So long, Google Reader

In case you haven’t been paying attention in the past 24 hours, the Pope has killed Google Reader.

What? Oh! Okay, Google is killing Google Reader. On July 1, the best RSS client I’ve ever used will be no more. One of the more interesting aspects of the reaction is seeing how people have used it. I never really got into the sharing feature of Reader, so it didn’t bother me when it was discontinued in favor of Google Plus. For some people, that was apparently the main selling point.

My own use was generally selfish. I just wanted to know when something new was posted to a site. This is especially important for sites that don’t update regularly, as I’m not likely to keep checking a site every day on the off chance it’s been updated. I also don’t want to rely on social media to get updates. If I’ve been offline for a few days, I’m not going to catch up on all of the Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ posts I’ve missed. I will scroll through the entire collection of articles in Google Reader, reading those that seem interesting.

I can buy that RSS has seen a decline in usage (not in utility, but that’s a separate matter). I can understand that Google doesn’t find it worthwhile to keep Reader going. Like Casey Johnston, I suspect that it won’t go away entirely (as you may recall, the real-time editing technology in Google Wave made an excellent addition to Google Docs). But here’s the thing: I don’t really care.

Yes, I use Google Reader on a daily basis. I’m not tied to it, though. Reader doesn’t integrate with any other Google products in a way that’s meaningful for me. So while I have probably spent more time watching this woman’s face than my wife is comfortable with, I’ll make do without Google Reader. I don’t know what I’ll migrate to yet. NewsBlur has been brought up several times, although they currently aren’t allowing new free accounts (presumably due to being crushed by new users in the wake of yesterday’s announcement). I may also go the self-hosting route and set up tt-rss (which may also present an opportunity to run it as a paid service for those who can’t/won’t run it themselves). I still have a few months to figure it out.

Does the death of Bloglines signal the death of RSS?

In a blog post last week, announced that they were shutting down the Bloglines service.  This has lead some to conclude that RSS is dying.  Do Twitter, Facebook, and aggregator sites like Fark and Reddit obviate the need for RSS?  For me, at least, the answer is clearly “no.”

There’s no doubt that I find many interesting news articles through those methods (although I get more value in the discussions on Fark and Reddit than I do from the articles themselves), but at the core this operates based on what others find interesting.  Sure, in the case of Twitter and Facebook, the posts I see are probably from people with similar interests, but I want to make sure I get the posts that I want to see.  Social media/news aggregator sites are great for finding new sites, but pretty lousy for following them.

Visiting each site on a regular basis to check for new content isn’t exactly a beneficial use of my time, either.  I currently have 85 subscriptions in my Google Reader account.  Some of them haven’t updated in weeks (or months!), while 13 update more than once per day.  Visiting each site to find that some have many updates for me to catch up on while even more have nothing new sounds like a recipe for frustration.

Of course, many sites post to Facebook and Twitter when a new post is up (I do the same thing), but that lacks state.  I’ve got no way of telling by looking at a Tweet or Facebook post if I’ve read the article or not.  Social media is a great tool for sharing sites that I or others find interesting, but it doesn’t work well when trying to catch up on a few days of missed posts.  With an RSS service like Google Reader, it’s possible to access the latest posts from your favorite sites from multiple devices and always know which have been read.

So is RSS dead?  Hardly.  RSS will continue to drive podcasts and blog reading for many people, regardless of what feels like doing.

What do I actually read?

My long-time readers (I’ll call them “Matt” and “Shelley”) might recall that I wrote a post a long time ago about the importance of reading.  I’m too lazy to go find it and put a link here, but that doesn’t really matter anyway.  I know that it’s important to read, but I thought it might be interesting to see what I actually do read.  Like much of the rest of my life, I let Google handle this for me.  Google Reader has a nifty trends feature which allows you to see some information about what feeds you actually read. So what do we know?

My most popular friend is Matt Simmons, with 87 other Google Reader users subscribing to his feeds.  By comparison, I have nine.  On the other hand, there are 52 Google Reader users subscribed to this blog. Hi, everyone! I’m guessing a lot of you started reading this because of the many re-tweets I got from Friday’s post. I hope I don’t let you down.  While you’re here, you might try reading Journal & Courier reporter Amanda Hamon’s blog — I’m the only person using Google Reader to follow it.  Of course, she doesn’t update too often. Unlike Slashdot, which is the most active of my feeds with over 23 items per day.

None of that answers the question of what I read myself.  Well, in terms of absolute numbers, I’ve read more of Boiled Sports than anything else, with 47 read items in the past 30 days.  Hammer and Rails, Hitchin’ On, Slashdot, and Maemo News round out the top five.  On a percentage basis, there are several items where I’ve read every post in the past month.  Only counting feeds with 4 or more posts, I’ve read all of Hitchin’ On and Hippie In Training (the finest environmental blog I’ve read, and I’m not just saying that because my wife writes it).  I’ve also read 94% of Boiled Sports, 86% of Sara Spelled Without An ‘H’, 82% of Kassy_ and 52% of Chris Siebenmann’s blog.

From this, it seems clear that I mostly use my RSS feeds to follow sports and keep in touch with friends.  I’d like to start adding some more, especially feeds pertaining to high-performance and high-throughput computing.  I’m open to anything worthwhile and/or entertaining though (which reminds me, I need to add The Bloggess to my list) so if you have any must-reads, please let me know in the comments.

And speaking of comments, I remarked to my wife last night that I had over 50 Google Readers users subscribed and she was amazed since I never seem to have any comments.  I told her that either no one actually read my blog after subscribing or that they all felt that I say everything that needs to be said.  I like to think it is the latter.