When Google Reader closed shop, a bunch of alternatives popped up over the next few months. A few of them that existed before Google decided to terminate the service, welcomed the decision and worked hard to pick up the slack. Feedly gained the most with 8 million new users signing up for the service, as of June 2013, while another smaller startup - The Old Reader – reportedly added 350,000 new users following the shutdown announcement. Unfortunately, the sudden and unexpected influx of Google Reader refugees was too much for the modest servers of ‘The Old Reader’ to handle, as the team behind the simple RSS reader struggled to balance their work and personal life. In the end, they had to make a decision.
Today, the team announced in a blog post, that they are giving up development on the product because they're simply exhausted from building it. The web app will no longer accept new users, and in two weeks, The Old Reader will turn into a private site for those who've registered before March 13th. If you're an Old Reader user who signed up after March 13th, you will need to download your data and move to another product.
“We’d rather provide a smooth and awesome experience for 10,000 users than a crappy one for 420,000,” wrote Elena Bulygina and Dmitry Krasnoukhov, the site’s operators.
“The truth is, during last 5 months we have had no work life balance at all. The “life” variable was out of equation: you can limit hours, make up rules on time management, but this isn’t going to work if you’re running a project for hundreds of thousands of people. Let me tell you why: it tears us to bits if something is not working right, and we are doing everything we can to fix that. We can’t ignore an error message, a broken RAID array, or unanswered email. I personally spent my own first wedding anniversary fixing the migration last Sunday. Talk about “laid back” attitude now. And I won’t even start describing enormous sentimental attachment to The Old Reader that we have.”
“We have been sleep deprived for 10 days and this impacts us way too much,” they wrote.
“That’s why The Old Reader has to change. We have closed user registration, and we plan to shut the public site down in two weeks. We started working on this project for ourselves and our friends, and we use The Old Reader on a daily basis, so we will launch a separate private site that will keep running. It will have faster refresh rate, more posts per feed, and properly working full-text search — we are sure that we can provide all this at a smaller scale without that much drama, just like we were doing before March.”
The sad demise of The Old Reader is a lesson for all – both startup developers and users. If you can’t scale well to an increasing user base, your product is a failure, which is what happened to The Old Reader. For users, it’s time to reassess the services they are relying on. Is the service profitable to the operators? Is it run by a small team or backed by corporations or huge donations from capitalists? Will the service exist 3 years from now? Two years? One year?
Where to Go: Forget the run-of-the-mill RSS feeds readers that have been popping all over the web, and stick to reliable ones. Currently, there are only three RSS readers that can be called trustworthy. They are Feedly, Digg Reader and AOL Reader.
Among these three, I like AOL Reader the best – it has good features, has a nice polished interface and doesn’t look like a beta product. Digg Reader is trying hard to be a good one, but somehow its failing to impress me. Feedly has a certain attraction and is currently the only one that provides an API so that other feed readers can build apps based on the service. It is already the most popular RSS reader app.