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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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March 14, 2013

Scientists and Google Reader's Demise

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Posted by Derek

I suspect that many people follow this blog through its RSS feed. And I feel sure that many readers here follow the current scientific literature that way. Journals are updated constantly, and that's the most concentrated way to get all the new information in one place for flipping through. (No more "new journal table" in the library, is there?)

Well, as you've probably heard, the site that many of us have been using to do all this is closing. Google Reader is to be shut down on July 1. Problems had been apparent for some time now, but this still took me by surprise. And now the search is on for a replacement.

Feedly is apparently trying to clone the service on their own, so that's a possibility. And The Old Reader seems to be an effort to recreate the service as well, going back to some sharing functionality that Google stripped out a while back in the interest of promoting Google+. I'll be evaluating these and others.

What I already know is this: many RSS-based services seem to be colorful-picture-tile things (like Flipboard), and for the chemical literature, they're of no use to me. I am feeling more like a dinosaur every time I say this, but I don't own a tablet (or not yet), and I wish that web sites would find a way to deliver their content both ways: in concentrated blasts of scrolling info for people using a more conventional desktop (or who just like it that way) and in big, flippy, roomy, tablet-screen-sized chunks for those who like it that way instead. One size doesn't fit all.

And that's where Google Reader will be missed, unless someone else can step up. The scientific literature needs a tool like this - we have hundreds and hundreds of new articles coming along all the time, and while scrolling through them in RSS isn't ideal, it's a lot better than any other solution I've come across. Looking at the various comments around the web about Reader's demise, I see that it's hard-core information nerds that are mourning it most - well, if scientists don't fit that description, they should. We're industrial consumers of information, and we need industrial-strength tools.

Update: here's the best list of alternatives I've seen so far.

Comments (35) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: The Scientific Literature


1. yibo on March 14, 2013 5:39 AM writes...

I just cann't believe. They are becoming Microsoft.

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2. chris on March 14, 2013 5:42 AM writes...

I quite like Flipboard, it works very well on my iPad. Looking at the web logs for my sites iOS now accounts for over 10% and is steadily increasing, other mobile OS are also on the rise. I'd be interested in seeing the stats for your site?

Most of my browsing of RSS feeds is away from my desk and I wonder if this is now becoming the trend? Perhaps you should invest in a tablet ;-)

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3. Dylan on March 14, 2013 5:50 AM writes...

Although afaik they don't offer a 'hosted' service, TinyRSS does a good job of providing an interface and functuality similar to and potentially better than google reader.

The only downside of course being that you need to host its 'website' yourself.

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4. insidecircles on March 14, 2013 6:39 AM writes...

Yep, we do have a very specific use-case for greader that isn't well catered for in alternatives (in that the 'outdated' nature of greader suits the feeds we read down to the ground).

I can't help but feel like there's an opportunity for the guys at to build a nice UI frontend for their site. Something like that could really fill a widening gap.

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5. z on March 14, 2013 6:43 AM writes...

What madness! Reader is one of the most useful programs Google provides, this makes no sense to me. It can't take that many resources to maintain it, can it? Surely its used by a great number of people?

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6. Stiv on March 14, 2013 7:29 AM writes...

I use Feedler on my iPad and it works quite well -the interface is similar to Google Reader in many respects and it works well for chemical literature. I much prefer it to Flipboard for RSS feeds. And it is free for the basic version, which has been good enough for me.

For my desktop/laptop computers I guess I am going to have to find another aggregator. I am open to suggestions.

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7. John Spevacek on March 14, 2013 7:48 AM writes...

Shocking. I also cannot believe that this is happening.

But at the same time, I am always surprised by how few people even know what an RSS reader is. I've yet to meet a colleague who does. My wife never uses one, and my son, a CSci major doesn't either. I'm sure they exist, but where?

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8. Martin on March 14, 2013 7:49 AM writes...

This plainly a business decision based on Googles key users/demographics/market. Scientists using RSS for keeping up to date are basically collateral damage.

Coincidentally, I had just posted a comment on this in one of our local newspapers tech sections. I extract a bit of myself here:
"this is all about money. News companies all want to you pay from now on. Google wants you to see their ads. Apple want you to buy newspaper subs via the Newstand app. RSS stood in the way of this and everyone who has grown up on the internet getting everything for free is going to have to take their turn getting used to the new world order."

I may be an oddity, but my RSS usage has now dwindled to just a half dozen sites (one of which is this blog), which I still get on the old version of Apple Mail on my work-issued Mac laptop running OSX10.6. The newest versions of Mail/MacOSX, which our IT guys haven't rolled out yet, have RSS support removed.

I get all my updated journal TOCS/ASAPs and several saved keyword searches etc by direct emails now so the dropping of RSS is of little consequence to me

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9. Virgil on March 14, 2013 8:02 AM writes...

I use Flipboard on the iPad and love it.

One possibility is that a 3rd party will pick up the code and run with it. This happened recently with Thunderbird, which was a great desktop mail client from Mozilla. It got dropped, but then reincarnated as a paid app, PostBox. That's $10 I'll happily spend to avoid having to migrate and learn a whole new mail ecosystem.

Surely there are enough concerned users out there to form a consortium and relaunch Reader as a paid app? I guess it depends on how open the code is?

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10. Mike on March 14, 2013 8:26 AM writes...

This came as a bit of a blow this moring. I'm currently trying out FeedDemon and so far it seems to work well with only a short learning curve. The interface is fammiliar to GReader users and the setup wizard had me reading all my usaual feeds in less than a minute after instillation. Folders and starred items were transferred intact.

It's not web based though.

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11. insidecircles on March 14, 2013 8:31 AM writes...

I'm holding out that The Old Reader will be what I'm looking for. But their servers are struggling (and probably will be for a few days) so I can't get anything imported across yet.

Feedly is awful for journal surfing.

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12. ADCchem on March 14, 2013 9:54 AM writes...

This will be a huge blow. JACS/Angew abstracts render beautifully in Reader.

I understand Google Reader's usership was dwindling but how much could it really cost to keep their servers up and running. I would suspect less then the ad revenue from products that users stumbled while using Reader.

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13. FredB on March 14, 2013 10:04 AM writes...

I think the only thing to say to Google at this point is thank you. Google provided an outstanding and useful product for free for years.

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14. Anonymous on March 14, 2013 10:24 AM writes...

For the people who don't use RSS feeds, how do they keep up with sites they are interested that periodically post new content? I can't imagine actually checking web pages regularly (especially for those whose updates are sporadic) and I think it would be unwieldy to get things like TOCs emailed to you. If you look at part of an email and go away, or want to flag something in particular to look at again when you have more time, that's hard to do.

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15. RM on March 14, 2013 1:47 PM writes...

The thing that's going to really hurt is the loss of the back issues.

Google Reader had this nice property that it shared the feed entries across all people, and kept all the entries dating back to when the first person added it to Reader. So you could add a new journal feed to Google Reader, and you'd get practically the entire history of the feed - which was useable for leasurely browsing previous issues of journals you might not have been paying close attention to.

Most other feed readers I've seen only show what's currently on the journal's feed. So if you slack off a bit and not check the feed for several months, you might not see some of the articles that were posted in the meantime.

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16. donna on March 14, 2013 2:32 PM writes...

Hey, some of us still miss Usenet newsgroups.

And to go way, way, back, I still miss Multics forums....

BUt yeah, shutting down Reader is dumb. I heard there was only one person supporting it. Surely Google can afford that.

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17. JB on March 14, 2013 3:16 PM writes...

I hope someone here can suggest a useful alternative. I like Feedly, but it just isn't good for reading journals.

I get the TOCs by email but I end up missing a lot because I don't flip through outdated email, and it clutters my inbox.

Just learned about chemfeeds in the comments here and I think with some tweaking it could be a really nice tool.

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18. molecular architect on March 14, 2013 3:35 PM writes...

I've been using NetNewsWire on my mac for years to keep up with the chemical/biological literature. Some time ago, they dropped their own sync engine and just provided a better UI to google reader, which did the actual syncing, etc. It worked great, syncing all my feeds across my mac, iPhone and iPad and I was able to access the same feeds from google reader on any computer. Nothing on the NetNewsWire site about how they will be affected. Hopefully, they can switch to a different RSS.

I don't use RSS for any other news sources, just journals.

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19. Carl 'SAI' Mitchell on March 14, 2013 4:22 PM writes...

I like the "Bamboo" addon for Firefox but it doesn't have the ability to mark items as read when I scroll past them the way Google Reader does.

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20. Stonebits on March 14, 2013 4:43 PM writes...

Newsfire for the Mac

And newsrack for the iPad

I read a mix of text and image heavy sites, they work pretty well on either.

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21. Steve Lang on March 14, 2013 6:21 PM writes...

Netvibes is probably the best I've found. It can be configured to be a lot like Google Reader, and has a slick interface. I just switched.

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22. Anonymous on March 14, 2013 8:25 PM writes...

Derek, i highly recommend a tablet. I kick back and read your blog while lounging on the couch. BTW i love your blog. Best chemistry blog going. Its not even in my field but essentially the only one i get excited about.

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23. Adam Johnson on March 14, 2013 9:19 PM writes...

I've been using the RSS feature in Nollr (which is currently in beta at I also use it for saving my videos along with some photos and bookmarks. All the items are positioned within movable "page frames" which can also be be tagged and filtered. I even replaced the default browser start page with Nollr because the basic one is fairly useless... plus I can access/update it at home and at work.

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24. googleisnowevil on March 14, 2013 10:59 PM writes...

Google Reader was literally the only Google tool I use, and I depended on it completely for most of my journal updates. I guess I'll go ahead and cancel my iGoogle account before they do it for me. Gmail? Google+? Nope, I like my privacy, and I don't give a rat's ass about most social media (seriously who has time to report in on what they ate at their latest meal?). No reason to stick around now.

I decided to go with The Old Reader in honor of my increasing age. Unfortunately, only a fraction of my Google Reader journal feeds imported via my subscriptions.xml file. Trying Feedly and Digg next.

Does anyone have links for tips and tricks for transitioning all my journal RSS feeds and history? FWIW, I have no desire to create a Facebook account, either.

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25. Sam Adams The Dog on March 15, 2013 6:53 AM writes...

Another vote for Netvibes. Google announced some time ago that they would get rid of iGoogle and Netvibes essentially replaces it. One of the features is an RSS reader. I've been using it to follow this blog and a few others for some weeks now and like the reader a lot.

The bigger problem is that RSS itself seems to be losing traction, and at least one site that I followed in the past using RSS no longer support RSS feeds. :-(

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26. Gluechemist on March 15, 2013 1:10 PM writes...

I've been making the transition to feedly, so far the layouts are only good if you have a good amount of standard/popular sites.

Adding less popular rss feeds is confusing. I was only able to add some new pubmed search rss feeds through google reader, then have feedly pick them up.

It works though.

Sarcasm: RSS feeds are on the way out, soon you will be able to download a custom app for every different site you visit. Who would not like that?

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27. Alexander on March 17, 2013 8:26 PM writes...

Brian Shih, the former product manager for Google Reader, provided some "highly informed speculation" as to the reasons for its demise on Quora.

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28. SuperScienceGrl on March 18, 2013 4:58 AM writes...

I'm reading this on Google Reader on my Android tablet. Just because Ilk using a tablet doesn't mean I like low information density, no matter what web designers think. Why does it seem to be thought that the pictures are the most important thing about an RSS feed lately...?

RSS feeds are said to be on their way out, but that confuses me as nothing is coming in to replace them. Social media sharing is not nearly the same...

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29. molecular architect on March 18, 2013 5:42 PM writes...

> Why does it seem to be thought that the pictures are the most important thing about an RSS feed lately...?

For following organic/med chem journals, pictures are indeed the most important thing. Browsing graphical TOCs is far more efficient than reading titles.

I really can't imagine an RSS replacement that would be superior for browsing journals.

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30. Googleisnowevil on March 18, 2013 9:31 PM writes...

@29 After a few days of searching, I found an excellnt replacement. Maybe not superior, but Newsblur is pretty close to identical.

I just signed up for the premium package (a whopping 3 bucks/month), and ran the import from Google Reader option. Ten seconds, 100% of feeds imported, some (not all) starred items saved.

Hope this helps.

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31. Ian Palmer on March 22, 2013 9:40 PM writes...

Those who rely on scholarly content in science, technology and medicine may want to try Bibliogo which is a free RSS Reader designed specifically for these areas, pulling in important metadata and offering many other features. There is also functionality to import feeds from google reader.

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32. Vivia Chung on March 23, 2013 7:21 AM writes... The Google Graveyard
Leave a flower for a deceased Google product.

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33. Athena on April 2, 2013 6:45 PM writes...

FeedDemon seems to do well on the scrolling front - I dislike the magazine thing and so specifically avoided it.

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34. Stiv on May 25, 2013 4:55 PM writes...

After procrastinating for a few months, I finally spent some time looking at different web-based substitutes for Google Reader.

For my needs, The Old Reader is the best. Very similar look and feel to Google Reader, it imported all my feeds from Reader, and it is free.

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35. Molly on June 6, 2013 7:40 AM writes...

I read this post aloud to my office mate who asked, "Did you write that?" I have many of the same feelings and haven't found a non-flashy alternative. One of the features of greader that I used most heavily was creating a unique "send to" option so that I could directly put articles I wanted to read into Mendeley for reference management. I've seen some talk about Bibliogo and am checking that out now, though I like my reference management method in Mendeley and am not sure if I want to switch to a different software. If Mendeley had a RSS reader, problems would be solved.

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