There is a risk to relying on cloud services, as I’ve found to my chagrin time and again: they may not always be there when you need them. Etherpad servers have crashed, taking the only copy of my writing with them. Web-based IM service Meebo shut down, leaving me scrambling to find a replacement. And now comes the latest blow: Google plans to close down its Google Reader RSS reader service (along with a number of other, lesser-used services) as of July 1.
I used Google Reader exclusively to find stories to reblog when I was writing more actively here—I would star the ones that looked likely in my trawl, then run back through and blog about the ones that appealed to me. Even when I didn’t use the Web app itself, I used the Reeder iOS application that synchronized read article count with Google Reader—and in some ways worked more efficiently than Google Reader itself.
In fact, I don’t know of anyone in my circle of friends who seriously uses RSS these days and isn’t in some way reliant on Google Reader. It effectively killed other major multiplatform RSS sync services by being so simple, free, and easy to use. How could you compete with Google? But now, Google has decided not enough people use the service anymore to be worth supporting. It puts me in mind of the time Google closed down Google Wave, though in that case the service had never actually gotten off the ground to begin with. With a popular service like Reader, however, a lot more people will be affected.
Reader fans aren’t taking this lying down. There are a number of petitions, including this one, this one, and this one, that have been collecting signatures. A feedback forum thread gained two hundred messages in a very short time.
But I wonder whether this will have any effect. Google is the king of the number crunchers, so it must already have done a complete analysis of the costs and such involved to determine that it can feasibly shut down the platform. If it already knows it doesn’t have enough users to bother with anymore, can those users’ voices sway it?
As for those scrambling to find alternatives, a friend passed along some suggestions: NewsBlur, TheOldReader, FeedAFever, Readertron, and Lilina. (Most or all of these may be slashdotted right now as the thousands of other people in the same boat swamp them.) Also, Feedly has announced it will be cloning the Google Reader API onto its own servers to run a look-alike service. I’m not sure what I’ll do about my own use, though. My first-generation iPod Touch can no longer use the latest Reeder updates, which means that even if the app itself is updated to use a different aggregator, I won’t be able to use it on my Touch anymore.
And that’s the danger of apps in the cloud: they hang around out there only as long as it’s convenient for the app’s runner to maintain them. With offline apps, you can at least keep using them after the support has stopped—but with the online versions, the online support is all there is.