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The Death of Google Reader     

Contributed by Joel Zimba, Technology Outreach Specialist, MDTAP

Last week Google announced they would be discontinuing their Google Reader service as of July 1.  What—you’ve never heard of Google Reader?  That may not be surprising as Google claims nobody is using the service.

Let’s back up and go over exactly what Reader does and why it’s useful, especially from an accessibility standpoint.  Google Reader is simply a way of collecting content which is frequently updated and reading it.  There’s a little button at the bottom of many blogs and websites (including our own) which simply says “RSS.”  If you take the little string which shows up when you click that button ( on modern browsers, you see nothing other than perhaps an invitation to subscribe), you’ll be able to see whenever new content is added to the blog without actually going to the site and reading it.  A feed reader takes many of these RSS feeds and gathers them together.

Of course you can sort them, filter them, arrange them, star them, email them and any number of other things.  Typically though, most users just see new articles as they are published.  Think of it as a newspaper which constantly updates with all of the new blog articles as they arrive.

So, here’s the magic part.  It doesn’t just take you to the originating website.  The content is pulled into Reader and you can read it right there.  There are even ways of playing with the content to make it read more like like just a page of text and less like a web page.  That’s the accessibility part.  If your feed reader is accessible, it might actually make reading a website which is partly or completely inaccessible into something usable.

We use RSS for lots of things.  It’s what makes new podcasts download automatically.  It’s just all behind the curtain.  Your podcast player uses essentially the same service to know when a new episode of Cartalk or Radio Lab is available.  Then it just downloads and everything is ready to go. This is where things segway into why Reader is going away.  As a side note, Google now owns FeedBurner which is a similar service but for audio and video content. FeedBurner’s days may be numbered.

Lots of people don’t log in to Google Reader.  They use other programs which connect to Reader in the background.  Many people use a service like NewsRack on both the portable device and their home computer.  Because of RSS syncing, an article is marked as read no matter where you read it.  The problem in this simple and elegant construct is that nobody is looking at the ads Google thoughtfully provides to you in Google Reader.  No ad views, then no ad revenue.  Hence, “nobody uses Google Reader.”

Now the scramble begins to find an RSS service which can connect many types of devices and which also happens to be accessible.  The proprietary nature of some products makes this complicated.  We welcome your thoughts and suggestions for how to resolve the great RSS quandary of 2013.

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