When Google announced a couple of months ago that they’d be updating Reader, I was initially upset over the loss of my sharebros — probably the only social network Google’s ever gotten right. Sharing and commenting on articles of interest with other Reader friends was simple, streamlined, and worked really well on both smartphones and browsers. The new Reader still allows you to share articles, but only via Google+, which is clunky at best, and requires far too many clickthroughs.
After a couple of months, I still miss my sharebros, but I am more upset over the new garbage-y Reader interface. I’ve stopped reading my RSS feeds almost completely; I’ll log into Reader once a week and “give it another go” but always end up reading 4-5 out of 1000 articles before I get frustrated, mark everything as read, and log back out. The mobile app’s UI remains relatively unchanged but is unreliable, routinely forgetting where you left off and marking dozens of articles as read when it shouldn’t.
I don’t watch televised news programs (aside from the occasional Daily Show / Colbert Nation / Rachel Maddow episode); Twitter and RSS feeds are how I keep track of what’s going on in the world, and I’ve definitely felt less informed in the last two months. I understand Google is trying to funnel traffic to Google+, but at least for me the end result of these changes has been zero increase in Google+ usage and several hours less of Reader usage every week.
Fortunately I’m not the only one who misses the old Reader interface. Alternative RSS aggregators abound; I’m currently testing and am tentatively pleased with NewsBlur, which automatically imports your feeds and organization from Google Reader. Subscription options include a free version limited to 64 feeds, and a pick-your-price version with unlimited feeds and access to additional features. The indie developer working on NewsBlur plans to include social features in an upcoming release, tentatively scheduled for February 2012.
[UPDATE, October 2012] I’ve now been using NewsBlur for several months, and the social features are GREAT. I’m having more, and better, discussions than I ever did on Google Reader. Sam, the founder of NewsBlur, is very active and responsive on the community forums where users can post bugs, ideas, etc. I’m a very happy paying user, and would definitely recommend making this your first stop.
Other options include NetVibes (which seems weirdly corporate) and desktop applications like NewsNetWire. I’m also keeping an eye on the Hivemined project, which purports to recreating the Google Reader experience both in interface and in sharing, but like NewsBlur, the project is being handled by a single developer and he’s a busy guy as well.
In the meantime, I’ve been looking for other sites to fill the socially-curated-news-and-discussion gap in my life. Metafilter has a large and strong community, which makes for great conversation surrounding a wide variety of topics, but its comments engine lacks threading, so following the conversation as a casual user can be difficult. That said, there are rules in place to keep the site democratic … the moderators do a great job of removing posts that don’t meet the guidelines, and any individual can only submit one post per week. Submitted posts are broken up by type — are you pulling together many threads of a news story? That goes on the main site. Looking for advice from the community? Submit to Ask.MeFi. Working on something and want to raise awareness? It belongs in Projects. Everything is (loosely) organized with folksonomic tags, and each of the tags has its own RSS feed, so you can either drink from the firehose or take sips, depending upon your time and interest. Metafilter isn’t necessarily the place to go for breaking news, but it’s great for more in-depth analysis of current events (for example, see this post about Obama’s recent NDAA signing). Signing up will cost you a one-time $5 fee, but doing so allows you to keep track of your comments, to mark posts or individual comments as favorites, to post, and to use the internal mail system to send messages directly to other users.
Another great option is Reddit. Reddit is the name of the site as a whole, but the term also describes any of the interest-based forums upon which the site is built. Members (called redditors) can create a new reddit or subreddit if they have an interest not already represented, but for the most part that’s not necessary. Hundreds of reddits already exist, and one redditor put together a guide to improving your Reddit experience (basically, how to pick and choose which reddits to follow). Once you’ve signed up for a free account and subscribed, an RSS feed will provide you with the latest posts from just the reddits you chose. If you want to be an active participant, browse Reddit via the main site or a mobile device app, and take advantage of the site’s “karma” engine. Like a post or a comment? Provide that redditor with good karma (aka an upvote). Think a post or comment doesn’t belong in the conversation? Provide that redditor with bad karma (aka a downvote). Submissions with the most karma float to the top, and those below a certain threshhold will be hidden from view altogether. Reddit can be the ultimate firehose if you let it, but judiciously selecting communities to follow (and updating your selections as your interests change) can also make it a great resource.
If you’re a current or former Google Reader user, how have the changes affected your habits? What other tools / communities have you found to be helpful in recreating the sharebro experience? Leave me a suggestion in the comments!