Q: Since Google has announced it is killing off Reader, what do you recommend for those who don’t want to give up RSS? I’ve seen plenty of platform-specific RSS reader apps but it’s unclear if any of them will provide the background service to sync read/unread articles in the cloud for use with multiple devices/apps/operating systems. I currently use Reeder for iOS and Mac but they don’t make an app for either Windows or Android. Also, if there’s a better alternative to RSS, what is it? It doesn’t seem as though Twitter or Facebook are acceptable alternatives unless the websites you follow have accounts dedicated exclusively to posting new article links.
A: In the early days of Twitter, many people felt that its feed-based nature would spell the death of RSS, but for various reasons that didn’t actually happen. Even though almost every news source now provides dedicated Twitter accounts, the experience of consuming news on Twitter remains significantly different from most RSS tools. Most significantly, many RSS users prefer to treat their feeds like an e-mail inbox, with the ability to track read and unread items and even mark items for later—features that are not well-supported on social media networks, if at all.
Another alternative that has popped up over the past couple of years are “digital magazine” apps such as Flipboard and Google’s own Currents. Both of these can be very useful for presenting news in a more visually oriented fashion, but again don’t always appeal to power users who want to follow specific feeds more closely.
In terms of a direct Google Reader replacement, the most popular answer right now appears to be Feedly, which already provides its own web, iOS, and Android reading apps along with a set of tips for migrating from Google Reader.
Currently, Feedly only works with its own iOS and Android apps and has a nice web-based UI that works in all modern browsers on the desktop, with specific extensions for Firefox, Chrome, and Safari. The Feedly iOS apps are definitely worth a look, and the transition from Google Reader is seamless, as Feedly has already been integrated with Google Reader for some time—you can basically just switch to the Feedly apps and service and keep on using your existing Google Reader feeds and it should just keep working after Reader shuts down on July 1st.
However, if you prefer to integrate Google Reader into other apps like Flipboard or continue using another third-party app such as Reeder, there isn’t a replacement for the Google Reader API—yet. The good news, however, is that Feedly plans to try and change this. The company has announced that it is working on a project called Normandy which is designed to be a clone of the Google Reader API that third-party apps will be able to tie into.
Unfortunately, this won’t be entirely transparent; developers will need to update their apps to integrate with Normandy, and while this is apparently easy to do since it will replicate the same Google Reader API, it’s unclear how many third-party apps will actually be on board with doing this. Developers may instead choose to tie into other third-party RSS solutions or attempt to build their own sync services. For instance, the developer of Reeder has announced plans to integrate with Feedbin, another third-party web service that provides its own API.
Unfortunately, the demise of Google Reader has created a bit of a void in terms of a common sync service, and will lead to some fragmentation, at least in the short term. The positive side, however, is that hopefully out of this will come a much better service as multiple companies now compete for users in providing the best RSS platform.