The Amazon acquisition of Goodreads came right on the heels of another major change that I didn’t blog about here (though I did do plenty of reading about it): Google is shutting down its RSS tool, Google Reader, on July 1 of this year. This news sent its millions (but not enough millions, apparently) of loyal users in search of alternatives.
For those who don’t use any RSS feed: how they work is that you add subscriptions – to blogs, news sites, or webcomics, for example – and all new content from those sites is collected in one place. It’s a great way of keeping track of content from many places on the web, especially if they post content at irregular intervals; by highlighting new content when it appears, the RSS feed ensures that none of the sites you want to follow disappear from your radar.
So, which tool to use to replace Google Reader? I don’t have a smartphone, but I wanted something that I could access from my home computer, my work computer, and my tablet; I wanted something browser-based, not an app or plugin I’d have to install. Lifehacker’s March 13 article about Google Reader alternatives is worthwhile if you’re still trying to decide which one to switch to, as is the March 14 article from Extreme Tech.
If I’d had a smartphone, I might have gone with Feedly (my roommate’s choice), and I’m not ruling out changing to NewsBlur (Cory Doctorow’s choice) in the future, but for now I’ve switched to The Old Reader. It did feel a bit like going back in time, and because so many others were switching over at the same time, it took a few days(!) to import the OPML file that I had exported from Google Reader, but it’s been working well so far.
Uploading my exported Goodreads data to LibraryThing took a little time as well, but not as long as I expected, and I was very pleased with the outcome; all my Goodreads “shelves” became tags in LibraryThing (e.g. young adult, science, cooking, magic, to-read). I’m still getting used to navigating around the LT interface, as I’ve only really used it for cataloging before, but I’ve had no major problems so far, and the documentation is very good, so I can often find the answers to my questions.
The LT staff, including Tim Spalding, are active and responsive members of the site. The “LibraryThing: How to Succeed in an Amazon/Goodreads World” thread has been so active that it has spawned several additional topic threads. Barbara Fister has also written a good overview about the “culture clash” that occurred when a wave of Goodreads users joined LibraryThing (“culture shock: when Goodreads and LibraryThing collide“).
If you’re thinking of becoming a member of LT, or if you’re just curious to learn more about what it is, you can’t do better than this collaborative piece from LT staff and members, “What Makes LibraryThing LibraryThing?” They address the difference between users and customers (LT is free only up to 200 books; after that, you’re required to pay, but the amount is “suggested” and you can get either annual or lifetime membership at a very reasonable price): “We have no ‘users.’ If you’re not the customer, you’re the product. If a social website can’t support itself on customers and straightforward products, it’ll eventually sell out what you gave it—your data, your friends, and the community itself….We want what paying creates—customers, with loyalty and rights—not “users.'”
The “user vs. customer” difference is becoming more apparent as platforms launch and close, are bought and sold. As Alex Kantrowitz noted in an article for Forbes (“Google Reader Shutdown a Sobering Reminder That ‘Our’ Technology Isn’t Ours,” March 13), “The death of Google Reader reveals a problem of the modern Internet that many of us likely have in the back of our heads but are afraid to let surface: We are all participants in a user driven Internet, but we are still just the users, nothing more. No matter how much work we put in to optimize our online presences, our tools and our experiences, we are still at the mercy of big companies controlling the platforms we operate on.”
This is something to consider seriously: the major social media sites (e.g. Facebook, Twitter) are free, and users produce the content, signing away more rights than they’re aware of by agreeing to the various sites’ Terms & Conditions. Though everyone likes free, there are some things worth paying for, and having a little more control in the content you produce, and a little more confidence that the platform on which you’re creating it won’t be unceremoniously pulled out from under you, is sometimes worth it. (Not to say, of course, that just because you pay for something, it will always be reliable, TIME WARNER. Companies go under, or they’re sold, or they change.)
Speaking of Terms & Conditions, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) makes it extremely perilous to violate T&C (or Terms of Service); according to the Department of Justice, it can even be a felony. Read more and find out how you can take action to protect the internet as we know it.
This just in: Academic publisher Elsevier just acquired Mendeley, to the dismay of many of Mendeley’s users. Elsevier is notoriously expensive and anti-open access, whereas Mendeley is (was?) a free research and reference management tool. Many users will probably be jumping ship to Zotero, a similar service.