So, Google Reader is officially closed. If you used it, hopefully you saw one of the kabillion articles explaining how to grab your data from Google’s Takeout service, or how to use the more insanely archival option. To adequately represent the significance to me of this transition, I offer the following: a thirty-second jingle about my particular Google Reader habits, composed and performed by Zach Curd.
When I first got on the internet, hunting for good content was still a thing you had to do if you were kind of weird and wanted to read stuff by other people who were kind of weird in the same ways. Meticulously-maintained and visited “Link lists” and “Blog rolls” (Ugh) were fixtures in the “sidebars” of everyone’s personal sites.
Then RSS blew up and the nerdier writers I followed started talking about feed readers. I experimented a bit with desktop apps before deciding a web-based solution was closer to what I needed and found Eyebeam’s ReBlog. I installed the “ReFeed” portion on my own server sometime in 2003 or 2004, and kept it running until Google Reader came along in 2005. I’ve been using Reader on a near-daily basis ever since.
For me, the appeal of the feed reader was instantaneous: this software promised to funnel each treasured morsel from my favorite web-publishing authors into a not-to-be-missed reading extravaganza! Never again would I click on a link in my bookmarks list and find out that there was no fresh content waiting!
And all was well. At some point, the scales finally tipped on the whole “having to hunt around for good content” thing, and Google Reader was there to aggregate everything.
When the doors at Google Reader finally closed, there was no way I could have actually read everything that was flowing through my account. For me, Reader had evolved into a tool that I used to skim the day’s headlines. I got into the horrible habit of using the “star” functionality to identify items I planned to go back to and “read later.” Sort of my own proto-Instapaper.
Upon downloading my data from Google takeout, I checked to see how many “Starred” items I had left in the queue to go back to. I was expecting a lot, but the actual total surprised me: 10,210.
If I were to make it a point to read one of those items a day, it would take me 27 years to “catch up.” If I read one an hour, around the clock, it would still take me over a year to “catch up.” The last time I actually was “caught up” on starred items was April 18th, 2010.
It turns out that for me, this whole “Reader shutting down” fiasco might not be such a bad thing after all. It’s definitely made me stop and seriously think about the ways in which my online news consumption has changed over time. There’s been a steady progression from “reading a few favorite sites regularly,” to “reading a lot of sites daily,” to “skimming headlines and meticulously flagging things I might like to read in full in some mythical, non-busy future.” This transition strikes me as a good opportunity to reverse that momentum.
That’s not to say I won’t still be using RSS to read news – I will. I’ll probably be a lot more selective of what I subscribe to, though, which I think is particularly interesting in the context of considering what sort of impact the post-Reader transition will have on content-creators. Shawn Blanc has summarized it thusly:
I have an RSS feed for this site, Tools & Toys, and my daily podcast. The vast majority of subscribers are subscribed via Google Reader. And so, in part, I can’t help but wonder if and how much the readership of my two sites will drop off.
One of the most cogent articulations of this concern at all scales comes in MG Siegler’s “What if they never come back?:”
By killing Reader, Google is likely to harm a lot of publishers, large and small, by eliminating a larger source of traffic.
On my own site, I’ve always been surprised to see Reader constantly in the top five of traffic referrers day in and day out. If I tweet out a link or share one on Facebook, it leads to large spikes, but Reader is my rock. It’s steady traffic each and every day.
When I heard about the killing of Reader, I decided to dig a bit deeper to see just how much traffic Reader is responsible for. And I did this not only for my own site, but for TechCrunch as well. The results are both fascinating and terrifying. When Reader takes its dirt nap in July, a lot of us could be really screwed in the two places it hurts the most: our egos and our pocketbooks.
In the past 30 days, Google Reader has been the number four referrer of traffic to TechCrunch, behind just Google Search, Facebook, and Twitter — and it nearly beat Twitter.
I guess we’ll see what happens? In the meantime, I’m not worrying too much about it.