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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The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.