Google Reader will soon be closing its virtual doors. In a move that shocked the Web, Google's SVP Urs Hölzle announced on March 13 that, despite the RSS service's "loyal following," the company would "retire" Google Reader on July 1. More than any of the other 69 products that Google has killed over the past two years, Google Reader's demise has shaken a longtime community that depends heavily on the service.

Aw. (Credit: Screenshot by Peter Butler)

Foofaraw and conspiracy theories (about why Reader was killed) aside, if you use the service and want to save any of your feeds, favorites, or community contacts you have made over the past eight years, you should get your data out now. Here's how.

There are two routes to the same result for exporting your Google Reader data. Both use Google Takeout, a service from the company's "Data Liberation Front" that allows users to export their private info out of various Google products. It currently supports 13 of Google's services, including Reader.

To export your Google Reader data, you can start at Google Takeout and select the "Choose Services" tab, and then click the "Reader" button. You should be presented with a visual representation of the ZIP file to be exported that includes eight files, along with the estimated size of the export and a big red button at the bottom to "Create Archive."

Alternately, you can get to the same result by selecting the "gear" icon in Google Reader, and then select "Reader settings," click the "Import/Export" tab, and then click on the "Download your data through Takeout" link. That link will get you to the same point as the steps in the above paragraph.

Once you click "Create Archive," you'll be taken to a page where Takeout "builds" your archive. It should only take a few seconds, depending on the size of your exported data. After the build is complete, a build "Download" button will appear, prompting the usual behavior based on your browser settings.

After you download the file locally and extract the ZIP archive, you should be presented with seven JavaScript files and one XML file:

  • followers.json: Google users following you
  • following.json: Google users you were following
  • liked.json: Google Reader items that you liked
  • notes.json: Any notes associated with your items
  • shared.json: Any items you shared
  • shared-by-followers.json: Items shared by your followers
  • starred.json: Favorited items
  • subscriptions.xml: Your Google Reader feeds

All of the files can be opened in a decent text editor or development tool. (I use NoteTab Light; and NotePad++ is also excellent.)

That subscriptions.xml file is the most critical, since it includes all of the feeds that you want to monitor. It's also the file that other RSS services will use to import your data to start a new service. The Old Reader, Feedly, and Comma Feed all import subscriptions.xml files that have been exported from Google Reader.

Now that you've exported your exported Google Reader data, where should you take it? Well, that's a good question with lots of answers. Seth Rosenblatt offered up his eight picks for Google Reader replacements back when the ax was announced, but there are far, far more options from which picky RSS consumers can choose. To the crowdsourced Google Docs ... er, Google Drive Spreadsheets!

For comprehensive coverage of Google Reader alternatives in a sortable table format, check out the shared Google doc Alternatives to Google Reader - OJB Comment Call from the Online Journalism Blog (not surprisingly, many journalists have been distraught by Google Reader's demise).

For a more casual yet broader coverage of RSS reader alternatives with contributed user reviews of RSS services, see Philip Swanson's Reader Transition Plan, a shared doc that anyone can edit. It has about 20 product links and reviews with testimonials from users who have made the various switches. Both docs are invaluable resources that continue to be updated.

Me? I'm still making up my mind. To be honest, I'll be using Google Reader up until July 1, because I've used it for a long, long time, and I am very used to it. I have exported my subscriptions to a wide range of RSS services, but so far I haven't found a favorite. I like Pulse for iPhone, iPad, and Android (as well as Windows 8 Touch), but it doesn't translate as well to Windows and Mac desktop, nor does it have advanced feed-management features.

Feedly looks great ... but it's also got a huge question to solve. It's a front-end of Google Reader with an ambitious plan to launch its own clone of the Google Reader API after Google Reader dies. Initial reports seem promising, but the proof will be in this summer's pudding. The new open-source RSS solution Comma Feed looks intriguing, but feeds don't seem to update nearly as frequently as with The Old Reader.

The sad fact seems to be that no single service is going to replace Google Reader. My hope is that an independent software publisher rises to the occasion in the post-Reader landscape.

Where are you taking your Google Reader business? Tell me about it in the comments.

Peter has been working at since 2003, when trialware was shareware and toolbars were those large metal rods for smashing car windows. Currently, he wrangles the reviews, videos, newsletter, blog, and special collections for, as well as managing the program data throughout the software directory.