keep track of material I intend to reference in upcoming blog posts. Between now and July I will also have to go through the items I have starred, assuming they will always be available in Google Reader, and save those which are still worth saving.
RSS readers have also been important for bloggers. Back when they were more commonly used, this blog had over 8000 subscribers through RSS feeds. Now this has fallen to around 800. Over the years there have been abrupt drops as each major online RSS reading site was discontinued. There were probably also less obvious declines as people stopped using their computer-based RSS readers. Of course some of the loss has been made up from social media which provides a large audience for the posts. My followers on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ are comparable in number to the old RSS reader subscribers. I do bet that a far lower percentage of Facebook friends read a copy of a blog post than subscribers in RSS feeds did. (Another effect of social media has been to replace blog comments with discussion of posts on social media).
Hopefully there will be enough outrage at Google shutting down Google Reader that they will reconsider now that they are the only major on line RSS reader left. There is a petition to Google to keep it alive. After enjoying the convenience of on-line synchronization, I could not go back to the desktop-based readers I used in the past. While far fewer people are using RSS readers, I do think there are enough of us left to support at least one site. Digg and other sites are looking into providing an alternative. I hope at least one of them resists the temptation to be too fancy and just copies Google Reader with minimal enhancements.