For Want Of A Reader – A Personal Tragedy (Part 1)

I have spent an inordinate amount of my life figuring out how to organize significant parts of my life. Whether it is figuring out how to track and manage projects, maintain my calendar, manage my commitments or keep track of my writing, there has been an on-going and somewhat frustrating effort to get to a system that works. So you can imagine that when I finally get something sorted out, I get very cranky when it stops working.

The problem, in this case, is writing. I write a great deal. In fact writing is, arguably, mostly what I get paid for. Apart from this blog, I contribute articles to a number of sites and publications. I write research papers. I recently finished a thesis. And I have produced veritable mountains of reports, analyses, findings, recommendations, business cases, strategic plans and audit reports in my work as a consultant.

Writing is not simply capturing the thoughts in my grey matter and committing them to paper, however (no matter how much it might look and feel like that at times). Writing actually starts with reading, and a very great deal of it. It used to be that I maintained extensive paper files of newspaper clippings, magazine articles and journal papers that caught my attention and that I wanted to write something about. In fact, I likely still have them somewhere.

Then came the internet, and that changed everything. The internet has been responsible for the exponential growth of information, ideas and inspiration. Keeping track of all of useful links is its own challenge. Bookmarks were the initial basis of how this all got put together, of course. In a short space of time, however, I literally had hundreds of them. Mostly non-organized, but links to papers, thoughts and concepts that I wanted to come back to and explore further.

More importantly, there were also the sites if authors and organizations that were producing all of these links. The problem of how to monitor sites to know when something new appeared was solved by Really Simply Syndication (RSS). And the solution to bringing all of your RSS feeds together was solved by Google, with the launch of Reader, a simple web site that gathered together everything new on the web from sites that you said you cared about. And then, earlier this year, Google announced they were taking it away. By this time next week, it won’t exist.

This sparked a not insignificant amount of outrage. See here, for example. Or here. You can also look here for the reflections of its creator, who seems relatively sanguine about the whole thing. Although some didn’t care in the first place.

I cared, largely because Reader was the basis of how I was managing and keeping on top of what are a not insignificant number of web sites. Not that I used Google’s web site; the design was always disturbingly spartan and not particularly user friendly. Instead, I used Reeder, an amazingly functional piece of software for iPad, iPhone and Mac that took Google Reader’s engine and made it usable. With the engine gone, however, Reeder would no longer even be a pretty face; it risks becoming a shrivelled husk. As would virtually every other product on the market; while Google didn’t control RSS, virtually every product found it easier to use the functionality produced by Google rather than replicate it themselves.

Pretty much as soon as Reader’s imminent demise was announced, therefore, a search for replacement solutions began. There were certainly no lack of options identified, although many of these inherently had some compromises or deficiencies over the product they were replacing. An early contender was Digg, who quickly announced they were making a Google Reader replacement. As well, Feedly emerged as a well connected and seemingly comprehensive replacement. And any number of other software vendors insisted they would have a solution in place ‘in time’; the challenge being that the deadline, 1 July, was not that far away when Google made the announcement, and it was progressively getting closer.

This discussion continues in the next part.

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