Saying Goodbye to Google Reader

Barring a miraculous, last-minute reprieve from its corporate parents, Google Reader will shut down in just a few days. I’ve been trying out a few alternatives: Feedly, Feedbin and Digg Reader (in beta for the Web but just out today for iOS), among others. They each have their strengths and weaknesses, but I’m struck by how much they all look like Google Reader — a list of feeds and folders occupying the left third of the screen and a stream of articles in the right two-thirds.

When Google Reader’s demise was announced, in my head I pictured a slew of new products vying to take its place by reinventing the very idea of an RSS reader. I was looking forward to seeing some radically new user interface approaches that would challenge my notions and habits around feeds. I haven’t seen that, at least not yet.

However, when I think more carefully about what I like and don’t like about these contenders, I realize that in truth I’m actually not looking for something different at all. What I want are the very same paradigms that Google Reader used, the same keyboard shortcuts, the same auxiliary features — basically the exact same interface. When one of these products omits something that Google Reader featured, or takes a slightly different approach, I think to myself, “Well that’s not right.”

Changing habits is hard, especially with something that’s as geared towards expert usage as RSS. It just goes to show how biased towards advanced users Google Reader was; acclimating yourself to its quirks took some time, but once you adopted Google Reader-specific habits, they become ingrained and you never wanted to give them up. Software for experts tends be like this, I find, and in many ways that is exactly the opposite of what a software company wants if they want to build a huge audience. I guess Google Reader never really had a chance.



  1. I moved to Feedly after it ditched the need for a browser extension. But I’m left wondering why “j” is the shortcut for “next post” instead of “n.”

    It’s a mystery.

  2. @David Why is “j” the shortcut? Isn’t it *COMPLETELY* obvious? It’s because “j” is short for “juwannagotothenextpost?”

  3. “j” moves you to the next line in the venerable Unix editor VI. Anyone who is not an expert user of Unix console applications is not qualified to use Google reader, or Feedly.

  4. When we released Curata Reader ( we were surprised how many people requested the keyboard shortcuts. Curata Reader is simple enough that you don’t need them, but we implemented them anyway, both vi-style j/k and n/p.

  5. J and K are the standard keyboard shortcuts for next and previous. N and P are recent, redundent additions. I think it would be unusual to find a service that supported n/p and not j/k. David, if you were to check your email inbox, you’d probably find they work there (as they do on Google Reader).

  6. Have you tried out Hivereader yet? It has the same shortcuts, social interaction is pretty similar. It’s the only thing I’ve found so far that comes close. Though I’ve started to hear good things about Digg Reader.

  7. I’ve been playing with inoreader and it is quite close to Google Reader. I liked Bazqux, but I don’t want to pay for a reader. I’m also trying Feedly – and now since I know the shortcut keys it may be easier.

  8. The meta level thoughts you express are really interesting. Software as a reflection of style of engagement.

    Advanced users wanting customisation of processes or practices.

    Versus, perhaps, the less software savvy users who either want simple out of the box, or want customisation of the ambient experience (look).

    Where does that lead us?

    Your point, too, about getting used to Google Reader’s particulars, and how that has come to feel “correct”, makes me wonder about how software is “teaching” us?

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