A guide to migrating away from Google Reader

With just under a week to go before Google Reader shuts down completely, I'm sure many procrastinators are now panicking to pick a new service. Time is of the essence! In this article, I'll walk you through exactly what you need to do to migrate off Google Reader, and when, then tell you which service I chose as a replacement and why.

The real hitch — and I can't believe how little has been written about this — is that some of the alternatives to Google Reader will not be able to import your feeds after 1 July. These services, which include Feedly and Taptu, work by connecting to your active Google account to pull the information they need; in other words, they can't upload your feed data from an exported file. That means even if you've downloaded your data, or "Google Takeout," from Reader, the included OPML or XML file with all your RSS feeds could be useless.

Thankfully, several of the alternatives can import your data from the XML file, although whether they're any good at doing so is another matter. For example, when I tested SwarmIQ, it imported all my feeds correctly but dated every single existing post in my feed with the present date — and some of the posts were two years old!

Any really good Google Reader alternative service will ask for an OPML file, and here, I'm going to explain how to get it and what to do with it.

But again, if you wait until after 1 July, you'll be limiting your choice of services that support importing via that file... unless, of course, you choose to start over from scratch and ditch your old batch of RSS feeds altogether.

That might not be a bad idea if your feeds are a mess and filled with stuff you don't read anymore.

DO THIS NOW: Export your data from Google Reader

Here's how to get that coveted OPML file.

1. Sign into Google Reader. Go to the Settings in the upper right corner. It looks like this:

2. Navigate to the Import/Export tab. At the bottom, under "Export your information," click the link "Download your data through Takeout."

3. A new tab will open that shows your Reader file is ready to download. The screen will show the estimated number of files and total file size. Click "Create Archive." (In the image below, you can see that mine is pretty small, which means it exported very quickly.)

4. The page will generate a ZIP file. Save this file somewhere safe and memorable in case you decide to procrastinate in signing up for another RSS reader service a little longer.

When you do sign up for a new service, unzip the ZIP file. The primary element you'll need is the one called subscriptions.xml.

5. If you have any Google Alerts enabled in Reader, you might want to exchange them for Google Alerts via email because a lot of Reader alternatives don't support Alerts. Google Alerts are feeds that search the Internet for key terms that you define.

Go to google.com/alerts. Fill out the form and for the final choice, pick an email address rather than "Feeds."

Alternatives to Google Reader

I tested a lot of alternatives and in the end I chose two services that I just love: G2Reader and The Old Reader. I'll need to live with them both for a few weeks before settling on just one to use regularly. Both are fantastic, but each has minor limitations.

Perhaps the best thing about G2Reader and The Old Reader is you can set them up at any time, provided you download your Google Reader data (see steps 1-4 above). If you download your data now but wait until, say, August to set up either of these readers (hey, stuff happens; July's a busy month), it's no problem.

G2Reader

As I mentioned, G2Reader lets you import your data from the Google Takeout files. Upon importing data from Google Reader, G2Reader keeps all your feed organisation intact, so you don't have to muck around moving feeds back into folders and such. It even imported my Google Alerts, and so far, they have been updating. That's huge. One neat feature is you can save a list of key words that G2Reader will always highlight for you in the posts that show up in your feed. Another big plus: It's available in multiple languages. G2Reader's updates can be slightly delayed sometimes due to the small team and budget behind this otherwise stellar app.

The Old Reader

As the name implies, The Old Reader was designed to imitate Google Reader before one of its major redesigns — the one that happened about two years ago that nixed sharing, specifically. If you have long missed the sharing features of Google Reader, The Old Reader is hands-down the service you want. It doesn't ask you to rethink how you use your feeds or what kinds of feeds you might want to import if you're coming to it from Google Reader, which some of the other alternatives do.

In other words, it's totally non-disruptive. While it did import my Google Alerts, I'm not sure how they were processed exactly, as they aren't updating. I'll keep my Google Alerts turned on to notify me via email until I figure it out. My favourite feature in The Old Reader is a list showing feeds that are "dead," namely those that haven't been updated in at least three months, which makes it easy to keep my feed list clean.

Download your feed data ASAP!

Remember, no matter what kind of procrastinator you are, take two minutes — right now if possible — to download your Google Takeout data so that you don't lose all your RSS feeds! That's the one thing you really need to do as soon as possible to avoid disappointment at a later date.