It should come as a surprise to nobody that Google Reader’s usage has declined so spectacularly that Google is now looking to retire it in July.
When it started, it was a novel way of keeping RSS, and later Atom, feeds in sync between systems (before the days when we all generally had a laptop and a non-PC internet device such as a smartphone, or an iPad-style tablet which hadn’t really been invented yet.) It also killed the market for desktop RSS readers: Google Reader was a killer app. Syncing was such a useful feature that it became a de facto standard.
Alas, Reader was not to be. Half a decade led to an awful lot of bloat in our RSS feed lists, and a horrible new UI (derived, no doubt, from Gmail’s and Google+’s) only served to compound the idea that I did not want to spend a large amount of my life rifling through things in the Reader list, marking them as read, and mostly ignoring them.
Of course, today, we have plenty of syncing systems available. We have Dropbox. We have iCloud. We have SkyDrive. We have App.Net. We can roll our own personal ‘cloud’ with S3 or an EC2 instance.
I believe that RSS/Atom (or whatever their successors may be) still have a future. There is a place for an application that can provide a digest of long-form articles, without the noise and distraction of something like Twitter. However, the one thing that will inevitably rise out of this is a ton of Google Reader clones—this is not how it should be done.
Google Reader quickly became bloated. It was like an email inbox from 1999, complete with sluggish access (albeit down to poor JS, rather than dial-up nets.) What we need is a feed aggregator that chucks out everything Google Reader invented, and starts fresh.1
And no, Flipboard is not the answer. It’s fine if you only follow blogs featuring photographs. Otherwise, it quickly becomes as bloated as Reader, except with more page-turning animations.↩