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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Who will win in Copeland? The Labour heartland hangs in the balance

The knife-edge by-election could end 82 years of Labour rule on the West Cumbrian coast.

Fine, relentless drizzle shrouds Whitehaven, a harbour town exposed on the outer edge of Copeland, West Cumbria. It is the most populous part of the coastal north-western constituency, which takes in everything from this old fishing port to Sellafield nuclear power station to England’s tallest mountain Scafell Pike. Sprawling and remote, it protrudes from the heart of the Lake District out into the Irish Sea.

Billy, a 72-year-old Whitehaven resident, is out for a morning walk along the marina with two friends, his woolly-hatted head held high against the whipping rain. He worked down the pit at the Haig Colliery for 27 years until it closed, and now works at Sellafield on contract, where he’s been since the age of 42.

“Whatever happens, a change has got to happen,” he says, hands stuffed into the pockets of his thick fleece. “If I do vote, the Bootle lass talks well for the Tories. They’re the favourites. If me mam heard me saying this now, she’d have battered us!” he laughs. “We were a big Labour family. But their vote has gone. Jeremy Corbyn – what is he?”

The Conservatives have their sights on traditional Labour voters like Billy, who have been returning Labour MPs for 82 years, to make the first government gain in a by-election since 1982.

Copeland has become increasingly marginal, held with just 2,564 votes by former frontbencher Jamie Reed, who resigned from Parliament last December to take a job at the nuclear plant. He triggered a by-election now regarded by all sides as too close to call. “I wouldn’t put a penny on it,” is how one local activist sums up the mood.

There are 10,000 people employed at the Sellafield site, and 21,000 jobs are promised for nearby Moorside – a project to build Europe’s largest nuclear power station now thrown into doubt, with Japanese company Toshiba likely to pull out.

Tories believe Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on nuclear power (he limply conceded it could be part of the “energy mix” recently, but his long prevarication betrayed his scepticism) and opposition to Trident, which is hosted in the neighbouring constituency of Barrow-in-Furness, could put off local employees who usually stick to Labour.

But it’s not that simple. The constituency may rely on nuclear for jobs, but I found a notable lack of affection for the industry. While most see the employment benefits, there is less enthusiasm for Sellafield being part of their home’s identity – particularly in Whitehaven, which houses the majority of employees in the constituency. Also, unions representing Sellafield workers have been in a dispute for months with ministers over pension cut plans.

“I worked at Sellafield for 30 years, and I’m against it,” growls Fred, Billy’s friend, a retiree of the same age who also used to work at the colliery. “Can you see nuclear power as safer than coal?” he asks, wild wiry eyebrows raised. “I’m a pit man; there was just nowhere else to work [when the colliery closed]. The pension scheme used to be second-to-none, now they’re trying to cut it, changing the terms.”

Derek Bone, a 51-year-old who has been a storeman at the plant for 15 years, is equally unconvinced. I meet him walking his dog along the seafront. “This county, Cumbria, Copeland, has always been a nuclear area – whether we like it or don’t,” he says, over the impatient barks of his Yorkshire terrier Milo. “But people say it’s only to do with Copeland. It ain’t. It employs a lot of people in the UK, outside the county – then they’re spending the money back where they’re from, not here.”

Such views might be just enough of a buffer against the damage caused by Corbyn’s nuclear reluctance. But the problem for Labour is that neither Fred nor Derek are particularly bothered about the result. While awareness of the by-election is high, many tell me that they won’t be voting this time. “Jeremy Corbyn says he’s against it [nuclear], now he’s not, and he could change his mind – I don’t believe any of them,” says Malcolm Campbell, a 55-year-old lorry driver who is part of the nuclear supply chain.

Also worrying for Labour is the deprivation in Copeland. Everyone I speak to complains about poor infrastructure, shoddy roads, derelict buildings, and lack of investment. This could punish the party that has been in power locally for so long.

The Tory candidate Trudy Harrison, who grew up in the coastal village of Seascale and now lives in Bootle, at the southern end of the constituency, claims local Labour rule has been ineffective. “We’re isolated, we’re remote, we’ve been forgotten and ignored by Labour for far too long,” she says.

I meet her in the town of Millom, at the southern tip of the constituency – the opposite end to Whitehaven. It centres on a small market square dominated by a smart 19th-century town hall with a mint-green domed clock tower. This is good Tory door-knocking territory; Millom has a Conservative-led town council.

While Harrison’s Labour opponents are relying on their legacy vote to turn out, Harrison is hoping that the same people think it’s time for a change, and can be combined with the existing Tory vote in places like Millom. “After 82 years of Labour rule, this is a huge ask,” she admits.

Another challenge for Harrison is the threat to services at Whitehaven’s West Cumberland Hospital. It has been proposed for a downgrade, which would mean those seeking urgent care – including children, stroke sufferers, and those in need of major trauma treatment and maternity care beyond midwifery – would have to travel the 40-mile journey to Carlisle on the notoriously bad A595 road.

Labour is blaming this on Conservative cuts to health spending, and indeed, Theresa May dodged calls to rescue the hospital in her campaign visit last week. “The Lady’s Not For Talking,” was one local paper front page. It also helps that Labour’s candidate, Gillian Troughton, is a St John Ambulance driver, who has driven the dangerous journey on a blue light.

“Seeing the health service having services taken away in the name of centralisation and saving money is just heart-breaking,” she tells me. “People are genuinely frightened . . . If we have a Tory MP, that essentially gives them the green light to say ‘this is OK’.”

But Harrison believes she would be best-placed to reverse the hospital downgrade. “[I] will have the ear of government,” she insists. “I stand the very best chance of making sure we save those essential services.”

Voters are concerned about the hospital, but divided on the idea that a Tory MP would have more power to save it.

“What the Conservatives are doing with the hospitals is disgusting,” a 44-year-old carer from Copeland’s second most-populated town of Egremont tells me. Her partner, Shaun Grant, who works as a labourer, agrees. “You have to travel to Carlisle – it could take one hour 40 minutes; the road is unpredictable.” They will both vote Labour.

Ken, a Conservative voter, counters: “People will lose their lives over it – we need someone in the circle, who can influence the government, to change it. I think the government would reward us for voting Tory.”

Fog engulfs the jagged coastline and rolling hills of Copeland as the sun begins to set on Sunday evening. But for most voters and campaigners here, the dense grey horizon is far clearer than what the result will be after going to the polls on Thursday.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.