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.