Google Reader dies today. Here’s why I’m not replacing it.

July 1, 2013

Google Reader will die tonight. And I'm going to miss it terribly. But I'm not going to replace it. I'm going back to plain old bookmarks.


Goodbye Google Reader. My conflicted feelings about your loss are represented by this moody photograph. (SeongJoon Cho - BLOOMBERG)

I subscribe to 157 Web sites on Google Reader. Over the last 30 days, I've read 510 posts from those sites. Since Sept. 14, 2009 -- the date I joined -- I've read 84,137 posts. That's a lot of blog posts.

But it's not nearly as many blogs. Google Reader's "Trends" feature tells me I'm excellent at keeping up with Matthew Yglesias, Marginal Revolution, Kevin Drum, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Taegan Goddard's Political Wire, James Fallows, and a handful of others. But I'm crap at keeping up with the other 135 sites in my feed. Most never get a click.

Still, after reading and editing Wonkbook in the morning (you're subscribed, right?), Google Reader and Twitter are often the main ways I get my news for the rest of the day. And I want to rely less on both of them. So though I could port my feeds over to Feedly or Digg or any of the half-dozen RSS readers that have upped their game to benefit from Google Reader's demise, but I'm not sure I want to.

I have three nagging worries about my reliance on RSS feeds.

First, it pushes me toward reading blogs and away from reading, well, everything else. Oh, I subscribe to some news outlets and magazines, but the truth is that I don't bother with anything that doesn't show up as full text, and I can't keep up with feeds that publish too frequently. So in practice, I really just read blogs on Google Reader. And since I find Reader more convenient than I find anything else, that means, in practice, that blogs make up a very large part of my information stream.

Now, I love blogs. Some of my best friends are bloggers. Blogging pays my mortgage. But blogs -- at least the ones I read most often -- trend toward commentary rather than news  and short posts rather than longer articles. They're part of a healthy media diet. They shouldn't be the only thing on the plate.

Second, it reinforces my filter bubble. Never heard of a "filter bubble"? Eli Pariser, author of -- you guessed it -- 'The Filter Bubble', defines it as "the unique universe of information that you live in online." Pariser's main concern is with algorithmic filters, like the one Google applies to your search results (if you're worried about that, then Duck Duck Go has you covered). But Reader and Twitter are even worse than that. Rather than an algorithm filtering what I read, I'm filtering what I read.

In certain ways, I make a great curator for myself. I  know what I already like. But that's also the problem. I'm terrible at knowing what I don't already like. And so too are the people I follow. After all, I'm following them because I already like and know their work. By now, I'm pretty familiar with the sources they read, too.

There's nothing wrong with RSS feeds, or with Twitter. But they both bias my information diet in the same ways: Toward quick reads rather than long ones, toward writers and outlets I know rather than ones I don't, toward blogs rather than other kinds of articles, and toward information I curated rather than information that someone else curated.

Those biases are dangerous for me. After all, my job is to keep coming up with new and interesting things things to report and write about. The more I read the same things over and over, and the more I read the same things that other writers read, the worse I'll be at my job.

So I'm taking the death of Google Reader as an opportunity to make some changes. I won't be leaving another RSS reader open in my browser, and I've already been working to check Twitter less frequently.

Instead, I'm going back to bookmarks -- and other people's curation. I'm bookmarking a few of my favorite blogs, and then bookmarking a few news outlets and magazines, and a few socially curated sites (like Digg and Reddit), and a few more idiosyncratically curated sites (like LongReads.com and Byliner). My hope is to combine enough different forms of curation that I break out of my habits and regularly see content I wouldn't have known to look for. And since a lot of that content will be longer and less convenient to read, the spot in my browser that used to be reserved for Reader will now play host to my Pocket oage, so it's easy for me to work through articles I've saved when I have a few minutes.

Google Reader, you've been great. I've loved our time together. But maybe this is for the best.

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