Google Reader is dying. Here's where to go next

Don't bury your head in the sand, switch to one of these services.

If you're like me, you've greeted today's death of Google Reader with a growing sense of dread, and stubborn refusal to do anything at all to mitigate the fact that suddenly, a key part of the infrastructure of the internet is going to be turned off and there's nothing you can do about it.

Well, there's good news: Google's vaguely-defined shutdown date of "after July 1" appears to mean that you have today to panic and prepare for the future. So let's do that together.

The first thing to do is grab your feeds. Most services replacing Reader don't need you to do this step – more on that later – but a back-up can never hurt, and doing so will give you more flexibility to switch services after Google pulls the plug.

Doing so is a cinch. Log in to Google Reader, and click on the cog in the top right. Choose "Reader Settings", then the tab labelled "Import/Export". From there, click on "Download your data through Takeout", and follow the prompts. At the end of it all, you should have a file in your downloads folder named you@gmail.com-takeout. This is your back-up. Treat it well.

From there, it's time to choose your new reader.

Best free replacement: Feedly

If you're used to not paying anything for things on the internet, then your options are limited at this point. One of the best things about the death of Google Reader is that it's removed a suffocating beast, offering a service for free which was good enough to mean that no company which actually had a requirement for revenue could compete.

Despite that, a lot of the replacements for Google Reader are still free. It's a strategy which will cause heartache down the line, because companies need money to exist. Whether that means the free options are angling for a buy-out, planning on becoming ad-supported, or will just quietly fold when they run out of money, we can't yet know; but the one thing you can expect is that these services won't stay the same forever.

With that in mind, the best free replacement is probably Feedly. The site has a longer history than some of the rapidly-coded alternatives which have sprung up in the last three months, like Digg Reader and AOL Reader, and, crucially, it seems to be the replacement of choice for the biggest proportion of Google Reader's former users. Sheer weight of numbers is not the same as best, of course, but for a company which is clearly attempting to grow its userbase before it grows its revenue, sustainability comes from size.

Feedly allows you to create an account by importing your feeds direct from Google Reader, minimising the cross-over turmoil (provided you do it today), and also offers iOS and Android apps. The interface is minimal but largely similar to Google's, right down to using "categories" instead of folders, to preserve the tag structure of Reader, if you used that. If you're prepared to alter your workflow slightly, it's even got some new features which could make things easier still, like the ability to designate certain feeds "must-read", and save particular articles to read later.

Best if you don't want anything to change: The Old Reader

The Old Reader is what it sounds like: an attempt to recreate the old Google Reader. "Old", in this context, isn't just Reader as it exists now, though. Instead, it's an attempt to recreate the site as it was in its heyday in 2011. The autumn of that year, Google decided to remove the site's sharing features, in favour of integration with Google Plus. It was a disaster. The small but close-knit community which had built up around the site died, and the benefit to Google Plus itself was marginal.

The Old Reader is thus trying to revive that community. The sharing features are all there, but sadly, the userbase isn't. You can find friends with Facebook and Google+ (though no Twitter integration, at the moment), but all I had from both services was one friend. The numbers may pick up in the coming weeks, but you'll be lucky if the sharing features actually work in the near future.

Thankfully, it's not just sharing which the Old Reader does well. It also fights future shock.

The site really is very similar to Google Reader. The layout's the same, the colour scheme is the same, even the keyboard shortcuts are the same. Neophiliacs rejoice: the Old Reader is here for you.

Best for offline: Reeder+Feedly

Google Reader may have been just a web-app, but it was also a syncing API. That means that even if you never actually went to google.com/reader, if you read RSS feeds at all, you probably used Google's service at some point. That meant that others could add features which Google didn't provide; and one of the most important for many was offline access. The best of them wouldn't just save the text of the articles, but also cache any images – a godsend for economics bloggers stuck on the tube. Also other people, I suppose.

Reeder, an iOS app, has recently updated its iPhone version to enable offline access with a panoply of services. Of those, Fever is… beyond the scope of this article (if you're able to set up a server-side RSS reader, go for it, but I'm not going to help you), and Feedbin and Feed Wrangler are both paid-for services without the extra features to justify the cost. That does, of course, mean they don't fall prey to the trap that the free services may; but if you're using a syncing app, then the background service falling over is less painful.

Reeder also offers a standalone mode, which dispenses with sync entirely. That will likely be less than useful for most users, but if you're happy to only read RSS feeds on one device – or able to remember yourself which you've read and which you haven't – it leaves you in a pretty safe place for the future.

Best for power users: Newsblur

Newsblur is the Bloomberg Terminal of RSS readers. Not, hopefully, in the "it will enable journalists to spy on your movements" way. But it is fairly ugly, extremely powerful, and once you learn how to use it, you won't want to go elsewhere. (Also like Bloomberg, it's comparatively expensive, at $24 a year.)

The site has two major features which are worth the entry price. Firstly, it offers the ability to open feed items in a frame, while keeping the rest of the reader active around you. That's a godsend if you subscribe to sites with a truncated feed, and even more useful if those sites are paywalled; in essence, it lets you completely ignore those barriers, and read as though it was yet another full-text feed.

Secondly, Newsblur learns what you read and what you don't, and promotes the former to the top. It requires a bit of retraining your mind, if you've got used to liberal application of the "mark all as read" button, but once you get your head around it, you can essentially craft your own custom RSS feeds, even from sites which don't offer them.

The site has apps available for Android and iOS, and offline support is ready to be rolled out. Without that already available, the recommendation can't be absolute, but Newsblur is the service with the brightest future.

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

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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