Google Reader: How to save your data and alternatives to consider

News junkies, this is it. Today is the last day of Google Reader’s life.

Google announced in March that it was “powering down” its RSS (really simple syndication ) news feed reader on July 1, setting off hue and cry among a truly devoted userbase — including yours truly — that relied heavily on the news feed site to keep track of the news that mattered most to them. Anyone who ever really got into Google Reader can tell you: a lot of time has gone into curating, organizing and reading all those news feeds in past years. Seeing Google Reader fold feels a lot like watching all that time and commitment slip down the drain.

But all is not lost. Preserving your feeds, their folders and all your hard work so they can live another day is a fairly painless process, but it is one you’ll have to do today.

To download you data from Reader — or any Google service, for that matter — sign in and head over to Google Takeout. Once you’re there, hit the “Choose services” tab to select Reader and click the big, red “Create Archive button.” Once Google has compiled your information, you can download it for your very own.

One tip: Please, don’t download your information on a public computer. Grabbing data from your Google account is really best done in the comfort of your own home.

Where do you go from there? There are plenty of alternatives, all clamoring for your love, data and attention.

Most recently, Digg and AOL (well, in beta anyway) have stepped up to the plate to specifically court Google Reader exiles with organization features such as the ability to flag certain articles that emulate Google’s simple design. Plus they have the option to import your feeds — folders and all — straight into their services.

And if you’re looking specifically for the old Google Reader experience, which let you see the news you were most interested as well as the things your friends wanted to share with you within the network — features that Google stripped from Reader in 2011— The Old Reader has the same clean link list as Google Reader, so while it’s not that pretty, it is super functional.

Other, arguably better-looking, options include Feedly, which also will import your existing feeds and offer easy sharing options for Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, and has nifty keyboard shortcuts for easy management. There’s also Flipboard, which added an option that lets you import your Google Reader feeds into your existing account. Both present your reader feeds in a more magazine style — meaning they’re better for reading, but maybe not for scanning the headlines. Feedly works well on the Web, while Flipboard may be the better option for people who read more on mobile, particularly if they’re already Flipboard users.

If you mostly used Google Reader as a place to save articles that you wanted to read at your leisure, there’s a whole world of options open to you with “read-it-later” apps such as Pocket, Evernote and Readability that essentially let you clip what’s interesting and tuck it into a digital scrapbook.

There is, of course, another option: jumping off of the news feed hamster wheel altogether. Appetites for digital news are growing, but there is an argument to be made that a Reader-like service isn’t the useful tool that it was back in 2005.

The most obvious reason for this is the rise of social media. Google Reader was great because it gave you all your information at once, instantly, without having to navigate to individual sites. But that’s essentially what social media does for us now. In fact, one reason people speculated Google killed off the social features of Google Reader was because it was trying reroute some of the sharing energy and to give Google+ a leg up. While a 2012 survey of Americans from the Pew Center for the People & the Press found that television is still the most popular way that people get their news, the study also found that 47 percent of Americans see their news over social networking sites. That’s up from 29 percent in 2010.

And news is only getting more mobile and more social. In 2012, nearly one-fifth of all Americans, 17 percent, said they got recent news on their mobile phones — that number was up to 31 percent among smartphone owners. With smartphone adoption having grown to 56 percent from 46 percent in the last year alone, that number’s likely continued to tick up along with it.

There are certainly ways to make news feeds work on mobile. In fact, many of the alternatives I just mentioned to an excellent job of balancing a range of content without being overwhelming. There is something inherently difficult about translating all the information from something like Google Reader to a smartphone or tablet, but the smartest companies have figured out a way to let RSS feeds power what they do in a way that makes sense for smaller screens — rather than simply present the bare material.

Related stories:

Digg’s Google Reader alternative is on its way

GigaOm: Why Facebook isn’t the right company to create a Google Reader replacement

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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