A week on from the shuttering of Reader, does anyone trust Google yet?

Google lied, Reader died.

One week on from the Google Reader news, and two very real trends are becoming clear. We will never trust Google again; and we are all thinking carefully about the sustainability of our online services.

Yesterday, Google announced a new service, Keep. It's… look, it's post-it notes for your phone, OK? There's really only so much technobabble one man can put up with. Android only for the moment, and quite pretty design.

But, here's the thing. Keep is clearly an experiment. It's free on Google Play, it's got no adverts, it's all stored on a centralised service – it is, in other words, Google Reader five years ago.

Would you build your life around it? I wouldn't.







It became a cliché after the closure of Google Reader, but it became a cliché because it is, at heart, true: if you don't pay for a product, you can't expect it to primarily serve you. If it has ads, you aren't the customer, you're the product; but if it doesn't have ads, it's even worse. You aren't using a product, you're using an expensive advertisement the company has created to try and get itself acquired (or acqhired).

It's why, in my list of possible replacements for Google Reader, I thought NewsBlur looked like the best shot. Because it's a service which has the radical business model of getting people to pay for it.

There will always be free services online which are good, and which live long and fruitful lives. Google and Facebook, to name two. And even paid-for services still die in their prime, as happened to mail app Sparrow, acquired by Google last year and shuttered. But as a rule of thumb, if you can't see how a developer can survive while providing you a service you desperately need, they probably can't, and you should expect a change down the line.

But there's one other aspect of sustainability, and it pains me to say it, but: this is why Twitter is closing off its API. Google Reader's API is used by an extraordinary number of feed-reading apps, including Reeder and NetNewsWire for Mac and iOS and Feedly for iOS and Android. Not everyone used them, and the main Reader web app was certainly popular – but once the closure of the sharing features removed the main reason for using the web app, the exodus set in.

And if everyone is using your product through an API, then it's hard to make any money from that. Google doesn't show ads on Reader, because it's always been a hobby for the company, but the sheer number of users who were using it as little more than a pipe mean that even if it had begun to show ads, it would have still been providing an enormous free service to the users of other companies' products.

With that in mind… I can see why Twitter has taken its extraordinarily anti-third-party-developer moves. And I'm not quite as against it as I was. I would like a Twitter which was happy to let me use Tweetbot, happy to let me tell Tumblr who I follow, and didn't try and impose its vision of how I should use its service on everyone else. I would even pay to be a member of that Twitter (although, unfortunately for, I also like all the people I follow on Twitter, so can't quite flounce off somewhere else). But that isn't the choice: the choice is the Twitter we have, or a Twitter which goes the way of Google Reader.

Photograph: Getty Images.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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How “cli-fi” novels humanise the science of climate change

The paradox is that the harder climate-fiction novels try, the less effective they are.

When the Paris UN Climate Change Conference begins at the end of November, the world’s leaders will review the climate framework agreed in Rio in 1992. For well over 20 years, the world has not just been thinking and talking about climate change, it has also been writing and reading about it, in blogs, newspapers, magazines – and in novels.

Climate change fiction is now a recognisable literary phenomenon replete with its own nickname: “cli-fi”. The term was coined in 2007 by Taiwan-based blogger Dan Bloom. Since then, its use has spread: it was even tweeted by Margaret Atwood in 2013:

It is not a genre in the accepted scholarly sense, since it lacks the plot formulas or stylistic conventions that tend to define genres (such as science fiction or the western). However, it does name a remarkable recent literary and publishing trend.

A 21st-century phenomenon?

Putting a number to this phenomenon depends, partly, on how one defines cli-fi. How much of a novel has to be devoted to climate change before it is considered cli-fi? Should we restrict the term to novels about man-made global warming? (If we don’t, we should remember that narratives about global climatic change are as old as The Epic of Gilgamesh and the Biblical story of the flood.) If we define cli-fi as fictional treatments of climate change caused by human activity in terms of setting, theme or plot – and accept there will be grey areas in the extent of this treatment – a conservative estimate would put the all-time number of cli-fi novels at 150 and growing. This is the figure put forward by Adam Trexler, who has worked with me to survey the development of cli-fi.

This definition also gives us a start date for cli-fi’s history. While planetary climatic change occurs in much 20th-century science fiction, it is only after growing scientific awareness of specifically man-made, carbon-induced climate change in the 1960s and 1970s that novels on this subject emerged. The first is Arthur Herzog’s Heat in 1976, followed by George Turner’s The Sun and the Summer (published in the US as Drowning Towers) in 1987.

At the turn of this century, Maggie Gee and TC Boyle were among the first mainstream authors to publish climate change novels. In this century, we can count Atwood, Michael Crichton, Barbara Kingsolver, Ian McEwan, Kim Stanley Robinson, Ilija Trojanow and Jeanette Winterson as major authors who have written about climate change. The past five years have given us notable examples of cli-fi by emerging authors, such as Steven Amsterdam, Edan Lepucki, Jane Rawson, Nathaniel Rich and Antti Tuomainen.

Creative challenges

Cli-fi is all the more noteworthy considering the creative challenge posed by climate change. First, there is the problem of scale – spatial and temporal. Climate change affects the entire planet and all its species – and concerns the end of this planet as we know it. Novels, by contrast, conventionally concern the actions of individual protagonists and/or, sometimes, small communities.

Added to this is the networked nature of climate change: in physical terms, the climate is a large, complex system whose effects are difficult to model. In socio-cultural terms, solutions require intergovernmental agreement – just what COP21 intends – and various top-down and bottom-up transformations. Finally, there exists the difficulty of translating scientific information, with all its predictive uncertainty, into something both accurate and interesting to the average reader.

Still, cli-fi writers have adopted a range of strategies to engage their readers. Many cli-fi novels could be classified as dystopian, post-apocalyptic or, indeed, both – depicting nightmarish societies triggered by sometimes catastrophic climate events. A future world is one effective way of narrating the planetary condition of climate change.

Some novelists are also careful to underpin their scenarios with rigorous climatic predictions and, in this way, translate science fact into a fictional setting. Kingsolver, who trained as an ecologist, is the best example of this – and Atwood and Robinson are also known for their attempts at making their speculations scientifically plausible. Also, cli-fi novels, particularly those set in the present day or very near future rather than in a dystopian future, tend to show the political or psychological dimensions of living with climate change. Readers can identify with protagonists. To some extent, the global community is represented in fictional everymen or everywomen. Or, often, it is through such characters that science is humanised and its role in combating climate change better understood.

Can cli-fi lead to change?

Could cli-fi affect how we think and act on climate change? The paradox is that the harder cli-fi tries, the less effective it is. Many writers want to inspire change, not insist on it: the line between literature and propaganda is one that most novelists respect. Literature invites us to inhabit other worlds and live other lives. Cli-fi at its best lets us travel to climate-changed worlds, to strive there alongside others and then to return armed with that experience.

In Paris, the UN will seek a global agreement on climate action for the first time in more than 20 years. There is plenty of climate change fiction out there to help provide the mental and psychological space to consider that action.

The Conversation

Adeline Johns-Putra, Reader in English Literature, University of Surrey

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.