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Thoughts on Google Reader
Frogmarch 2002 - Whitby
Google has announced the end of its Google Reader service. This makes me sad.

I’ve been using Google Reader for years as my main method of reading the web sites that I follow, but I seldom use the Google Reader web interface, other than for occasionally subscribing or unsubscribing from feeds. Instead I’ve used a variety of client applications that use Google Reader as a back end.

My introduction to using RSS newsfeeds was NetNewsWire on the Mac, which I used for a number of years. I dallied with NewsFire, before my reading moved entirely to my iPhone and iPad. After trying various apps I settled on Byline, which was tightly integrated with Google Reader, with its core feature being the offline caching. Being able to download all of my newsfeeds — including the web pages that they link to — makes journeys with intermittent internet access significantly happier.

There have been some interesting reactions to the news:
A common theme is that Google cornered the RSS client market without developing a business to sustain it. We must all share a blame in this; we allowed a monopoly to develop. There is a lesson here about depending on a free services for something that we value, and a lesson about allowing a company to dominate a market sector with a loss leader. There needs to be competition for a market to work; to encourage innovation and product development, and to provide security of service (should one supplier disappear).

There will be three months before Google Reader disappears. It is time to start looking at alternatives, but I think the real choices will come from what the mobile clients support. Will there be a market-leading web-based solution? Will there ever be another defacto standard syncing solution? If so, will it have a sustainable and scaleable business model?

Maybe this will be a time of innovation in RSS readers, or maybe it a sign of the impending death of the technology. Some of the existing clients will disappear. Hopefully there will be a stronger ecosystem of RSS clients and syncing solutions in three months.

In the mean time, I’ll give Fever another go. A self-hosted web-based RSS client, it has an interesting feature set. I bought it a few years ago when it launched, but it didn’t click for me, mostly due to the lack of iPhone client support. Now there are a couple of iOS clients available, it might do much of what I need.