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.

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Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.