Some Google Developments

In October 2011 I published a blog entry titled Google vs Facebook in which I discussed changes to Google Reader, the main one being the removal of some social features. I continued to use Reader but the ability to “like” and “tag” feed items disappeared and was replaced by a +1 button. On March 13th this year Google posted A second spring of cleaning in which they announced the planned removal of a number of lesser used and outdated services including Google Reader, which was to be retired on July 1st. Although the majority of the population were no doubt blissfully unaware of the impending demise it prompted a huge amount of discussion amongst RSS geeks, with reactions ranging from resigned acceptance of something which had clearly been on the cards right up to wailing and rending of garments (OK I admit I have no evidence that anyone actually did that). Here for example are some Thoughts surrounding Google Reader’s demise posted by Matt Haughey two days after the announcement. Since then I noticed the +1 button disappear but after a while (a few weeks?) it came back again.

So what were Reader users expected to do? Well Google gave instructions for exporting Reader data using Google Takeaway, but then what to do with it? For people who only use Reader on a single device there are various options – the problem comes when you want to keep track of read/unread status across multiple devices. Google Reader became so dominant in the RSS space that developers all gravitated towards using it as a back end for syncing between devices. A lot of people started claiming that RSS was an obsolete technology anyway and good riddance, but it still has plenty of fans and many people are not even aware that they are using it (it is one of the technologies behind podcasting for example).

I still haven’t decided what if anything to replace it with when Google Reader goes away on July 1st but I have made some preparations. As my number of subscriptions had increased over the years I was spending more and more time keeping up to date and this seemed like a good opportunity to take stock. I was subscribed to 83 feeds but some of them had gone inactive and others I decided were basically a waste of my time so I unsubscribed from them. I then looked for feeds from wordpress.com blogs and if I was not already doing so I followed them in my wordpress.com account. Next I looked at feeds from blogspot blogs, of which there were 14 (I have a couple of such blogs myself but I stopped using them when I moved over to wordpress.com). Since Blogger/blogspot is part of Google I have an account anyway so I decided to follow these 14 blogs in Blogger. YouTube is also part of Google and some feeds were basically just links to YouTube channels so I was able to subscribe to the channel instead. Finally I looked at Facebook – if a subscription was to a feed from a site which put the same items on a Facebook page then I just “liked” the page in Facebook. After all that I was left with just 11 subscriptions in Google Reader, a far more manageable number. I also deleted all the tags I had created when I liked items before Google removed that feature.

One of the Navigation options in Google Reader is “Trends”. Here you will find your reading statistics and subscription trends for the last thirty days. Under subscription trends you can see which are your most obscure subscriptions ranked by number of subscribers. By subscribing to my own blog in Google Reader I can see how many people are subscribed and there are only two (possibly including myself), which is strange because there are no less than 28 people following my blog in their wordpress.com accounts. Looking on the bright side this means that on July 1st won’t be loosing much of an audience. I still have a few weeks left before then to decide how to handle my remaining 11 subscriptions.

Apart from Google Reader the main development I wanted to mention is with Google Maps. On May 15th Google announced a radical new version and now when you go to Google Maps there is a “Meet the new Google Maps” box on the left where you can click a button to learn more and request an invite. Before then you could opt in to something called MapsGL (provided you were using a WebGL enabled browser) and I used to do that in order to be able to use Street View without having to install the Adobe Flash Player plug-in. The MapsGL option seems to have disappeared now and I thought lots of people would be complaining but in fact it was difficult to find any confirmation that it had even happened – the best I came up with was a reply by barryhunter in which he said “Sounds like still got MapsGL enabled, which si not supported now that we have the new maps”. So I have requested an invite to the new Google Maps in the hope that it will provide something like Street View but without the Flash dependency (if you are curious about my aversion to Flash then you could read my earlier blog entry Living Without Flash).

I am nearly done now, just a couple of minor things. First there is the new YouTube One Channel which I have switched to but not yet finished setting up with artwork etc, and finally there is GMail’s new inbox which was announced a week ago. I only use GMail as a secondary email address and have it set up to forward everything to my primary one, so I rarely use the GMail web interface but I have adopted the new inbox anyway and will take a look at it when I get a chance. I realise that I have now made two text-only blog posts in a row – I promise that the next one will have some pretty pictures.

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3 responses to “Some Google Developments

  1. I’m your other subscriber 🙂 I hadn’t looked at the trends, but I see I have a few subscribers for my blogs. I’m going to miss Reader and the deadline has snuck up on me. I had a quick look at Feedly before and will try to use it in future. I can’t manage without RSS feeds. We can subscribe via all the different services, but that is less convenient and still excludes some.

    I’ve got the new Maps. It’s different, but I’ve not sussed it all out yet. Seems less convenient to get to Streetview.

    Also seen the new inbox, but didn’t like it. I can get by with a single inbox. I use Gmail to access my primary account when away from my main PC.

    • Hi Steve and thanks for commenting. For me there was not much of a convenience penalty associated with moving subscriptions from Reader to other services because I was using most of them anyway. The exception was Blogger, where I do now have to remember to check my Blogger reading list as well. As you say, it still excludes some feeds, which is why I have not been able to drop Reader completely yet.

      I requested a New Maps invite a couple of days ago but am still waiting. On the Maps website it says “Hold tight. Your invitation is on the way”.

  2. Pingback: Good News | The Mobius

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