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Every morning, the first thing I do when I go online, is check my Google Reader. Google Reader, my favorite rss reader, has become what in the past the newspapers in the morning were: a first reality check, to see if I have missed anything happening in my world. Before checking my email, twitter or other social media, I would check Google Reader. But Google Reader is leaving me, I feel. Google Reader is betraying me. And I do not know why.
I do know that RSS-feeds have never became the online tool, we expected it would be. When Dave Winer developed the tool - to check what was new at your favorite websites – early this century, it very soon became a standard tool for all websites and weblogs.
But it has never become a tool that internet users like that much. I have not checked lately the usage of RSS readers – the other side of the tool – but it has not become the promise it was early this century. Against all odds, even the mailing list, the dinosaur of online tools, is still going strong. Last time I checked, the adoption of RSS readers was still in the single-digits in terms of adoption by internet users. But that did not stop me: I still think it was one of the better tools if you are in the content business. For using internet tools I have only one criteria: it is working for me or not. And Google Reader worked for me.
I have flirted around with some other RSS readers too, but in the end, Google Reader proved to be the best for me. It might have an irrational side on it, just as your favorite car or coffee stays your favorite, you stick to it, even when there could be better alternatives around. I had no reason to leave Google Reader. But I also had no reason to believe Google Reader was going to leave me, until a few weeks ago.
What I loved about my RSS reader was that is does not only give me an overview of what is happening at my favorite websites and weblogs, it also allows you to follow news. So, when I started to develop the China Speakers Bureau, I needed a tool to follow my speakers, when they are quoted online, anywhere. Google News provided that rss-feed, and combined with Google Reader, I developed my current digital radar. Initially I was afraid that when I searched for “Paul French”, I would also get the mischief about French fries bought by any Paul in the world on my radar screen, but I got a very clear result. Both at Google News and Google Reader, the algorithms knew I was not looking for French fries bought by Paul, but for the name Paul French, with or without quotation marks around the name.
Even for Chinese names, that worked pretty ok, although I sometimes had to add an additional search term to the name, like CASS, or Fudan, to get it right.
Until a few weeks ago.
There was always a bit of noise on my digital radar screen. Sometimes you would find an article that was already a few years old. And while looking for the Chinese firm Aigo, it was very unfortunate Aigo was also a family name in Argentina involved in a high-profile court case. And when somebody was quoted by AP or another popular news wire, you would have a short spike of noise. But even when your favorite car sometimes has some little things, as long as it keeps on driving, you do not care that much.
Suddenly, a few weeks ago, the noise started to increase. Suddenly, I got hits on “Ben”, while I was looking for “Ben Cavender”. And also I got results on people called “Dodson” while I was looking for a specific Bill Dodson in China. Fortunately, I did not get everything with “Ben” or “Dodson” in it, otherwise it would have driven me crazy. But it started to make me worried on how solid my Google Reader still was. Apart from the noise it was making, was there perhaps also a lot I would be missing. Internet tools make you happy, as long as you do not worry about what you are not getting.
More noise started to turn up. When an article is published, websites add links to earlier – not related - articles in the footer or a side-column. My old Google Reader would ignore those mentions. For a good reason, since they were not relevant for my search. But now my Google readers show a few times per day, Howard French has published a few weeks ago an article quoted in the China Digital Times, and Heleen Mees pops up with an even more outdated article in the Dutch daily FD. I always accepted a certain level of noise was unavoidable, but this became unbearable, especially because it was no problem in the past.
I have already complained at Google Reader about their way of messing around with the algorithms, and even got a short personal notice back. But I still have the feeling, Google Reader has started to leave me. So, even when trust can be restored, I have to look around. What are the alternative RSS-readers I can use? It is a tough question it ask, since it feels like betraying a trusted colleague. But then, he started to mess around first.
There is a chance not Google Reader is messing up my user experience, but Google News might have changed its settings. I have looked back at the feeds in Google News, and see some of the noise showing up there, but only a fraction. If I have to bring in Google News as one of the wrong-doers, the picture might get a bit more complicated. In this case I only hope the boys and girls of Google Reader have their offices next to those of Google News.
In short: the engine of Google Reader is making nasty noises, very nasty. I’m not yet ready to abandon my favorite RSS reader, not only for irrational loyalty. Switching to any other RSS reader would mean weeks of work, if not more. It means destruction of my virtual capital. But still, in case: Any good alternative RSS readers you can recommend?