The Death of Google Reader : Why Open Source Matters in a Cloud Era

This morning when I was at the breakfast table I read the news that Google is shutting down Google Reader in July. I was completely flabbergasted. Every day, sipping my morning coffee, I go to Google Reader to see what has happened in the software world the past day. That has been my routine since 2008, regardless of which employer I had or which project I was doing. I can’t think of any service I use for that long and for that amount of time per day. Or maybe I can … GMail. And it got me thinking.

But let me take a step back first. Google proclaims it has seen a decline in its usage. Yet, when I see my twitter feeds and the rss feeds (in Reader) all I can see is the Google Reader news. Yes, I’m probably biased since I’m a software developer and I tend to talk with and follow fellow geeks. This is how Mashable.com puts it:

Hear that clunking sound? That’s thousands of jaws dropping at the news that Google Reader is going to be retired come July 1, 2013. That whooshing sound is “Google Reader” shooting to the top of Twitter’s worldwide trends, even on a day when a new pope was picked.

And that giant “NOOOOOOOO” sound is the Internet’s reaction to Google’s most unpopular decision in — well, as far back as I can remember.

I would gladly pay to use Google Reader. According my my stats I’ve read about 35.000 blogs through Reader since I started using it. It is my single source to keep up to date with the industry and Twitter or any other social media by no means comes close. The noise on there is just to large. Somewhere I read “Google Reader to Twitter is like a filing cabinet to a bag of cats”.

I also hope that Google thought very well about the people that they piss off now. A vocal and influential group (if only it were that they install and maintain the other family members computers 😉 ) Kyle Wild, CEO at Keen_IO states it clearly:

Why Open Source Matters

But let’s quit whining. We all knew this could happen one day, right? After all, Reader is in the hands of one colossal company and is publicly traded on the stock market. They aren’t doing this for charity.

But me, and many others, rely on Google every day. It runs my life: e-mail, calendar, navigation, … heck, when my internet is down I check www.google.com because it is always there. And in the back of our heads we know that is one company behind all these things and yes, we know that this is a bad thing….. but Google is not evil, right?

The facts are however plain and simple: if you don’t control it, the company owning it might pull the plug any day. They have any right to do so. And that brings me the title of this post (by the way, I wonder what the impact on my users visits will be once Reader goes down).  I’m an open source guy. And this move by Google really made me reinforce my believe in open source software (again).

You see, if we would decide to pull the plug on Activiti or Alfresco today, it will be bad news for sure. But because the software we write is open source, it only means the people who are currently writing code for the Activiti and Alfresco project are gone. Activiti and Alfresco will still exist. The code, the documentation will be there. You can still open the code and patch it. Other committers will still be there. Somebody or some other company could take leadership and continue.

The point is: you’re not at the mercy of one single company. And in this era, where everything is becoming cloud-based and closed, we should really think about what brought us to open source software in the first place. Do we want to put our businesses in the hands of other mega-corporations wo care very little about us? Do we want a vendor/service-lock-in for our critical businesses?

I’m very happy that the company I work for, Alfresco, has the right mindset on this. Not only for letting me work on open source software. Yes, we do have Alfresco Cloud. But it is build on the same codebase as the one we’re shipping as community edition. If for some reason the plug is pulled, anybody can take the code, tweak it and run it. Even build their own cloud version. With Alfresco and Activiti, we’ve got nothing to hide. Our code is right there. That is our strength. It’s not only about a kick-ass product. It’s about openness and freedom to be in control of your own path, regardless of what happens.

Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not saying everything should be open-source. Companies still need to make money. But the core, the foundations needs to be. Take GitHub for example: it offers services on top of an open source version control system (Git). If GitHub pulls the plug, I can happily still code away. Sure it will hurt a bit in the beginning, but I’m not locked in.

That being said … anybody has decent alternative for Google Reader? Preferably open source.

12 Comments

  1. tvdh March 14, 2013

    “Since October 12, 2005 you have read a total of 178,911 items.”

    Will be sad to see Reader go 🙁

  2. Phlip Paeps March 14, 2013

    So … next to go is Google Mail?

  3. Alex lu March 14, 2013

    I’m currently trying feedly and it seems a good fit to me. Feedly also has a project to migrate all google reader items for you when the day Google Reader will be missed comes. But I don’t think it’s open source.

  4. Andries Inzé March 14, 2013

    Sad day for the internet, for sure.

  5. Romain March 14, 2013

    Hi Joram,

    I’ve been using Akregator (KDE desktop client) since i think 2005 🙂
    For some reason, i prefer to have the feeds coming at a desktop client locally, rather than go to a website to aggregate them.

    I know it does not have a mobile equivalent, but if i want to read a particular article offline / on a mobile device , i use Pocket (http://getpocket.com/).

  6. Ronald van kuijk March 16, 2013
  7. Jelle March 18, 2013

    Have a look at http://replacereader.com, currently feedly is winning, but newsblur is a worthy opponent. After reading his blog (http://blog.newsblur.com/post/45632737156/three-months-to-scale-newsblur), I feel more sympathy to try out newsblur but the free accounts are suspended at this moment…

  8. Joram Barrez March 18, 2013

    Thanks for all the alternatives guys. Guess it’s time to give them all a try 🙂

  9. Hikari April 17, 2013

    For me GReader died when AideRSS stopped working and they dropped their social features. I’m using NewsBlur, Feedly is too ugly and doesn’t feel good.

    But NewsBlur (it is OpenSource BTW) lacks some critical features, auto marks articles as read after only 2 weeks, and soon will have a new layout that’s very similar to Feedly. And the worse, all issues I’m having have been complained for at least 1 year in its GetSatisfaction community, and its owner just refuses to fix/enhance it or says it’s not his priority, while he works on stuff nobody wants (like the ugly new layout).

    I’d love if somebody would fork NewsBlur and offer a user-oriented service. Our needs aren’t complex or expensive to be implemented by a company with some initial money and a good team. And I’d gladly pay for the service if I could just organize my starred articles and stay 1 month out and have my unread articles there when coming back.

  10. Joram Barrez April 17, 2013

    @Hikari: Thanks for your input. I did try NewsBlur a while ago but it didn’t really “feel” good. Probably because I’m opinionated after so many years of Google Reader.. I didn’t knew NewsBlur deleted items after 2 weeks. Some periods of the year, that’s really necessary.

    I agree … I would gladly pay for a service similar to it.

  11. David Mann June 18, 2013

    Old Reader seems to work alright. It faces the same problem though- all state exists on a computer that the user does not control.
    This is the same problem faced with paying music service providers a monthly subscription fee. When you stop paying, all your music disappears. Also, the provider can yank music out of circulation on a whim. This has happened to me numerous times since 2007, starting with emusic.com. So there’s definitely an important place for availability of raw source and raw media if you are a user that values availability.

  12. Joram Barrez June 20, 2013

    @David: I absolutely agree. I switched to Feedly … but indeed the nagging feeling of having no control over your stuff remains …

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