Google Reader marked for death, news junkies flee

rss icon
If you see this on a website, you can subscribe. I’m just not sure where now.

I think I cried in my coffee when I heard the news. I think. I know my mind went utterly blank. What am I gonna do now?

But the news: Google Reader is shutting down!

It’s all part of search giant/Internet gadfly Google’s spring cleaning. In the past that company scrapped Google Buzz (which needed killing because it was a total cluster), Google Wave (did anybody use it?) and iGoogle (which I kinda liked). Usually they cut products hardly anybody uses. There was speculation it might kill Feedburner, but that hasn’t happened yet. But that forced me to make a few adjustments and I’m glad I did.

But Google Reader. That one hurts. According to plan, its execution date is July 1.

To those who don’t know about such things, Google Reader is the RSS reader to end all RSS readers. Sometimes literally. As soon as Reader hit the scene, some (such as Bloglines) pretty much bit the dust. Netvibes is another that I question whether it’s even relevant. Feed Demon, a software-based (as opposed to Web-based) RSS reader, is either dead or dying.

OK, some of y’all may not know what this RSS thing is, so pull up a chair and I’ll give you the story. RSS, or Real Simple Syndication, ranges all over the Internet and pulls articles from all your favorite sites. They’re then put into your reader, and you can go from there. Most sites (including mine) are set up so you can subscribe in an RSS reader.

Think of RSS as a gigantic newspaper where you set the editorial policy.

You choose your feeds, they load any new copy into your reader, and off you go. From there you can send news items, save them, share them, bump them over to Evernote or Pocket, or put them on your to-do list. I save many links in my to-do list (in my case ToodleDo), building a pool of ideas for blog posts. I send wacky news items to my brother, and you can bet I saw those in my RSS feed first.

Since about 1995, Google Reader was the big one, and many of your smaller readers — including those on cell phones — are built as little more than a front end for Google Reader.

What’s a news junkie to do?

Admittedly, RSS has a high geek quotient and it’s not all that popular with your average Joe Mouseclicker. But to news junkies like me, it’s a wonderful timesaver.

Or a wonderful time-suck, depending on your perspective.

newspapers in a pile
RSS is like reading a whole bunch of online newspapers without having to surf for them.

Being a person with a serious news addiction and some decent chops in technical matters, of course I swear by RSS feeds. I’d tell you how many feeds my Google Reader pulls in every day, but then you’d tell me I have a major problem. I’m in denial and need counseling. You’d shake your head and try to hook me up with a 12-step program.

Newsoholics Anonymous, anyone?

My name is Eric, and I’m a news junkie (applause).

Anyway, I’m frantic right now. OK, maybe not frantic, but kinda concerned. Yeah, that’s it. Concerned.

Since I heard the news I’ve been weighing some RSS options, and most are found wanting. I’ve tried Feedly (too slow and not good for offline reading on my phone), the Thunderbird mail program (I’d rather gargle razor blades), Flipboard (beautiful, but won’t work with a marginal signal), and a bunch of pretenders. On my Android phone, where I do most of my news reading, I’ve tried numerous options. Most either drain the battery, make it run hot enough to blister my hand, gobble up tons of memory or serve as a front end for … Google Reader.

Already I think this is gonna end badly.

Folks tell me RSS is dying and Twitter is the new way to grab news, but I can’t see it. Even with a third-party program like Hootsuite it’s still way too disorganized. Twitter’s signal-to-noise ratio renders it useless. I guess Facebook can be sort of an option, and I might consider it if I didn’t despise that medium so much. I want to know the news, not what my friends are having for dinner (unless there’s an invite there somewhere).

Google-fied and frantic

This also makes me a little nervous. I use Google for so much of my work. Gmail. Google Drive (formerly Docs). The search engine. Google Calendar. Google Voice. Google Reader. Google Analytics. My Android phone, which is a Google brand. Occasionally Google Plus. Shoot, I’m totally Google-fied.

I mentioned Feedburner. I used that extensively, but when I saw that might not have long to live I took to managing my blog’s RSS feeds myself and went to MailChimp to send posts by email. I’m glad I did that, though I’m still a little chary about crapping up your email box like that. But if you want to subscribe to my stuff, that might be the way to go, hint hint.

(Note to self: Set up The Column on MailChimp, like I did with my flagship blog, creative&dangerous.)

With Google’s propensity for cutting services, you can almost set up a “dead pool” and pick what’s next to go. Maybe win whatever’s in the pot if you guess right. Hey, this might be a good office pool once everyone’s done with March Madness.

I don’t see Gmail going anytime soon. Nor Google Drive or Google Plus. That company invested too much of its reputation for those three. However, I am shifting most of my email traffic to my own Web domains and looking into other, in-the-cloud office options.

In truth, the Google project that would kill me is if Google Voice feels the nip of the executioner’s blade. So the fact Google killed off its Blackberry version in the latest sweep gives me pause.

Now, I use Google Voice as my business line, and it feeds directly into my cell phone. I also give that number to people who are not in my inner circle because it’s easy to screen calls with it. Shoot, I can make certain phone numbers go away if I needed to. If you’re hounded by bill collectors or the law, Google Voice may be your best friend.

But Google Voice going into a horrible death spiral hasn’t happened yet, and it may not. With Google, however, you never know. Not after Google Reader.

Meanwhile, I must find some alternatives to feed my news habit. It’s like my morning coffee; I get evil unless I’ve had my fix.

# # #

What say you? What do you use to read your news feeds? I’m talking about online and anything that’ll work with Android. Help a brother out.

A 36% failure rate on innovation doesn’t faze Google

Interesting read from MediaBistro. Let’s put it this way: How many companies would handle a 36 percent failure rate for its innovations? Without getting all panicky, that is? Without committing hara-kiri?

Then there’s Google:

Thoughts On Innovation, By Google – MediaJobsDaily

Excerpt:

” … at any rate, Google, one of the most successful tech companies in the world, has a lot of failures. More than a third of their product launches fail, according to The Next Web … out of 251 Google projects or add-ons since 1999, 90 have been canceled. Out of 22 major product launches, eight have been huge flops.”

###

Possible fix (maybe) for mobile Gmail

It was one of those oh-the-heck-with-it ideas, and I still don’t know if it was an actual fix. But after five days of being semi-incommunicado I am finally able to access my Google Mail box from my cell phone.
For me, it was simply a matter of changing my email preferences to always use https. Whatever that means.
I was shooting wild here, but not completely. I remembered .https was my default gmail setting for a long time, and I took it off because it wouldn’t feed into iGoogle. So I kind of worked backward from there. Maybe it will make a difference in how my email loads, I thought.
So what the hey. Tuesday evening as I was finishing up at work (using the wifi hotspot in the office) I went into my Google Mail settings and clicked on the “always use .https” box. If it worked, great. If it didn’t, it cost me nothing to try and I can always try something different later.
In truth, I thought so little of the idea I didn’t bother to check until I got home an hour later. I cranked on the cell phone and went to my iGoogle home page. There, gmail refused to load:
–The Gmail gadget does not support the “always use https” preference that you selected in your Gmail settings. Learn more (includes a link from there)–
Just like before. Something, obviously, was happening. But just for grins, I went to my mobile bookmarks and tried to get into my Google mail that way, with https on.
And got in. And read my mail. Like I am supposed to.
Later I checked the Learn More link from iGoogle. It seems https is a lot more secure than http, and is recommended particularly if you’re using public wireless Internet like I do. I’m not smart enough to figure a lot of this out, but https is sort of a combination of http and SSL, which is a security thing. But it does create its problems with iGoogle, and https is not an exact science yet. According to Google:
– Errors in the Gmail for mobile application may result in enabling this (always use https) setting.
– Errors in Google Toolbar may result from enabling this setting.
Errors in Gmail for mobile? Shoot, I’m getting more errors from not using that setting. And I really don’t care for Google Toolbar, the resource hog that it is. So https it is.
So I’m not able to fully use iGoogle with the https setting on. Shoot, I’d rather be able to actually read and answer my email than just look at iGoogle and see what my most recent email communications are without being able to read them.
When I reported the mobile Gmail problem in this space, I did get a suggestion. Open a Hotmail account and forward my Google mail into that so it can be read. I considered that, but I’d prefer not to go through all this forwarding routine just to read some email.
Meanwhile, the folks at Google were working on the problem. Ethan, who identifies himself as a Google employee in the mobile Google support forum, wrote the following missive Tuesday afternoon:
“Thanks for your reports. The m.google.com team has narrowed down the cause of the 404 errors, but we need your help to investigate further.

“Please visit our secure webform to send us your phone’s IP address so our engineers can debug:
http://goo.gl/ThpeQ

“Thanks!
“Ethan
And the matter remained ignored by much of the tech media. I subscribe to several: ReadWriteWeb, Slashdot, TechCrunch, and Mashable! While I’m able to keep up to speed on many tech issues with these, I have not found a word in any of these online publications about mobile Gmail access issues. According to MPCS-ProxyMan in the Google forum, we need to resolve this issue, we have over a million customers who are getting HTTP error 404 for your gmail app … this is also affecting our android app for gmail.” While it’s hard to take anything mentioned in a user forum as gospel, I don’t think this “over a million” is a funny number. Not at all.
But for me, the “always use https” setting seems to work. I’m not going to argue with the results, at least not right now.
Anyway, there it is. My fix, or maybe it’s not a fix. Maybe it really is just in how you hold your mouth. Anyway, you’re welcome to try it.
[You tell me: Does this little hack work for you? Anything else work? Are you able to get your mobile Gmail? Please share.]
###

Web-enabled cell phones having trouble accessing Google Mail

My Google Mail is acting all weird, and answers seem a little few and far between. But I’m not the only one with this particular problem.
For the record, I really like my Gmail. It is probably the best email innovation since … well, the computer. It’s easy to like the search functions, the way it integrates with other Google tools, and the huge storage. A friend turned me on to Gmail several years ago when it was in beta, and I never looked back. What’s Yahoo?
When away from a wireless connection I can usually check my news and process my email by phone. I have a Samsung 451 phone with a slider keyboard. It’s good with phone calls on those rare occasions that I actually talk on the phone. It’s super with text messages, and I can do a lot of things with it. It can surf the Internet, kinda sorta. The phone doesn’t have the Java fixins and the browser is prehistoric, so its Internet powers are limited.
Call it what it is. My phone is not a smartphone. At risk of going all non-politically-correct on y’all here, I’m using a tardphone.
But that’s OK, too. While I’m not qualified to be a hacker (in this case, meaning programmer), I can whip up a few baling-wire tricks that can make my computers and phone do things do things you wouldn’t expect. I get a lot of mileage out of my tardphone.
So the other day I needed to check my email on the phone. I hit the link out of my mobile iGoogle homepage, like always.
No joy. This error message flashed on my tiny, two-inch screen:
HTTP Error: 404 Not Found
At first blush I thought maybe my links got screwed up. Such things happen. So I tried hand-typing it in:
http://google.com/mail
http://gmail.com
No luck. Let’s try the mobile site, although that’s usually automatic:
http://m.google.com/mail
http://m.gmail.com
Tried again, this time using https:// as the prefix. Even went so far as to try the straight .html version of Gmail, and got the same result. That error message.
What’s odd is that I can access many of my other Google services. I can get the search engine, iGoogle, Google Reader for RSS, Voice, my Gmail contacts through Voice, and my calendar. But not Gmail.
It turns out, though, it’s not just me. I’m glad to hear that. I think.
A Twitter search using #gmail as the key shows several others having this problem. As far as the mainstream and tech media, not a peep through Sunday.
Several have written to the Google Support Forum, saying they lost access around Feb 8 (my connection went Tango Uniform on the 11th). Some report losing access to all Google functions (Calendar, etc.), and apparently the problem is not just with tardphones. Real smartphones seem to get this problem, particularly of the Crackberry variety.
A fella named Ethan, who identifies himself as a Google employee in the support forum, seems just as baffled as anyone else. Another person on the forum, The C Man, reported this Saturday: “Google employees are investigating the problem and have not been able to reproduce it.”
Already this doesn’t sound promising.
It was recommended the user clean out the phone browser cache. I did this, and it worked about as well as it did with some other folks who tried — like, not at all.
I pulled the battery out, reset the phone, even reprogrammed it in case that worked. Again, nothing. At this point I was so desperate that if the Verizon/StraightTalk folks suggested I dance naked in a bucket of steaming chicken guts during a full moon (now that’s a visual for you!) I would have tried it.
So far, this error seems awfully random. Some folks report it, others don’t. Some have problems getting access to all Google services, some — like me — just Gmail. Several cell phone carriers were involved. The whole thing seems like a crapshoot, one of those problems where no one knows exactly what’s going on, how it happened, or how to fix it.
I should feel better that it’s not just me, and not just my non-Java phone.
I’d hate to think Gmail is revamping its system so that you can’t access it from a tardphone like mine. It could be something that corrects itself in time, but you never know.
Knowing all that, I should feel better.
But I don’t.
[As this situation progresses and/or finds resolution, don’t be surprised if I report back in this space.]
###