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Google Kills Google Reader

Expiration date set for July 1, 2013.

Google Reader is the web application page that I access most by an unbelievable margin. Even more so than reading and posting on this frequently updated web spot here. Hours a day are spent in it, collecting posts to share, starring others to stash for a in-depth perusal later, searching for topics of interest. And I am not alone in this regard, as others are also presently expressing their discontent over this development.

Some, on the other hand, believe this to be excellent news.

Google Reader is a convenient way to sync between our RSS clients today, but back when it was launched in 2005 (before iPhones), it destroyed the market for desktop RSS clients. Client innovation completely stopped for a few years until iOS made it a market again — but every major iOS RSS client is still dependent on Google Reader for feed crawling and sync.

This is a gross misunderstanding on how Google Reader RSS feeds are consumed by avid users. The power of RSS is that it magnifies one’s agility and speed in viewing vast amounts of content scattered amongst colossal numbers of sites. Granted, not everybody has a subscription total of 3,408 like I do, but I venture that for any total less than a couple hundred, there really is not a great benefit in RSS consumption, other than as a ticker toggle alerting you that something new is now available for your perusal. The greater plus is the capability to rapidly traverse articles that would be simply inconceivable from just a list of bookmarks. Having some feeds arranged on a mobile device is groovy and all, but real news feed reading happens on a computer with a keyboard. And the ability to search for a topical phrase, person or reference and quickly locate a recent article containing that text. Confined only to those sites that you actually care about.

Desktop clients have always sucked — since the inception of RSS. Entering more than a 100 feeds or so results in a sputtering smoking CPU that stalls under the load. This is a utility that cries out for a web application. And Google Reader, despite languishing for the past several years, still shines like no other RSS client. At least in the principle matter of accessing and reading feeds. I, nor any avid RSS feed consumer, cares about schmaltzy magazine layouts or predictive AI that discovers new feeds. Simply put, I just want to enter the sites I am interested in, read feeds in a chronological order, and search for things I am curious about.

Now, we’ll be forced to fill the hole that Reader will leave behind, and there’s no immediately obvious alternative. We’re finally likely to see substantial innovation and competition in RSS desktop apps and sync platforms for the first time in almost a decade.

I hope this is true.

But as stated, Google Reader has languished for the past few years, yet there has been no real competition here even though most all had a whiff of what was coming after the arrival of Google+. Moreover, there is the archival factor — it is not just about collecting and reading feeds, it is about the ability to scroll back through history. A typical blog feed only shows the last n items, a value of 10 or maybe a few dozen tops. So it will be a state of tabula rasa for any up and coming application (be it desktop or web), sans anything before the 2013 (or late 2012) cutoff date. In Google Reader, I can click on a feed and flip through 8 years of item history.

Of course, there are those who will be eager to chime in that users of a free service have no grounds for griping. My recourse here is that this is an important web utility that might only be able to be serviced by an entity with the resources of Google. Searching and storage have hefty costs, as those who eagerly shriek at the whining “Bring back Google Reader!” freeloaders will deem. I cannot envision a “for profit” commercial entity eluding the cost prohibitive nature of such an endeavor (done properly). Maybe, Google could open source the application stack and gift a foundation money to carry on the service.

For an outfit that once branded itself “don’t be evil”, Google is certainly doing its damnedest to fulfill the reverse. What’s next? Gmail? Is it all just a procession to funnel all users into Google+?

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