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RIP Google Reader

Today, Google's RSS reader is kaput. Maybe most don't notice, maybe some are relieved not to have another box with 396,955,428 unread items. But the loss casts a shadow over a stalwart contingent.

A screenshot of Google Reader
Ye Olde Google Reader

Google Reader is no more.

The reason for that is directly correlated to the fact its passing will go unnoticed by most people who ever set up the service to funnel RSS feeds from Web sites, news blogs, and other publishers. For them, if there is any reaction, it may be the heart-lightening realization that another box cluttered with neglected items is neatly wiped away.

But still, this sunset leaves an impassioned cohort of Google Reader fans in the dark, nearly eight years after the service's dawn.

"This is a sad day," CNET reader trhoads82 wrote in March when Google announced the coming demise for Reader. "I won't switch to anything else. It just means I won't take the time to go to each site to read my content each day."

Here's how Google had heralded the birth of the service in 2005.

"The amount of information on the Web is rapidly increasing," Google said on the day of the site's launch. "Google Reader helps you keep up with it all by organizing and managing all the content you're interested in. Instead of continuously checking your favorite sites for updates, you can let Google Reader do it for you."

It embodied Google's stated mission of organizing the world's information, and it matured into one of the most popular ways of tracking a swath of sites. It was also an early experiment for Google in social networking.

But Google Reader's relevance to the Web-going public eroded with the rising tide of Facebook and Twitter. That tidal shift to other social-networking sites hurt Google Reader, but not as much as Google's own reaction to the networking competition.

When Google instilled changes to Google Reader sharing in 2011 to encourage more Google+ usage, an incensed cohort of ardent Reader fans protested. As Google+ became the golden child doted upon by the parent, that fervent Google Reader usership recognized the beginning of the end.

Today that end becomes reality, and with echoes across the tech firmament. Yahoo is shutting down its RSS Alerts today too, according to a post of its official Tumblr Friday, replacing that service with e-mail alerts.

Meanwhile, a couple one-time titans are eager to pick up what Google is casting aside. Digg has pushed through a revamp to cater to Google Reader users in a couple months. Feedly has been refreshing its site, now compatible with all major browsers, with a new interface that doesn't require plug-ins or browser extensions, though first it had to wean itself off Google's servers. And AOL last month launched its own offering.

And plenty of other alternatives are available.

It's the opposite phenomenon of a behemoth like Google entering a space and sucking all the oxygen out of the room. Google leaving means the fires of competitors can burn brighter, at least for those who are left looking for somewhere to warm up.