June 1 marked the death of a long-time cherished piece of software -- Google Reader.
If you are not familiar with Google Reader, this likely means nothing to you. It also likely means you do not do a lot of social media work, for which Google Reader is quite popular. For me, it has been invaluable in mining content for, by and about many different aspects impacting workers people with disabilities. From broad sweeping public policy to a local story from a small-town newspaper, Google Reader captured it all.
You may be asking yourself, what is Google Reader and what am I missing?
First of all, it's hard to find a population with greater heterogeneous breadth than people with disabilities. Young or old, individuals with disabilities, whether their condition is developmental or incurred, have a broad range and are the largest minority group in the U.S. They also are the fastest-growing minority group. Nevertheless, disability continues to get limited exposure in progressive social media outlets. This is part of what makes the loss of Google Reader so painful.
Google Reader was the perfect tool to data-mine news outlets all over the world for such a large and broad group. Add in the fact that many content creators, including myself, have a disability. Google's products are also known for being at the forefront of accessibility for individuals who are blind and deaf. I, like many others, use assistive technology to navigate my research, which let me double down on much of the headache that exists when searching for high-quality, relevant material.
Google Reader worked by letting users plug a specific set of words into an algorithm that allows you to search hundreds of thousands of sources for stories that match the query. Once set up, users could track stories from the arcane to the most popular. Want to keep tabs on thermophiles, the bacterium that only grow on volcanic vents in the ocean floor? Check. Want to manage high volumes of financial news or stories on love? Check again.
I have found Google Reader to be one of the most prolific drivers of connectivity in the market. The loss is not such a big deal for some, particularly if your interest area is a fairly specific heterogeneous topic such as food, cars, etc. For someone like myself, whose focus is on the intersections of healthcare, employment and disability policy, sifting for good material becomes more like hunting for the proverbial needle in a haystack.
This is certainly the situation I am at this moment. I haven't figured out exactly why Google decided to no longer provide access to Reader software, but it comes at a horrible time. The brutal honesty is that any time is a horrible time when your primary sources for new and useful information is being closed down and retired. There are a handful of other replacement tools that try to replicate much of the power that Reader has provided over the years (e.g., Reddit, Newsblur and Feedly), but nothing holds a candle to the soon-to-be nonexistent Reader service.
Dear Google Reader, we will miss thee.