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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Lord Empey: Northern Ireland likely to be without government for a year

The former UUP leader says Gerry Adams is now in "complete control" of Sinn Fein and no longer wants to be "trapped" by the Good Friday Agreement

The death of Martin McGuinness has made a devolution settlement in Northern Ireland even more unlikely and has left Gerry Adams in "complete control" of Sinn Fein, the former Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey has said.

In a wide-ranging interview with the New Statesman on the day of McGuinness’ death, the UUP peer claimed his absence would leave a vacuum that would allow Adams, the Sinn Fein president, to consolidate his hold over the party and dictate the trajectory of the crucial negotiations to come. Sinn Fein have since pulled out of power-sharing talks, leaving Northern Ireland facing the prospect of direct rule from Westminster or a third election in the space of a year. 

Empey, who led the UUP between and 2005 and 2010 and was briefly acting first minister in 2001, went on to suggest that, “as things stand”, Northern Ireland is unlikely to see a return to fully devolved government before the inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme is complete -  a process which could take up to a year to complete.

“Adams is now in complete control of Sinn Fein,” he said, adding that it remained unclear whether McGuinness’ successor Michelle O’Neill would be “allowed to plough an independent furrow”. “He has no equal within the organisation. He is in total command of Sinn Fein, and that is the way it is. I think he’s even more powerful today than he was before Martin died – by virtue of there just being nobody there.”

Asked what impact the passing of McGuinness, the former deputy first minister and leader of Sinn Fein in the north, would have on the chances of a devolution settlement, Empey, a member of the UUP’s Good Friday Agreement negotiating delegation, said: “I don’t think it’ll be positive – because, for all his faults, Martin was committed to making the institutions work. I don’t think Gerry Adams is as committed.

Empey added that he believed Adams did not want to work within the constitutional framework of the Good Friday Agreement. In a rebuke to nationalist claims that neither Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire nor Theresa May can act as honest or neutral brokers in power-sharing negotiations given their reliance on the DUP’s eight MPs, he said: “They’re not neutral. And they’re not supposed to be neutral.

“I don’t expect a prime minister or a secretary of state to be neutral. Brokenshire isn’t sitting wearing a hat with ostrich feathers – he’s not a governor, he’s a party politician who believes in the union. The language Sinn Fein uses makes it sound like they’re running a UN mandate... Gerry can go and shout at the British government all he likes. He doesn’t want to be trapped in the constitutional framework of the Belfast Agreement. He wants to move the debate outside those parameters, and he sees Brexit as a chance to mobilise opinion in the republic, and to be seen standing up for Irish interests.”

Empey went on to suggest that Adams, who he suggested exerted a “disruptive” influence on power-sharing talks, “might very well say” Sinn Fein were “’[taking a hard line] for Martin’s memory’” and added that he had been “hypocritical” in his approach.

“He’ll use all of that,” he said. “Republicans have always used people’s deaths to move the cause forward. The hunger strikers are the obvious example. They were effectively sacrificed to build up the base and energise people. But he still has to come to terms with the rest of us.”

Empey’s frank assessment of Sinn Fein’s likely approach to negotiations will cast yet more doubt on the prospect that devolved government might be salvaged before Monday’s deadline. Though he admitted Adams had demanded nothing unionists “should die in a ditch for”, he suggested neither party was likely to cede ground. “If Sinn Fein were to back down they would get hammered,” he said. “If Foster backs down the DUP would get hammered. So I think we’ve got ourselves a catch 22: they’ve both painted themselves into their respective corners.”

In addition, Empey accused DUP leader Arlene Foster of squandering the “dream scenario” unionist parties won at last year’s assembly election with a “disastrous” campaign, but added he did not believe she would resign despite repeated Sinn Fein demands for her to do so.

 “It’s very difficult to see how she’s turned that from being at the top of Mount Everest to being under five miles of water – because that’s where she is,” he said. “She no longer controls the institutions. Martin McGuinness effectively wrote her resignation letter for her. And it’s very difficult to see a way forward. The idea that she could stand down as first minister candidate and stay on as party leader is one option. But she could’ve done that for a few weeks before Christmas and we wouldn’t be here! She’s basically taken unionism from the top to the bottom – in less than a year”.

Though Foster has expressed regret over the tone of the DUP’s much-criticised election campaign and has been widely praised for her decision to attend Martin McGuinness’ funeral yesterday, she remains unlikely to step down, despite coded invitations for her to do so from several members of her own party.

The historically poor result for unionism she oversaw has led to calls from leading loyalists for the DUP and UUP – who lost 10 and eight seats respectively – to pursue a merger or electoral alliance, which Empey dismissed outright.

“The idea that you can weld all unionists together into a solid mass under a single leadership – I would struggle to see how that would actually work in practice. Can you cooperate at a certain level? I don’t doubt that that’s possible, especially with seats here. Trying to amalgamate everybody? I remain to be convinced that that should be the case.”

Accusing the DUP of having “led unionism into a valley”, and of “lashing out”, he added: “They’ll never absorb all of our votes. They can try as hard as they like, but they’d end up with fewer than they have now.”

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.