Still In Mourning Over Google Reader

GoogleReader

 

I have had an awful lot of loss recently. Some quite personal, and some smack in the public eye. Take, for instance, the untimely (although not unexpected) demise of perhaps my all time favorite web tool, my secret weapon in the pursuit of knowledge, my endless font of material for my beloved blog, my source of inspiration and enlightenment. Yes. I am talking about Google Reader.

First, a eulogy. Way back in the day, when I made the conscious decision to engage more on the Internet for professional and personal pursuits, one of the very first tools I stumbled on was the RSS feed and companion RSS feed reader. I believe it was in a webinar discussing how to use web tools for legal research. RSS was one of the items items discussed and it struck me right between the eyes as an absolutely brilliant proposition – rather than spend hours searching out news when there was a pending question and even more immediate deadline, why not have the news come to you whenever it was fresh and hot off the presses? You could make yourself look like a genius with very little effort. My first reader application was FeedDemon for Windows (NewNewsWire for Mac / iOS users). It allowed me to easily subscribe and organize feeds. However, as I added more and more sources to my local program, I found that it would bog down and get so cumbersome, I could hardly load new articles. By the way, FeedDemon, which used to have its own sync engine, is going to join Google Reader in the crematory as it is now exclusively powered by Google Reader sync, unless they come up with a solution before July 1.

It was then that I discovered the joy of the cloud-based reading tool that is Google Reader. There, all my subscriptions sat, quietly updating whenever I opened the page, allowing me to folder and subscribe to all sorts of feeds, including custom feeds and alerts, Twitter feeds and social media updates. When I found a site I really liked, I could use Reader to suggest similar blogs and RSS feeds so that I could move deeper into a subject. It had awesome search functionality (no duh! – its Google). And all of this at the speed of virtually real time (or at least as fast as the news sources could update with PubSubHubBub). I would visit Reader daily, sometimes several times a day, watching the new items fill the screen, hungry for more hot-off-the-presses stories on my favorite subjects. And, with the click of a button, share my findings with the world.

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After discovering Feedly, the application that offers stories based on your interests built on your Google Reader subscriptions, I spent less direct time on the Reader app itself. However, I would still regularly visit to prune and add content, and read stories without the Feedly filter to prioritize based on its best guess on my interests.

And now, all of that is about to fly out the proverbial virtual window. As of July 1, 2013, Google Reader will be no more. The writing was scrawled upon the wall about a year or more ago as Google made it quite clear that the social aspects of Reader (yes, there were social aspects), were being handily addressed on its new social net Google+. And, the scuttlebutt around the Web is that Google didn’t want to commit resources to ensure the Reader team kept their product in compliance with privacy and other regulatory constraints.

Whatever the reason, the net effect for me (and it really is all about me) is the loss of a fantastic, well-designed, productivity tool. So, as the reality of the loss sinks in, one has to wonder: how to pick up the pieces and move on?

Fortunately, there are so many creative and effective minds on the web that the loss of something as fantastic as Google Reader has not gone unnoticed and unaddressed. There are plenty of options out there for subscribing, digesting and manipulating RSS feeds and news stories. As a public service to Studio readers, I thought I would include some here. As Kubler-Ross theorized, we all undoubtedly will proceed through the five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining (remember that petition to the White House?), depression, and acceptance. And I will have the goods here for when you have hit that “it’s time to move on” point in your own process.

I should offer a caveat – I have not tried many of these alternatives so can’t offer the hands on. I have collected many of them while reading the Web news via, you guessed it, Google Reader. However, if I have had a personal experience, I will mention where appropriate.

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Desktop Options

NewsBlur. NewsBlur is one of those reader applications that will offer news based on its best guess as to your interests, based on your past reading and liking / disliking behavior. Using the Intelligent Trainer tool, you can tailor each individual feed based on your interests. It looks pretty much like any other standard reader program, with folders in the left nav and articles in the main panel on the right. You can import your Google Reader subscriptions into NewsBlur. You can also import from desktop programs the OPML file containing your subscriptions. The problem for me is that NewsBlur’s free account accommodates 64 feeds, which is woefully inadequate for my existing library. But it is only $12 per year for unlimited feeds, which is pretty reasonable given my use of this particular type of service. There are a few different ways to view feeds as well, which is more dynamic than Reader’s approach.

Skimr. A stripped down approach to feeds, with the ability to import OPML subscription files, but no inbox daunting you with a mounting unread list. Access your feeds individual to view content.

Fever. How about a self-hosted RSS reader app that you host on your own server? That takes away the uncertainty of a free service getting pulled out from underneath you. Fever offers just that – simply upload 4 files via FTP, add a MySQL database, and create an account. There is a $30 one time fee to Fever’s developer, plus the cost of your own hosting, but if you already have that set up, you are good to go upon price of admission.

The Old Reader. It is what it says – a version of an RSS subscription tool that looks like the old Google Reader. You can transfer feeds in or upload your OPML file. It also has the old news sharing features and social aspects of Google Reader before they were stripped in lieu of Google+. Nice for those who prefer not to be too jarred in the upset of Reader’s demise.

Tiny Tiny RSS.  Another player and I can’t believe how much it resembles Reader in looks. Tiny Tiny RSS is an open source web-based news feed (RSS/Atom) reader and aggregator, designed to allow you to read news from any location, while feeling as close to a real desktop application as possible. Free, too.

NetVibes. A web-based reader alternative, among NetVibes toolset is a RSS subscription / reader function. Create a free account and then click the add button. You can import your feeds using the subscription.xml file and will see them in NetVibes in the same folders as in your Reader app. View your feeds in Reader or Widgets view. Search is lacking in the app, and you can really only use your built in browser search box. They call it a monitoring dashboard, but my sense is that its best free use is as a feed reader.

HiveMined. A relatively new player, HiveMined’s developer is sensitive to the post-mortem pain we are feeling about Reader and is working hard to replicate the best parts. There is not much to say about it right now, but the developer is working furiously and you can keep up to date via his Twitter account and  blog.

Feedly. This is my go to RSS reader right now, especially since the developers saw the writing on the wall for Reader a while ago and have cloned the Reader API. If you sync Feedly with Reader now (or have already done so), they claim the switch will be seamless. There are a lot of other reasons to love Feedly, with its awesome user interface, recommendations and learning engine, easy sharing, and great mobile applications. That, combined with the powerful back end of Reader, has been a winning combination for me.

Good Noows. Web only, which can be a bit of a detraction, but this is a nice looking easy to use Web-based reader. Add it via Chrome extension. Sign in with a preexisting social account. Easily add feeds. If this is what you need it for, then this is a nice alternative.

FeedaMail. Are you still reading your news via email? then FeedaMail might be your answer. Submit your favorite blogs, links and sites to the app, and get back digests and instant updates in your email. This is great for either web viewing or mobile viewing, but if you are like me and get antsy when your email inbox gets to full, you might opt for something else.

RSSOwl. A desktop option that claims to be platform independent. It looks a lot like a traditional reader program as well. There are lots of features, so head over to their site for more – you can search and organize, use the built in browser, create bins and labels and share the goods.

Rolio. If you like the real-time river of Twitter or other news feed type interfaces, Rolio will do that for you with your RSS feeds. But you aren’t limited to your RSS subscriptions – add in your Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn feeds as well. And, because this is all about the Google Reader loss, you can import your Google Reader feeds as well.

River2. If you need to get some real RSS cred, why not turn to the guy who invented the protocol in the first place? River2 is Dave Winer’s application offering another River of News (only new feeds showing, with newest first in descending order) take on the RSS reader. It runs in an OPML Editor that implementing a River of News aggregator. It will collect feeds, podcasts, photos, reading lists, and real time feed support. No doubt it is geeky, but for you geeks out there, this might be a cool tool to tinker with.

QuiteRSS. Notching it up with a bit more geek-appeal, check out QuiteRSS – an RSS/Atom feed reader built on Qt/C++. It’s a local desktop app, which might appeal more to some, less to others. But it is cross-platform. The interface is clean and simple. It has a built in browser that works nicely and there are lots of fine-grained viewing options. Add labels and custom icons and tear through your subscriptions with extensive keyboard shortcuts.

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Mobile Options

There are a bunch of options that principally or only work on mobile devices, iOS, Android or both or others. They are all great in their own right for different reasons and you may want to use one or more of them to keep abreast of the latest news on the go. My favorite option above, Feedly, has awesome mobile apps. But here are others that shine or live only on mobile and they have much to offer as well.

Pulse. Like most of the mobile apps, the focus is on presentation. Pulse is no exception. It offers a nice social mag-like UI. You have to work a bit to create and maintain lists of blogs and sites. But, its free and glossy, so you can’t be disappointed by its value. iOS and Android.

Flipboard. Flipboard was the first and still still probably the best social magazine app on mobile. Create your own personal magazine using your Twitter feeds, Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, Soundcloud and, until this summer, Google Reader feeds. Gorgeous and free, if not deep. But if you need to glance fast across your feeds, this is a great tool.

Taptu. Driven by images, but it is indeed an RSS reader. Use one of your social accounts to log in and customize and sync feeds on iOS and Android, as well as a few other mobile devices.

Google Currents. With my new Nexus 4, I have been using this app more and more. It is a great news magazine style reader with amazing attention to detail (images on read items go from full color to black and white). I like the organization and find it easy to scan through a lot of news quickly. It works with any Google account and is available on iOS and Android.

Zite. I can’t rave enough about this great app – it not only pulls the stories it believes I would find the most interesting from my existing feed subscriptions, it offers similar stories of interest from across the Web. I have subscribed to more than one new feed because it was served up to me via Zite. And, the Zite team just announced  it has built a Google Reader replacement for its service. While it will only works with Zite, it syncs with Reader feeds and is available for iOS, Android and Windows Phone.

Reeder. Reeder works on Mac and iOS, the latter is where I principally use it. It currently depends on Reader accounts as it is a true Google Reader interface app. But after the death knell sounded, Reeder’s developer suggested in Twitter that Reeder won’t die with Reader. What a relief!

I can’t guarantee an exhaustive list here, but as you can see, there are plenty of apps available to fill portions of the gigantic gap that will be left in the wake of Google Reader. Who knows, perhaps an eleventh hour reprieve will materialize? I would like to hope. But the pragmatist in me has my ducks all lined up for the eventual loss. Hope you do too – RSS is definitely not dead, if the massive outcry on the Web about Reader’s shuttering is any indication.

 

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Remember Yahoo Pipes? You Should If You Want to Tame Your Info

Yahoo-Pipes

If you like to tinker with and automate your web, and if you are a fan of services like IFTTT, then you may or may not have heard of Yahoo Pipes. Yahoo Pipes has been around for a dog’s lifetime in Internet years – it was first introduced in early 2007. While venerable, it is still mighty useful if you spend a few moments getting to know what it can do for you.

So, what can it do for you? It’s tagline is “rewire the Web.” Pipes describes itself as a powerful composition tool to aggregate, manipulate, and mashup content from around the web. Or, stated differently, it allows you to remix feeds and create data mashups so you can better control the flow of information to your virtual doorstep.

By joining together simple commands, combine multiple feeds into a single feed and then sort, filter and translate it. Use Pipes to  geocode favorite feeds and browse the items on an interactive map. Use Pipes to create widgets and badges with feed information on your web site. And this is just the beginning of it.

You start with a Yahoo account login. Then you access the visual editor wherein you can drag and drop preconfigured modules and “wire” them together. Each module performs a task like “Fetch” or “Feed Auto Discovery” or input date, location, number, text or URL. Operator modules transform and filter pipe data. URL modules manipulate the URL. Combine text strings, define and format dates, convert text strings to geographic location and perform mathematic functions. After you build a “Pipe” by stringing together modules in the visual editor, you can save it on Yahoo’s servers. You can output your data in several different formats. You also can publish your Pipe to benefit net-kind. You can discover a feed in module one, filter the feed in module two, three and four, add other functions and then connect the Pipe to the output module. You are then greeted with a Pipe that will pull and filter information and present it to you the way you want to see it. Then subscribe to the Pipe’s output in your favorite feed reeder and get only the news you want, when you want.

If you don’t feel much like building your own, check out the large number of community Pipes published by members and tailor them to your own use. Search for Pipes on the Browse tab, or check out the tagged Pipes along the left navigation pane. For example, type in “find jobs” and pull up a bunch of Pipes that will allow you to do just that. Pre-built Pipes allow you to simply add the required information into fields and run the Pipe to get the output.

What if you want to get really creative and use a search module to pull up any mention of your company or firm on the Web or on Twitter, mash the two feeds together and output them in a fancy little widget on your website? Real time, and real handy for web monitoring and promotion.

It is a little hard to explain without visual aids, so check out the video below to see how to build one yourself. And, remember, you can already use a pre-existing Pipe – chances are someone has already built the mousetrap using Pipes. Kinda like a virtual Rube Goldberg machine for your Internet information.

 

Getting Good Tech News Where You Like To Hang Out

I am happy to see that there has been lots of interest in my posts here lately in the Studio. Warms my heart to know that people are reading and [hopefully] enjoying tech tips I find during my archeological digs in the dusty corners of the Internet. I thought it might be useful to highlight the many ways you can find / read / share the material I post here. So many, in fact, that you can customize your Studio experience to your preferred hang outs.

The first choice, of course, is to simply visit my blog page on a daily basis. While I don’t usually post on the weekends (there have been some exceptions), most weekdays you can find something new here. Visiting the page is cool, because I have fitted out the blog with some extra material in the widgets and blog bar – you can get my Mobile App Of The Day reviews in the sidebar, as well as shares on Lazyfeed and Friendfeed and links to some of my other web profiles via my Retaggr card – I tend to spread my sharing out over many services, so that no one particular place has everything.

But, understandably, not everyone wants to have to manually visit a blog page every time they want to get the news. So, another option is, of course, to subscribe to Advocate’s Studio’s RSS feed and dump it into your feed reader of choice. I use several myself, including Google Reader, Feedly, Flud and Pulse for iPad, River of News, Reeder, etc. Some people like to get their feeds in the iGoogle home page. Usually, from within your reader app, you can star, share and comment, so it is a decent place to drop your tech news if you want to keep it all in one place.

Some people eschew old school RSS readers for the real-time fun of Twitter. All of Advocate’s Studio’s blog posts are published twice a day in my Twitter profile, which oddly enough is called @advocatesstudio. This is definitely a good place to get my tech news, as I feed this blog, Mobile App Of The Day and all of my Google Reader shares into this stream. Sometimes I throw some fun stuff in there, like pictures and thin attempts at humor. If you message me or @reply, I always respond, unless you are a stalker or a spammer (yes, Virginia, there are stalkers and spammers on the ‘nets).

If you like to hang out on Facebook (and who doesn’t?), there are a few different ways to consume my content. If you are interested in the biz and only the biz, I recommend that you “like” my business page AdvantageAdvocates. Here I send my blog posts, my mobile app reviews and Google Reader shares (the stuff I love but just don’t have time to write about) and there is a ton of great information in that feed, if I do say so myself. I would love to get more dialog going on there, so if you like to chat, please consider “liking” the page and comment away!

If you don’t want to “like” but you would prefer only to read my blog posts in Facebook’s news stream, you can always subscribe to Advocate’s Studio via the Networked Blogs application in Facebook. You can see the subscriptions in my sidebar here – click on the link to follow the blog and it will take you to the application, where you can subscribe and even rate the blog. Or you can simply click this link to get to my Networked Blogs profile on Facebook and see both Advocate’s Studio and my art blog Star Toe Studio, as well as some of the blogs that I follow.

Finally, you can always send a friend request to my Facebook personal profile here.

If you would rather hang with a smaller crew, you can always subscribe to my feed on Friendfeed. This has long been a favorite place for me. It also represents the widest mix of shares, as most of my social feeds feed into it and I post a lot of non-biz related stuff there.

If you want something completely different, I am trying out some new sharing locations, where I am not automatically feeding in the blog content, but working harder to collect and share unique stuff. One of those locations is Amplify and you can access that profile by clicking here.

One of the great strengths of the Web is the ability to choose your method of media consumption. There are nearly unlimited options for getting the same content precisely where you want to see it. Whether its Facebook, Twitter, your reader app or some other locale, consider subscribing, liking, “friending”, following or otherwise staying in touch by whatever means suits you best. And definitely say hello!

Clearing Your Virtual Magazine Bin

In my humble opinion, the single best source of information both on and off the Web is a healthy collection of news and blog feeds automatically pouring into Google Reader. But, much like my tangible desktop, briefcase and magazine bin, my virtual periodical inbox is stuffed full to bursting. It can’t be helped: I see an interesting post or feed and I MUST subscribe. My pack rat mentality flows over into virtual space. Dozens of feeds and thousands of posts later, I lose complete site of the bottom of the pile.

So I welcomed this morning a post from Lifehacker (link here) with tips on how to tame the tangle mass that is my Google Reader inbox. Some tips I knew, but others were fresh and I immediately applied them. For example, use the “Trends” button underneath “Your Stuff” in the left hand column to quickly view the least updated, most obscure or least attended-to feeds and lose them like a bad habit. Lifehacker also suggests creating a folder system that encourages you to spend more time on the stuff you want: consider folders called “favorites” containing all your must-read subscriptions, then tier the remaining content in order of importance or subject matter. I employ a subject-based foldering system, but I do tier my Reader follows into “Top Peeps” and all the rest.

Another great tip for the higher order geek is using Yahoo! Pipes (link here) to further customize your feeds with built-in filtering. Another, somewhat simpler, option is FeedRinse (link here), which strains by author, tags, and keywords. Lifehacker reminds that WordPress feeds also offer tagging – in other words, if you are reading a WP blog within a particular category, simply add /feed/ to the end of the URL and you can secure a feed of only that category.

The Lifehacker article finally spurred me to start the long overdue Spring feed cleaning that I had contemplated for some time. It didn’t hurt my momentum when I learned this morning that the Reeder app on my iPhone stops updating when there are 5,000 unread items. Oops.

Power Up Your Blog Speed

Google Reader remains, by far, the most popular RSS feed reader out there. I rely on it heavily, both in its direct form and as the back bone of my other reading sources, such as Feedly and other information-consuming applications.

One of the complaints comparisons often bandied about the Web regarding GReader is that it is painfully slow to update feeds with new publication, now that we have such hyperactive services such as Twitter. Real time speed (“RTS”) is often considered a “good” thing among Webizens. I, for one, prefer curated content from dependable sources to RTS and have always preferred to sacrifice a wee bit of speed for reliability.

Until now. Techy people already know about the PubSubHubbub protocol which enables the transfer of RSS feed publications at RTS. I don’t know enough about these technicalities to even attempt to explain the how of it. But I do know that the protocol has been rolling out via various Web applications, speeding things up wherever it lands.

Late last week, commenters noticed GReader delivering information from feeds enabled with PubSubHubbub at a much faster rate. Apparently, GReader is now reading and relaying PubSubHubbub-enabled feeds in real time. Most major on-line publications have already adopted the protocol so the GReader experience has definitely picked up as a result.

What does this mean to content creators? Well, you too can jump on the PubSubHubbub bandwagon with your blog and supply the world’s most popular reader with your writing in real time. If you use Blogger or Posterous, your feeds are already PubSubHubbub-enabled. If you use the WordPress software on your own hosted site, you can install this PubSubHubbub plug-in (link here).  If you are slogging away over at WordPress.com, you unfortunately are out of luck at the moment – they have adopted the competing rssCloud format, which is not yet supported in GReader. If you use Feedburner to send your RSS feed, turn on Google’s Pingshot to send out information in real time.

What are you waiting for? Not GReader anymore! 

Hat tip to ReadWriteWeb (they so smart).

Speeding Up the Search For Gold

How do you find what you are looking for before you even know you are looking for it?

What is the Web for, if not mining for that golden nugget of information on your topic of interest? If you are a business professional, you need solid information on your brand, competitors, industry developments, and best practices. If you are a blogger or are looking to distinguish yourself as an information agent, you need to stay on top of the news and cutting-edge advancements of interest to your audience.

Let’s face it, though. The depth and breadth of the Web today is a blessing and a curse. There is no shortage of detail and the lag between newsworthy event and press time is ever-shrinking. How do news brokers cope?

I am always looking for means to increase efficiencies. There is nothing I like better than the “a-ha” moment. And I like a healthy challenge – taming the raging firehose of the Web presents a substantial one. So, I am sharing here a few thoughts on my own, current process for reducing time investment and realizing greatest gain.

Say what you will about Twitter replacing RSS, but I still bank much of my time with some form or another of RSS reader. I can easily pick and choose my trusted sources and, while I sacrifice some “real time” gain, I believe I realize a more distilled result. I’m not saying Twitter is not a valuable information gathering tool: I simply cannot justify on most days the time needed to really crunch through lists and then parse the hordes of tweets. People tend to really spew when their per-spew investment is a mere 140 characters.

But even RSS can get overwhelming and I often don’t have sufficient time to fully digest that meal. So, how do I grab the most nutrient-packed snack?

Right now, I am using a few applications to this end. I am using Google Reader, but employing the “magic” filter on the shares of a number of fine web distributors and RSS feeds covering my topics of interest. I follow this with a quick glance at the lists sorted by time to ensure I haven’t missed the latest and greatest within that RSS-driven world.

I can get an even more condensed version of this relevance-weighted information via Feedly, either on my Firefox or Chrome desktop browser. Feedly does a great job of displaying pertinent posts. It also gives me a little feedback on how the Twitterverse is viewing my shares via its Karma feature.

I also have been relying more and more on the intuition-based iPhone application, my6sense. Despite somewhat lengthy load times and a rather annoying bug on the retweet feature, this app has been doing an excellent job of meshing my interests from RSS subscriptions, social feeds, and other sources into a tightly-condensed stream. I grap a look at it whenever I find myself out, about, and waiting in line. I can quickly share what I find to my favorite social networks.

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, while there is a great deal of overlap between these sources, it is not complete. There is just enough variation to justify my continued use of all of them.

As far as Twitter is concerned, I still do not feel that I have tamed that savage beast. Organizing all of my follows into groups (albeit private ones for my own consumption) has helped but has not solved my dilemma. TwitterTim.es offers a fairly unique method of organizing the most popular tweets among my follows and I have found some good stuff there. my6sense does apply its magic to my Twitter stream, but I think it is biting off more than it can chew – my own tweets are featured as heavily as my follows’ tweets. So I am still waiting for that killer Twitter-prospecting tool that will give me the most value for the least time investment.

Do you have any tips, tools, or tactics for digesting the Web? I would love to know how you are managing your own process.