The Free Can’t Last Forever

Google Reader shut down

google-reader-gone

Farewell Google Reader and Adobe BrowserLab. These are two services I used almost daily for the last several years. It just goes to show that even deep-pockets Google isn’t willing to maintain a free service forever if they’re not getting anything out of it.

So Long, And Thanks For All The Free

For those of you who aren’t aware, Google Reader is a free RSS reader that allows you to keep up with the latest posts without having to necessarily visit the website to see if something new is posted.

I found it to be incredibly handy to keep up with all my blogging friends, web design/development blogs, video games and all that. I could even subscribe to comment feeds on blogs or websites where they didn’t have any kind of comment notifications. You could log into Google Reader from your phone and from other computers, so it was ideal for me.

So now that’s closing down on July 1st, 2013 and even though it isn’t gone yet, I already miss it. I could keep using it until then, but I thought I’d get the jump on the shut-down and get used to something else. Some don’t want the good times to be over, so they started a petition to prevent the shut down of Google Reader. I doubt this is likely to work, so we’d all better be ready for the inevitable.

After reading many, many, many articles on Google Reader alternatives I settled on Feedly and Netvibes:

I was already using Feedly on my phone. Yes, the magazine style interface is a bit jarring when you’re used to the more tame interface of Google Reader, but it does feel fresh and energetic, and definitely interesting to look at.

This is also a handy lesson to bloggers to always get a relevant, vibrant featured image if at all possible. Just imagine your bare, image-less post/article next to some of these colorful examples and you’ll quickly see how easy it is to be passed over.

I changed both of my new feeds to a “mosaic” style interface for this very reason. I just thought it looked cool. Actually, Feedly is in the “Cards” layout (you change the layout by clicking the “gear” icon at the top right) and Netvibes is in “Mosaic” layout (change it using the icon third from the right underneath the username). Check out the screenshots below:

The Feedly Homepage for your feeds
The Feedly Homepage for your feeds
Feedly *Cards* style thumbnails layout
Feedly *Cards* style thumbnails layout
Netvibes *Mosaic* style thumbnail layout
Netvibes *Mosaic* style thumbnail layout

Both of these services offer a combined “Front Page” of all your latest feeds, plus some of their own categories of curated news, as well.

I opted out of those and chose the “Reader” style view with my feeds on the left and the content in the right pane. So that’s the way I’m gonna be rolling with RSS in the future.

If you don’t like those options, here are several of the articles I wrote that contained other options. Some cost, but most are free. Give it a whirl and hopefully you’ll find something you like:

Et tu, Brute Adobe BrowserLab???

This next one was even more painful than Google Reader. The loss of the Reader hurt because it as useful, but Adobe’s BrowserLab hurt even worse because I needed to use it.

If you’re not into web development you have no reason to know about BrowserLab, but it was a way to test your websites in a myriad of browsers without needing to own the operating system to run them.

It saved my ass a few dozen times over the last several years.

Mostly I used it to test in multiple versions of IE, since it was difficult to install more than one version of IE at a time on one Windows install. There were workarounds, but often-times they weren’t very accurate, so not as useful as the real thing.

There were services out there that let you login to remote computers and test your sites, but most were subscription-based. I needed the services enough to use BrowserLab but not really enough to justify paying a fee for it, so the free price of BrowserLab was just what I needed.

Of course, it wasn’t what Adobe needed, as I discovered when I tried to login to BrowserLab one fateful day. It was quite a shock, especially following on the heels of another major browser testing service announcing their departure – BrowseCam. Farewell links below:

BrowserCam wasn’t free, but it had been a staple of my web development life for almost 10 years. If I ever “really” needed to test something, you could just pony up for that one project, remote login and do your checking. Now knowing both of these tools would be gone, web development might get that much more stressful.

Still, despite being inconvenienced, I had to wonder about the massive cost of supplying these services.

Consider Adobe’s free service: Just the bandwidth bill alone must have been staggering. maintenance on all the machines used to run the software and process the requests, plus electricity, salaries for those maintaining the machine and the programs. All this for a free service with no direct revenue stream coming in.

On top of that the latest Creative Suite was not a huge success, so they’re not raking in the cash like they used to. Plus investment in their “Creative Cloud” service has got to be a large expense. The marketing budget on it must be astronomical. It’s everywhere.

So all things considered, I guess I can’t be too mad et ’em. We had a good run. The question was, where to go from here?

Adobe provided a couple of alternatives in their BrowserLab swan song post, Sauce Labs and BrowserStack:

Sauce Labs had an introductory deal for BrowserLab users, and I signed up with them to give it a go. There’s a free option, so I went with that for now. But when you get in the middle of an IE emergency you can easily exhaust all the allotted time/bandwidth of a free account with these services. Hopefully I won’t need much more than that, but it’s not too expensive if I do.

Here’s screenshots of the set up screen and my website as viewed in Internet Explorer 10 using Sauce Labs:

The Saucelabs setup screen as I'm loading my site into IE10 for testing
The Saucelabs setup screen as I’m loading my site into IE10 for testing
My site as viewed using IE10 via Saucelabs
My site as viewed using IE10 via Saucelabs

I didn’t personally check out BrowserStack yet, but it looks like a complete testing suite just like Sauce Labs. The thing I really like about both of them is that they test on mobile devices, which can be a huge pain since no one could possibly own all those devices. So if your client is upset about how their site looks on the iPad, but you don’t have one, you can pay a small fee to one of these sites instead of actually buying one of the many iPads on the shelves now.

Other Browser Testing Tools

Adobe also made sure to plug their new mobile devide tool called Adobe Edge Inspect. This essentially pairs up your mobile device with your computer so you can use Google Chrome to debug your website as you would for a desktop site.

At least that’s what it’s supposed to do. I couldn’t get it to work. You have to install the Inspect extension into Chrome, then download the desktop app and the mobile app, then input the passcode generated by your mobile device into the Chrome extension. I input that passcode many times, but between the field flat-out refusing to accept text entry, or when it finally did the pairing would somehow break – I couldn’t get it working to be able to comment more on what it actually does as opposed to what the marketing says it does.

Finally, there’s still good old Browsershots.org. It’s a venerable free service that takes screenshots of your page in a whole bunch of browsers.

Browsershots is good if you have time, because your request will go into a queue, then you’ll need to wait it out until it finally gets processed. If you’ve got a hot deadline you’re better off paying for a service, but if you’re not under the gun, you can always take a few shots and check them out when they finally appear.

I’ve used it off and on over many years, so I hope I don’t go back there and see the “Grand Closing” sign on the front page. These days you can’t be too sure about anything…

The Wrap Up

So the lesson here is, my days of being a web freeloader are nearly done. Corporations actually expect me to pay to use their services now, or at the very least refuse to provide and maintain services for which they derive no direct benefit (monetary or otherwise) -and I must say that even though I can 100% understand it, I’m not accustomed to it.

There are many who are saying that they would pay to keep Google Reader active. I don’t know about all that. If necessary, I could always subscribe to RSS feeds using Safari or my Mail app. It wouldn’t be pretty, but it would work.

Still, you never know what people are willing to pay for convenience. This is a chance for other players to step in and fill a void left by two giants. I think we can expect to see a lot of innovation in these spaces in the near future.

If you were affected by any of these shut-downs make sure to let me know in the comments. Or if you weren’t affected, how did you keep up with the websites you visit? If not for RSS, I’d never be able to catch up with all the sites I read.

I suspect many people these days simply “Like” their favorite Facebook pages and wait for new posts to be mentioned on there. My Facebook involvement is a bit minimal at this time so it’s not a viable option for me.

Anyway, I’m outta here for now. Thanks for reading and see you all next time..!

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19 thoughts on “The Free Can’t Last Forever

    1. Hey Ted, were you using Google Reader previously? Feedly can be a bit shocking when you’re coming from Google. Still it looks a lot cooler than Google Reader so that’s something!

  1. Hey hey, JG!

    Your comic at the top actually made me LOL, which woke up the toddler. Thanks for that. =p

    So many people are lamenting the passing of Google Reader, and I can see why, given how many blogs, websites, etc., they were keeping up with. I could never quite get the hang of it. A year and a half ago, when I was visiting here regularly, I had about a hundred blogs I visited, and I used a plain ol’ Excel spreadsheet. Now that I’m finally back in the saddle, I’ll go right back to those blogs (whichever ones are still around) and right back to my spreadsheet.

    Of course, I’ve also been known to still wax poetic about DOS, so yeah. =)

    1. Hey Delena long time no talk! Hope you’ve been well.

      Yes it can get overwhelming easily, which is why I was surprised more people weren’t taking advantage of any kind of RSS reader, much less Google’s.

      Without a feed reader I could NEVER keep up with all the sites/blogs and all that.

      I mentioned to someone on Facebook that everyone I asked in my real life either had no idea Google Reader existed, or they thought it was some kind of e-book reader.

      Most people don’t know what “RSS” is anyway, so I can’t say I’m surprised at the (relatively) low levels of adoption.

      But aside from that, welcome back! :)

      1. Thank you! =) It’s definitely been crazy.

        The other day I told Mitch Allen that my life had approached Ludicrous Speed. The baby became a very omg-can’t-turn-my-back-for-a-second toddler, school got insane (four classes to go till graduation, yeah baby!), I got married and moved to the Midwest, got published, got a job as an editor with an indie publishing house, and had to drop the freelance writing I was doing. It’s all good, though.

        Y’know, I’ve noticed the same thing about a lot of online tools that are “indispensable.” I think it’s only for those who live online in one way or another (not that it’s a bad thing). Most everyone else still think bookmarking a page is as fast as it gets. Ah well.

    1. Hey Shaun, it’s tough when we get dependent on a particular service isn’t it? It may not be the end of the world, but one way or another it’s the end of an era.

      And that’s a good question. I’m going to take stock of all the free services I rely on these days and see if I can line up some backups just in case.

  2. Man, just so many changes happening these days that it’s hard to keep up with. Lucky for me the things you mentioned aren’t things I was using anyway, but it doesn’t mean lots of other stuff I was using aren’t going away. I don’t like it, but as you say it’s been free stuff so it’s their right. I’m thinking about ending something free as well.

    1. Yeah I know it was like a tidal wave of mostly bad changes (at least for me), but I can’t begrudge them wanting to devote their resources to something more lucrative.

      Do you mean you’re going to stop using a free service or you’re going to stop offering a free service?

      I’ve seen some of your posts about the tools you use up and disappearing. Sometimes you’re caught flat-footed, but even when they give warning it still sucks

      1. I’ve just put my business newsletter on hiatus. I’ve been writing it since 2003 and I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten much out of it except more content. So, for now it’s gone; people can go to my business blog if they want to see what’s up.

  3. I predict the next Google service to go will be Alerts. They either are phasing it out on purpose or don’t care that it doesn’t function properly; both bad signs.

    1. Oh crap! I had no idea Alerts was not working correctly. That’s another free piece of software we’ve all gotten used to. I wonder what’s out there to replace it? certainly nothing with the reach of Google…

  4. Ugh, I am still searching for a feed reader that I like. Right now Old Reader is in the lead, but I am going to continue to use Google Reader until it’s last day.

    1. I hear you, Matt. I still automatically jut go to Google Reader like usual. It’s going to be pretty tough when they flip the switch for the last time.

      Thanks for reminding me of Old Reader. I had heard of it in my travels but forgot to really give it a shot. Hopefully it’s less shocking than Feedly…

  5. Before i opened this article i thought of the Google apps option which was free but is now know more. It was not a surprises that this article was about Google taking something away from us. unfortunately this could only mean that they realized that the market is so large that they can make money out of it so we shall wait and see.

  6. Newsblur is far from the best-looking RSS client, but it’s lightning fast at pulling in updates, which makes it the obvious choice for news hounds. The service refreshes your feeds every minute, which feels a lot faster than the delay we’ve come to expect from Google Reader. Newsblur is also one of the only services that lets you nest folders inside folders, giving you freedom to organize your feeds any way you’d like. (Quite the accomplishment for a “one man shop.” )There are also some nice UX tricks in Newsblur, like how the ‘o’ key automatically opens articles in a background tab.

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