Digg is going to kill Digg Reader; what should we do now?

After five years of operation Digg Reader, an RSS reader, is about to be killed.

Here’s what greeted me over the weekend when I fired it up in a web browser:

Digg Reader shut down notice

“Bummer, we know.”

As far as I can tell there haven’t been any formal announcements or explanations from Digg. There’s a little copy of this notice on their Zendesk, for what it’s worth (“It’s been fun y’all”: seriously?). I’ve tweeted at them and sent email; no response yet.

Damn it.

Five years ago we went through this when Google unceremoniously killed their RSS reader.  Well, I say “we”.  Back in 2013 I suspect there were more of us relying on Google Reader.  Possibly the number of us using RSS aggregators has declined since.  Even more likely is that fewer people use Digg Reader now than GR back in the day.  Gizmodo snarked, “Were you even using it?”

Well, I was.  Personally, I rely on an RSS reader to organize a hefty amount of feeds for my research.  It lets me arrange and rearrange a wide range of feeds into streams that make sense for my work.  RSS saves me a heck of a lot of time, and also lets me more easily track patterns across inputs.

Visually, a good RSS trawl makes me feel like this supervillain:

ozymandias-watchmen-bubastis

Politically, I’ve always supported RSS.  It’s a free and open standard.  It empowers us to explore and connect with the open web.  It offers an alternative to, or different ways into and around, the commercial web.  It ties in well with the call some of us issue and/or heed to return to blogging.

RSS lets us return to what Molly McHugh calls “the chronological internet“.  That’s an experience we control, without the dubious benefits of some company’s blackboxed AI (hello, Facebook).  McHugh again: “Users are curators of their internet experiences”.

The end of Digg Reader reminds us of what Alan Levine eloquently observed back in 2013:

This is a bit of a reminder that the web we inhabit is made by others. Can be taken away. The web is a fabric, and I thought of that yesterday while using a broom to knock some spider webs off the side of my house. The web with holes, empty spots, becomes a tattered fabric. Holes might merge to gaping voids, and then giant swaths of dead space.

We should be making the web, not breaking it. And we make in our own spaces.

So, what to do now?

First now, I’m going to keep on with RSS, somehow, picking a new reader to try.  I believe in the politics, and I know the personal benefits are solid.

(Even though I’m starting to feel like a crank.  “Back in the day,” he wheezed, “we used a dag blamed RSS reader!”  He pounded the porch with his cracked cane.  “And it was good for us!  Not like the fancy, stupid Facebook and Snapflat you kids use these days!” He coughed again.  Not so much blood this time.  Nobody else saw, because nobody else was listening.)

Second, choices choices await.

I tweeted about this stupid Digg mess, and one project, Inoreader, swiftly pounced:

I appreciate that.

Then another site, the better known Feedly, tweeted me as well:

That 100 feeds limitation looks pretty stark for me, though, since I have cough cough more.

What are the other options?

On LinkedIn one contact recommended BazQux.  I know nothing more about this delightfully named thing.

Still on deck from last time: FeedWranglerNetVibesNewsblur, The Old Reader.  I’m not sure if PressForward can work as an RSS reader.  BlogTrottr works by email, which doesn’t appeal to me right now. Some old ones look dead or in hospice, like Fever and PrismaticBloglines isn’t loading.

New to me since I last looked into this grim matter: PandaFeedbinSelfoss, which requires installation, I think.  G2Reader.  Feeder.

Should I pick up an established, hosted service, or try carving out time to host my own?

And third – let’s look ahead a bit.

A giant company (Google) exited the RSS space.  One smaller company (Digg) jumped in, then exited.  Are all of the other RSS readers provided by start-ups and tiny firms?  Has RSS reading become that marginalized?  Are we this bound up with the “helpful”, AI-driven feeds so many experience through Facebook and the like?  For another science fiction reference, we might collectively accustom ourselves to benevolent AI oversight, as with Iain Banks’ Culture universe (thanks to Crainist for the idea). This is one future path.

One would think that the rising disgust at giant social media and other tech firms might drive people back to RSS, as an open, easy to use standard.  Perhaps we’ll see the RSS reader equivalent of Mastodon.  There will be a reactionary movement growing in strength.  RSS could ride alongside people seeking social media detoxes and setting up their own, tiny social networks. Call it the Butlerian Jihad for RSS and the open web.  That’s another way forward.

Or maybe a small number of us will tend the open flame, huddled around a shrinking number of oddball RSS reader, stolidly blogging away.  We’ll be like the Amish in Pennsylvania, plodding along while the others whiz past.  Or we’ll become something like a minority religion, somewhat tolerated, sometimes disdained, often sidestepped.

Over to you, dear readers.  Which way forward for RSS, both in the big picture and in the practical sense of which reader to try?

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51 Responses to Digg is going to kill Digg Reader; what should we do now?

  1. Ted Major says:

    I’ve been using Newsblur since Google killed their newsreader (and I killed my Google account). It works well for me, and I like that it’s run by the developer (who uses it himself) rather than a (nonessential) part of some larger company.

  2. Nils says:

    I stopped using RSS after Google cancelled their reader and have only returned after discovering Inoreader. They have loads of ways of organising and filtering content so that should be right up your alley. They follow a freemium business model, where the advanced tools for filtering and such are only available for a – in my opinion – very reasonable price…

  3. Hi Brian,

    Great post. If you end up trying Feedly and have feedback beyond the 100 source limit, please let us know. We are building Feedly for researchers like yourself and have the same passion for the open web so I think your insights will be useful.

    -Edwin

  4. patrick says:

    I’ve been a professional user of inoreader for a couple of years now and I’m satisfied,
    I was using feedly before but inoreader is no match for it: you can have filters, rules, mail2tag, notifications, gmail tracking, support both in forum and by email and so much more so I think it’s absolutely worth it, I think it’s the most advanced and the best reader overall out there and I think you should give it a shot 😉

    • Bryan Alexander says:

      Patrick, can you say more about what you use Feedly for?

      • patrick says:

        I’m not using feedly anymore, I’m a fanatic user of inoreader, I’m online and connected the whole day long and I absolutely love its filters and rules

        • David says:

          I was using feedly before but inoreader is no match for it

          Ah, this phrasing threw me off. You appeared to be saying that Feedly is far superior to Inoreader, and that the following feature list demonstrated Feedly’s attractions.

          I guess you intended something more like: “I was using feedly, but inoreader is more than a match for it…” — or something like that!

  5. Steven Kaye says:

    In terms of the big picture – see what happens with Facebook. They’ve admitted to experimenting on people, artificially restricting people’s reach so they can upsell, etc. And nobody gives a damn.

    I’d say look for an RSS reader that actually charges its users money, but I don’t know offhand if there are any out there. Lee suggests there isn’t money in RSS readers.

    • Bryan Alexander says:

      Some of these readers have a freemium model, charging for extra features or capacities. I don’t know if that income goes beyond sustainability into profit.

  6. Alan Levine says:

    Diggs’ sudden announcement and 2 week notice seems curious. I’m not surprised- their mobile app got very unreliable in mid 2017 and had not been updated in 2016.

    It’s not that dire to me as there are so many options, and I bet 4-5 times as many as you listed. And not much is lost in moving subscriptions to a new service.

    I’ve used Feedly last few years to load my student blog subscriptions and it works fine but yes, there are limits and upsells.

    I just brought my ~200 or so ones into Inoreader and am rather happy with it; it has many more features than the others.

    I believe the Mac reader NewsBlur charges a fee; D’Arcy Norman is a big fan.

    It may always be a shifting space, but I see plenty of options and not much in migration beyond a new interface

    • Bryan Alexander says:

      Cogdog, which Inoreader features appeal to you?

      Migration: I wonder about the benefits of schlepping OPML. Does it give you the chance to reflect on feeds, some perspective and inspiration?

      • Alan Levine says:

        The appealing feature of Inoreader is that it is available 😉 I seek no features beyond the basics that were there in Google Reader and ones before it – import feeds, group in folders where I can read from multiple feeds, keyboard shortcuts, and a list view. Same features I used in Digg, Feedly.

        Opml is not a shlepp, it’s the XML file you get from any reader export. Pop it form one reader, import into the next. it just works.

        I did chop a few feeds that were quiet.

  7. Joe Murphy says:

    I’m a Feedly user myself, though I don’t follow nearly as many feeds as you do. I can imagine paying for unlimited feeds, because I’m getting a lot of value from it, but it is a little pricey.

    Given the importance of your collection to your work, honestly, doing roll your own might be worth the effort. (I notice there are 3 RSS readers, including selfoss, available through Installatron on Reclaim Hosting, but I have no sense how much work any of them are to set up and maintain.)

    Going back to RSS has given me a place to scan for news that’s not Facebook/Twitter, and to be honest, that’s made me a lot happier. Maybe that’s the argument for RSS, like the old Miller Lite commercial. “More Informed! Less Depressing!” Thank you for getting me to think about it!

    I do wonder to whether RSS is at odds with the metrics used in the web publishing industry. Do sites avoid RSS because they fear it costs them pageviews? I know in my heart that’s a non-argument, since I follow multiple sources which send a headline and short synopsis, and make me click over the their site to read the article. Still, I’d love to hear some big site publishers address whether RSS is even on their radar, and if it is, whether they think it’s good or bad.

    • Bryan Alexander says:

      I should talk to the Reclaimers, then.

      Good question about publishing metrics. I’m not sure how they count now. I know there were attempts to bring RSS into profit and loss calculations, oh, a decade ago.

      • I can’t answer this question about how pageview metrics are counted, but it’s one I’ve wondered about myself and so I second Joe’s raising of it.

        Regarding the thread below, I’m also interested in ttrss through Reclaim as well. Mo Pelzel set us up with a Reclaim account and I’m hoping to get it back in working order some time soon. Standing up a ttrss instance on there might be a nice project for the summer….

        If you end up going that direction, Bryan, let me know and maybe we can compare notes. 🙂

        • Bryan Alexander says:

          To be honest, I have no time for the next two months to experiment with Tiny. Maybe this summer. Let me know how it goes?
          For now, I’ll try Ino and Feedly.

  8. Karl A. Hakkarainen says:

    I have used Feedly since Google Reader went away. I pay for the upgrade and have 100s of feeds. Its browser integration and mobile apps makes it a worthy choice.

  9. Jon K. says:

    Self hosted Tiny Tiny RSS – might even be part of the control panel install. It’s not super awesome, but it works. And if you’re just running it for one, it’s probably very inexpensive (depending on your bandwidth considerations).

    • This is what I use as well. If you’ve already got a web host to host your website (as opposed to throwing your domain on top of wp.com or such) then it might only be a bit of elbow grease to load up ttrss into a subfolder and get it going.

  10. Boone Gorges says:

    Another nod for Tiny Tiny RSS. After the Digg announcement, I spent an annoyed 90 minutes figuring out how to set it up (I’m a Web Professional™), but after that initial hurdle the transition from Digg has been seamless. I feel 100x better knowing that it belongs to me, and no one can take it away.

    If you manage to find a control panel that offers a one-click install, I’d recommend giving it a try.

  11. Chris L says:

    As you know, I’m a big user (and fan) of Inoreader. I’ve tried just about all of them but Inoreader simply has the best power user features outside of, possibly, some of the self-hosted solutions. I’m not sure about feature comparison with those, but I just never found a self-hosted app with an interface I could live with…and I really tried.

  12. Chuck Steel says:

    Another vote for Tiny Tiny RSS. I have been using it since Google pulled Reader and it works well enough. It also has the advantage of being open source and released under GNU public license. Versioning is handled through git, so you can always fork and make your own changes, if that is important to you. It can also support multiple users, so if you wanted to host an RSS reader for others that is possible.

    • Bryan Alexander says:

      Do I need to code to make it work, Chuck?

      • Chuck Steel says:

        No, it can be setup without any coding, but some experience with working in a shell is helpful. You will need PHP and MySQL or PostgreSQL available. My hosting control panel makes creating a database easy, and once you have the username and password for the DB, the install process should walk you through everything. If you don’t have shell access to your server, then there are some additional complications, though.

        Updating feeds is done through a PHP page that you can run through cron, if you host provides that.

  13. Vladimir Shabanov says:

    I would recommend you to take a closer look at “delightfully named” BazQux Reader. It’s paid only (with free trial) so it is a product not you. No ads, no “try our premium feature”. It has clean non-bloated interface yet many features.

    And, since you’ve asked in tweet, it supports folders and their reordering as well as reordering of feeds inside folders. And you could unsubscribe from whole folder or all your feeds at once.

  14. Jon says:

    Newsblur. I have 787 active sites that I follow, and it allows me to keep them organized and search them, save ones I want to refer back to, email them to anyone including myself – it does a good job at what I need it to do.

  15. Roxann D Riskin says:

    You have sparked an interest – so I will now be trying a “new” type of reader-
    I like the dashboard look too in NetVibes…. there are quite a choices that look awesome.
    I’m going for the Omea Reader today 😉
    The Omea Reader has annotation features that might be useful. I have no idea what this means: “Tack your own free-form notes onto any resource with Annotations”
    http://www.jetbrains.com/omea/reader/

  16. Yes to rss. I already recommended InoReader over on FB and second everything Patrick says and more. Although I have many feeds, I will only admit to having fewer than Audrey Watters. I find myself identifying with the image of Bubastis in front of her monitors — and I’ve been to Zagazig.

  17. Edward says:

    I love The Old Reader. For your usage, you’d probably want to go with the paid version, however. It works great and has good features. Hardly ever any downtown that I can recall. The Old Reader is from a small company so it is a core product of theres and therefore it is less likely to be discontinued as long as they keep having customers. I haven’t needed support much, but the couple of times I did, they were great.

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  20. Fred says:

    Great post. I’ve followed your path-GR to DR, but having tried them all I bounce between Feedly and commafeed.com, which is pretty fast and works great on mobile, though ok now of to re-try ino. Thanks for the post*

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