For Want Of A Reader – A Personal Tragedy (Part 2)

Like others, I have spent a fair bit of time looking at alternatives and figuring out what would work for me. A big question was what Reeder was going to do; the product was well respected, but the end of the day it has a single developer behind it. And while the commitments on the web site seemed promising, they won’t be ready in time: “All three versions of Reeder will get major updates. Unfortunately, these won’t be ready for July 1st. Sorry about that.” I need a solution before July 1, not after; I may yet go back, but Reeder is not going to be my immediate go-forward solution.

Recognizing that change was inevitable (isn’t it always?), I could expand my search to whatever was out there. Interestingly enough, like a couple of other writers, the search quickly narrowed down to one apparent solution: Feedly. More than just a service, it offered apps (and functional ones at that) for iPhone and iPad, and browser integration for Firefox, Chrome and Safari (although it can be accessed through the web through just about any browser).

What particularly sold me on Feedly, apart from its usability, is the way that they team of developers have seemly transitioned from Google Reader-based feeds to their own cloud environment. What that means in English is that whatever interface you have used in the past, if it used Google Reader as a back end, you can move easily, painlessly and immediately to Feedly. All of your previous subscriptions migrate automatically, including your currently read status for each. Login with your Google credentials, and Feedly does the rest. I had backed up my data using Google Takeout just to be safe, but I have never needed it.

I have now been using Feedly for a couple of weeks, and so far I like what I see. The app interface on iOS devices is exceptionally good; it’s stable, well designed, and intuitive to use. It’s different from what I’m used to with Reeder, but that’s to be expected. At the same time, it is easily adapted to, highly customizable and it’s a great environment for reading in. The iPad version is particularly awesome, but I can also use my phone to catch up on things while waiting in line at a coffee shop and everything looks and feels similar.

I am also finding, interestingly, that I am using the web-based version on my desktop. This is something new for me; I abhorred the interface in Google Reader, and never touched it. Feedly works, and I have it open most of the time.

There have been a few hiccups and growing pains. A big one is that, currently, Twitter integration isn’t working. They know about it, and it’s supposed to be fixed by tonight, but it means that you can’t currently tweet the link of an article. To be fair, this hasn’t been working in Reeder for months, so it’s not really something I can hold against them. And I can copy a link to the clipboard, skip over to my Twitter client, and send it that way, so in the grand scheme of things I am still able to function. Feedly also integrates with Instapaper, Pocket Reader and email (as well as a host of other tools that I don’t use), so I can save articles for future reading or share them with colleagues and friends as appropriate.

In short, Feedly has quickly become a seamless replacement in my workflow. It has stepped in where I used to rely upon Reeder, and essentially lets me work in exactly the same way as I have before. Given that I could have had to completely overhaul how I functioned, this has on the whole been relatively painless and consequence free.

This whole situation has highlighted some interesting challenges, however. In particular, it highlights the challenge of relying on ‘the cloud’ to provide you with applications, or storage for your data. Ultimately, you are relying on a corporation to continue to provide you with a service that you will likely increasingly care about. That corporation is under no obligation to continue doing so, and may arbitrarily change the service, the way they deliver it or the way they charge for it—or they might just cancel it entirely. If an organization as large and profitable as Google is willing to leave you in the lurch, then just about anyone else is likely to as well.

At the same time, this episode has highlighted the degree to which the internet community can and will rally to create viable new solutions to replace old ones as they disappear. This assumes that everyone else cares about the products and services that you depend upon to the same degree that you do (and I will readily admit that I’ve been burned on that score more than I haven’t) but where there is the will to do so, a replacement can be found.

The cloud is made to sound awfully appealing. We are encouraged to put our files, our thoughts, our emails, our pictures and our music there. We are reassured that our data is secure, that it is protected, that it is backed up and that it will always be ours. What the Google Reader debacle amply demonstrates, however, is that even where the data might be ours, the functionality to be able to access that data is owned and controlled by others. While I will now continue to use Feedly to manage the reading that is already out on the Internet, I’m keeping the data that I own and truly care about a lot closer to home.

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