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Mourning the death of Google Reader (and finding a suitable replacement)

Mon, 03/18/2013 - 3:40pm
Jason Lomberg, Technical Editor

Like many of you, I was shocked, dismayed, and several other adjectives upon learning that Google Reader will soon go kaput.

As a journalist, I sift through copious amounts of content daily, and it would be no exaggeration to say that Google Reader makes my job exponentially simpler. 

*cue the world’s smallest violin playing for Mr. Lomberg and his first-world problems*

For those who don’t know (all three of you), Google recently announced that they’d be scuttling Google Reader, effective July 1st, 2013. What led to the premier RSS reader’s premature demise? On their official blog, Google cited a declining user base.


Say what you will about Google Reader — her critics were loud and vocal. Some felt that Google had systematically stripped it of its original social-networking functionality, rendering the product pedestrian.

But Google’s offering was still the quickest, most responsive, most intuitive RSS reader on the market, in this editor’s humble opinion. Replacing it is no easy task.

Yet that’s exactly what I set out to do. After all, a big portion of my job interplays(ed) with Google Reader.

My criteria was simple — a speedy, austere RSS reader that mimics the form and function of Google Reader as closely as possible. Also, an elegant import function to save me the trouble of manually entering hundreds of RSS feeds would be nice.

I hear great things about NewsBlur, but the free version restricts you to a measly 12 sites and 10 news items at a time. Call me a cheap bastard, but $24/year seems like a lot after riding the Google Reader gravy train for so long. Pass.


FeedDemon — another extremely popular news aggregator — also rode the Google gravy train, relying on the latter for synchronization, and the death of Google Reader caused FeedDemon’s creator, Nick Bradbury, to deliver his own creation’s obituary.

Moreover, FeedDemon is app-based, and while it seamlessly imported all my Google Reader feeds — courtesy of Google Takeout, which allows you to export your data — it runs much slower than Google Reader. Again, Google Reader has spoiled me.


If you use FeedDemon without Google Reader synchronization, the former will continue to function beyond July 1st. Otherwise, you’ll be evicted.

The Old Reader is a good choice. It’s UI — as alluded to by the title — mimics the “old” Google Reader functionality. When I tried to import my Google Reader data on Friday, I found myself sitting in a massive queue of 10,000+ users (i.e., Google Reader refugees) and didn’t make much headway. Apparently, the clog was fixed over the weekend, and my feeds all imported themselves with their proper parent folders.


I like The Old Reader, but it doesn’t appear to aggregate every news item. I haven’t had time to fiddle with the settings, but in comparing its output with Google Reader and other RSS readers, The Old Reader seems light on content. If I’m missing some easy fix, feel free to point out my stupidity in the comments (I welcome all constructive criticism), but I doubt your average user wants to do much troubleshooting — Google has raised the bar too high.

The best alternative to Google Reader (that I found) is Feedly. And judging from the recent 500,000-person exodus, I’m not alone. Feedly had no trouble importing all my feeds, arranged properly by folder, and the content appears to be completely aggregated.

Of course, even Feedly is imperfect (darn you, Google Reader!). The default view is this ugly magazine-style layout that arranges news items beneath the specific RSS feed (rather than a master list). Those used to Google Reader will want to switch from “Magazine” to “Timeline” view.


Feedly’s layout also includes a summary pic for every news item (whether it has a pic or not), which reduces the amount of content visible above the fold. Otherwise, Feedly is a fine choice and good alternative to Google Reader.

Of course, I could always do without an RSS reader and go back to the dark ages where you actually had to type in URLs. But that’s crazy talk.

Note: I didn’t have time to check out every news aggregator, so feel free to suggest your own alternative to Google Reader in the comments.

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