Google Reader and the Promise of The Cloud

RSS

I don’t often feel compelled to write a blog post. I’m not that passionate about many things. Apple, yes, but I don’t regularly blog about Apple announcements or Apple products. In fact, I don’t regularly blog at all. But yesterday news broke that affects a large part of my daily routine: news consumption. I’m an RSS junkie, a feed fiend, a veritable devourer of news. Most of fits neatly into categories I’m interested in—Apple, cars, racing, technology. I check my feeds as often as I can. I use multiple devices for this: iPhone 5 (primarily), iPad 2, and two Macs. There’s a lot of ways to consume feeds but these days it really comes down to two general methods: e-mail style clients (e.g. NetNewsWire, a classic) and magazine style clients (Flipboard being the most well known). I’ve dabbled with Flipboard. It’s a great application on iOS and it’s a visually appealing way to consume news. Being an early adopter of RSS, I’m more comfortable with the older e-mail style. I like knowing how many articles are unread. I like  feeling like I’m done after I’ve checked my feeds. Flipboard doesn’t offer this kind of granularity but e-mail style clients do.

Google Reader

I’ve been using Reeder for iPhone since it came out. I also purchased it for my iPad and the desktop version as well via the Mac App Store. It’s quick, easy, nice to look at, and best of all it syncs my feeds and read/unread counts across all my devices. It uses Google Reader to do this. Prior to Reeder, I’d used numerous RSS clients, most notably the aforementioned NetNewsWire. At the time I really got in to it, NetNewsWire utilized NewsGator as its preferred sync solution. Eventually NewsGator discontinued this service and migrated to Google Reader. This was a transparent transition for me. I didn’t care what the backend was as long as my feeds were synced and things I’d read on one device didn’t show up as unread on another. Despite being generally suspicious of Google and its motives, I was reasonably confident that Google Reader was a safe choice. Google is, after all, a large company. They’re not going anywhere any time soon so the time and energy I’d invested in crafting my news reading experience incorporating Reader as the sync engine was time well spent.

I’ve been burned by The Cloud before. Many have. Services appear, users become invested, services disappear. I preferred Gowalla to Foursquare. Gone. I preferred Picplz to Instagram. Gone. The list goes on and on. So I shouldn’t be so surprised that another service I’m invested in—Google Reader—is following the same path. Except this time it affects my daily routine. As trite as it sounds, it affects my life.

I’ve no doubt that other services will come along to take Reader’s place as a functional backend sync solution. Feedly is certainly making noise in this space. I’m also confident that my preferred app, Reeder, and other feed readers that utilize Google’s API will find alternatives. Normally I’d be inclined to employ a wait-and-see attitude. Not this time. I will not trust The Cloud on this one.

Fever

I’d come across Fever initially as the “other” sync option offered in Reeder for iPhone. I’d looked into it. It was weird. First of all it cost money. $30. Why would I pay for a feed aggregator? And it ran on a server. Not their server, my server. Weirder. Why would I want that? Sure, I pay monthly for a hosting plan. I have a lot of websites there both for myself and others. It has PHP and MySQL—everything Feeder needs to function. But I’d have to set it up and manage it. I’m generally one who prefers to let others do the heavy lifting. It’s why I’m quite happy to pay an association fee that takes care of snow removal and landscaping. Better them than me. The same held true for feed syncing. Until yesterday.

Yesterday I saw for the first time The Cloud for what it really is: a complete and total crapshoot. I’d always scoffed at John C. Dvorak’s criticism of The Cloud on shows like TWiT and No Agenda. I thought he was being alarmist. Reactionary. A luddite in the world of always-on cloudy goodness. Now I know he’s absolutely right. After the news broke that Google was shutting down Reader, my reaction was decisive. At least for my daily news intake, I’m done with The Cloud. I’m striking out on my own.

Data Liberation Front

I went to Fever’s website last night and downloaded their compatibility checker. I set up a subdomain, created a MySQL database, and uploaded the files. The setup was painless—albeit not for the technically challenged—and soon I was told that my server would work just fine. I happily paid $30 and activated my installation. I then went to Google Takeout and promptly downloaded my Google Reader data. Included in the zip file was an OPML document with all my feeds. Fever happily accepted the file and I was up and running with my new feed reeder. My new aggregator. My new sync engine. And I control it. No one can shut it off. My daily routine continues unabated. In a sense, I’ve made my own cloud for news and I’m loving it.

I still haven’t explored all Fever has to offer as I’m primarily interested in it as a sync engine for Reeder on my iPhone and a web interface on my iPad and Macs (Reeder only currently supports Fever on iPhone; I’ll be contacting the author shortly to request it be added to the other versions). It does introduce a lot of unique concepts: kindling, sparks, and hot. As I understand it, kindling is your feeds, sparks are feeds that inform your interests, and hot is news items from your various feeds organized by their main topic. All interesting and worth of exploring. In time I may have a more complete review of Fever but for now it’s accomplishing what I want it to.

I’m off The Cloud. I’m on my own. And I’m better off for it.

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