The Search for the Perfect News Aggregator

Today, Google announced the integration of Google Reader with Google Plus, a feature I've waited for since the announcement of Google Plus. The announcement was covered oddly in some circles, however, indicating that Google Reader would no longer be available as a stand-alone product, and rather as an integral part of Google Plus. While I believe this characterization is not completely accurate, it represents a significant shift for Reader, since Google Plus carries with it its own terms of use.

Before I go further, its worth explaining very briefly what Google Reader represents. For its most dedicated users (me among them), it is the gateway to the internet. Years ago, I found myself visiting dozens of sites per day to stay up-to-date on the issue that were important to me. The advent and relatively rapid adoption of RSS across the web was therefore vital to the development of a sustainable model of information consumption for those that drew their news from dozens or hundreds of sources. Reader represents the most advanced and streamlined experience for news aggregation available anywhere online, and offers unmatched social networking functionality by allowing users to share and comment on each others articles. It is a healthy, if little known, social network centered around real content and commentary, rather than mundane status postings (in my biased opinion).

While I will likely continue using Reader in its new incarnation, the event is an excellent reminder that when we use a web service to act as a mediator or aggregator of information (as is any news reader or social network), we cede control to the service that provides that functionality. If they decide to discontinue or alter the product, users are left with limited choices.

I've been keenly aware of this issue for some time. For years, I've actively searched for a news reader that comes close to Google Reader, either online or offline, and as of a couple of months ago, I hadn't found one. Then, in September 2011, I looked into Emacs newsticker once again, and not only found newsticker-treeview, but I also found that w3m can be used as a mechanisms to translate HTML to text. The combination is superb, and so closely replicates the functionality of Reader that I feel I have a viable replacement for Reader, should I ever need it. Naturally, it lacks the social sharing features that Reader has, but that is to be expected. It's good to know that Emacs continues to provide cutting edge usability in an age that has pushed text editing to the background.

I'd be very curious to hear about any other open alternatives to Google Reader if you know of any. Feel free to hit me up over on Google Plus if you want to chat about it.

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