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How to survive in a world without Google Reader

Google Reader was shut down, but smartphones and social media might be the best news readers anyway.

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Google Reader shut down as of midnight on July 2, and there was a collective cry of despair that rose up in newsrooms around the country. People everywhere were talking about what to use now that their news feed has gone the way of the bison.

In the time I’ve spent in newsrooms around the country, I’ve found that sometimes “the digital people” are more resistant to changes in technology than those who are less reliant on technology to steer their daily lives, and journalists, if you didn’t know this, can be real creatures of habit.

So over the last few months, as others prepared for Google Reader’s demise, when they’d ask me what I was using for a replacement, I just smiled at them and told them I gave up on Google Reader a long time ago when I got my first smartphone.

I’ve long suspected that Google Reader has been the domain of desktop jockies and laptop enthusiasts rather than the general public, and as phones got smarter and with the introduction of tablets, many more people switched not only their news feeds but the way they set up their news feeds too. And this lines up with the unofficial reason Google shut down the news feed, according to a Forbes quote of Alan Green, a software engineer at Google.

“Usage of Google Reader has declined and as a company we’re pouring all of our energy into fewer products,” he said, adding that better “focus” at Google will result in “a better user experience”

An RSS feed is great, because it allows you to tap into general areas of interest that will feed new content into one place where you can access it at will. This was especially valuable when blogs became a constantly updating source of information outside traditional news sources. Even in small towns, reporters had to keep track of citizen bloggers who were starting to talk about the news, and Google’s news feed became a daily staple.

When the social networks successfully converted bloggers to a strategy of posting their latest items to Facebook and Twitter, it became possible to follow a whole personality instead of one aspect of it often found in blogs. It also rendered the RSS vulnerable to new ways of gathering information, especially those that could be built into apps on smartphones.

I used to follow tech writer Robert Scoble’s blog, for instance, and I got all the information he published in the blog, but it didn’t include everything he did. Scoble has never been shy about trying new technology in order to spread information about new technology. To get access to those aspects of his information sharing, I had to go find them in separate places, since some of them could not be easily shared through the blog.

When Twitter added the functionality to create lists, I stopped using Google Reader altogether. Once I could follow a writer like Robert Scoble on Twitter in a way that allowed me to separate him into a category of similar writers, I could easily follow his diversity of content all day every day from wherever I happened to be.

Here is how to build a list in Twitter

When Facebook created the functionality to create lists and then to subscribe to lists, I stopped using news feeds altogether. It was so much easier to access the information I wanted based on the personalities and media outlets I was interested in based on the lists available in both Facebook and Twitter apps on iPhone and Android.

Here is how you build a list in Facebook

There are many good options out there for replacing Google Reader, as you can see by the link above. But if it is true that Google shut down the service because of declining use, then I have to suspect many of you are using your smartphones and tablets as a way to gather and read information on the go in this busy day and age.

The unassailable wall of information available to us online has made it tricky to really get at everything you need to know. Many journalists still require a reader to stay current with the information that is vital to their beats.

But if you’re tied to a desktop in order to access that information, then it really isn’t that valuable after all, since we all benefit from more context in the news we get each day. We live in a mobile world now, and getting at valuable information on your phone or tablet has become a vital part of our information gathering, in fact, I suspect is has taken over the role that the desktop once had.

The apps that are now available to gather and process information are almost too numerous to mention. And in an increasingly complicated world, there is nothing as nice as functional simplicity.

So here I leave you with four simple solutions that I use to gather information on my phone. I’ve recorded short videos to show you how I access and catagorize this information on the major social media platforms.

Here’s how I organize Twitter -

Here’s how I organize Facebook -

Here’s how I organize Google +

And this is one of my favorite news-gathering apps, because of the many ways I can get the information, and because it’s hand-curated by real human beings. It’s called Umano.

Tim Akimoff is the Digital Content Editor at WBEZ. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter.

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