There’s a rather silly equivalency being repeated on the Internet that Twitter replaced Google Reader. Joshua Rothman, for example, makes this suggestion in his recent post for New Yorker. He writes:
You might feel great when you reach Inbox Zero, but, believe me, it feels even better to reach Reader Zero: to scroll and scan until you’ve seen it all. Twitter, which has replaced Reader (and R.S.S.) for many people, works on a different principle. It’s not organized or completist. There are no illusions with Twitter. You can’t pretend, by “marking it read,” that you’ve read it all; you don’t think you’re going to cram “the world of ideas” into your Twitter stream. At the same time, you’re going to be surprised, provoked, informed. It’s a better model.
Twitter and Reader are not the same. Twitter doesn’t have an archival function, it doesn’t offer previews of the first few paragraphs of an article, and everything flows by like a river. Twitter doesn’t collect information from websites dedicated to my interests and squirrel it all away under the appropriate folders for later viewing. If I miss something on Twitter it’s gone.
Reader helps me do my job more efficiently while keeping me informed on the passions that are unrelated to my workday. It’s important to me that I stay up to speed on privacy issues, but that topic isn’t relevant to my day job. Thanks to Reader I don’t need to keep flipping between websites of organizations that are focused on such issues throughout the day. Instead, when I get home at the end of the day I can sit back and open my “Privacy” folder in Reader and scroll through the headlines. If anything was written that I was interested in I can either read it then or save it for later. If the articles published that day don’t hold my interest I can “mark read” and move on.
I more mundane example is my love for independent films. I subscribe to more than half a dozen indie film websites through reader. Many of those sites write about a great deal that I’m uninterested in simply so they can score easy page views. Mostly, I’m interested in reviews and trailers. Thanks to Reader I can spend a Sunday morning scanning through the various reviews and watching trailers from the prior week. Without Reader I’d need to go to each of those sites individually and waste time scrolling through the nonsense. I find it to be a terribly efficient way to live my online life.
Under Rothman’s Twitter model I’d need to put all of the twitter accounts of the indie film websites I like into a Twitter list and scroll through a week’s worth of article headlines I’m uninterested in, but also the Twitter commentary, contests, and responses to tweets. I can’t preview the first couple paragraphs which would tell me if it’s worth my time to open the story and watch the trailer. That seems inefficient (I will add the caveat that when it comes to archiving trailers I’ve found Pinterest to be incredibly efficient in that realm).
I have learned one important thing from Google’s decision to shut down Reader – Reader was stagnant. Since the announcement I’ve been exploring other RSS readers and I’ve found that many have bells and whistles I wish reader had (or that Reader had, but Google killed in an effort to push Reader users to Google Plus). Currently, I’m leaning toward making Newsblur my replacement, but Feedly also isn’t too shabby.