Replacing Google Reader with Twitter

by Mike Shea on 28 January 2011

30 Second Summary

I'm weaning myself off of Google Reader to use Twitter exclusively for discovering news. While removing Reader simplifies my typical online apps to just Gmail and Twitter, I worry about moving from an open syndication standard (RSS) to a proprietary syndication standard (Twitter). In this case, practicality trumps ideology so it's to Twitter that I go.

Simplifying my internet workflow

I have a standard routine for surfing the web. I sit down, I open Gmail, Google Reader, and Twitter (either Tweetdeck on Chrome or the Twitter app on my Mac, iPhone, or iPad). Gmail gives me personal correspondences. Google Reader gave me updates from my favorite websites. Twitter gave me group discussions on topics of interest to me.

As more and more websites publish their article update announcements to Twitter, I started to see a lot of redundancy between Google Reader and Twitter. For my D&D articles, I see a lot of the same articles posted multiple times. It occurred to me this week that I simply don't need to open Google Reader anymore. By adding a few new people to my following list on Twitter, I was able to get all the same updates without having to open up Google Reader.

This cuts me down to just two online apps: Gmail and Twitter. It starts to extend Twitter outside the bounds of typical person-to-person social interaction into an app for all sorts of general internet communication. That might mean my mind is shifting really fast between general news post and individual communication but I think it might work.

I'll also need a way to flag items for later reading. Favorites is probably the easiest way to do that.

Why I love Twitter

Twitter works very well for me for a whole number of reasons. First, many people I want to hear from are on there. Second, it lets me white-list exactly the people I want to hear from and lets me blacklist someone I don't want to hear from extremely easily. This lets me build the exact stream of communication I want to receive. The 140 character limit ensures that wordy folks won't be able to flood me with bullshit. If I see more than two or three tweets in a row, I can just block them or unfollow them and never have to face it again.

Twitter makes it extremely easy to feed in RSS feeds and many content producers do exactly that. This makes it pretty easy to step away from Google Reader since Twitter itself acts as an indirect RSS reader.

There are tons of tools to read Twitter. Chrome's HTML5-based TweetDeck is great and the Twitter app for the iPhone, iPad, and Mac are also excellent. The tools are so good that I rarely care which platform I happen to be on. Whatever device best fits my current situation works just as well as the others for reading Twitter.

Why I'm afraid of Twitter

The big problem is that Twitter is still proprietary. Twitter doesn't make it easy to archive your own tweets. Instead, you have to use a third-party service like Backupify to regularly archive your own Tweets. The APIs for Twitter are limited due to the amount of traffic they might receive. Twitter, as a whole, is still all owned by a single company and that's scary. It isn't internet-breaking like Facebook is. Each Tweet is itself a web page that can be indexed and understood.

Yet it is still all held by a single company and they don't give simpletons like me full access to the results. That bothers me.

Practicality versus ideology

But it doesn't bother me enough not to jump at the practicality. As I learned trying to use Linux as my home desktop OS, practicality trumps ideology. Removing Google Reader from my daily workflow makes my life easier. I spend less time surfing and require fewer systems to get the information I want. Twitter is open enough for me to archive what I want to archive, it just takes some fiddling. We'll see what happens in the long run, but in the short run, I'm one step closer to a simple life.

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