The Sharebros Are Building a Google Reader Replacement

One code-savvy, soon-to-be-former Google Reader user would rather create a new site for the RSS-feeds than switch to Google+. 

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One code-savvy, soon-to-be-former Google Reader user would rather create a new site for the RSS-feeds than switch to Google+. Last Friday, Google announced that it was getting rid of Reader's social features — the ability to follow other people, to share content within Reader and so forth — in order to encourage more people to use Google+ for those kinds of activities within a week. The backlash online was immediate and visceral, and a small group of protesters even picketed outside the company's DC offices, calling for an Occupy Google Reader movement. We tried contacting Google a number of times over the past week about how they were responding to the complaints and when the changes would go into place but never received a reply.

Hearing radio silence from Google, self-identified Google Reader fanatic (also known as a Sharebro) Francis Cleary decided to take things into his own hands. Cleary tried using Google+ a bit but says it didn't feel right. So over the past ten days, Cleary has been devoting every minute of his free time to building his own social RSS site that will keep Reader's dying features alive. For now, he's calling it HiveMined.

The service is built to work just like Google Reader but better. On the HiveMined blog, Cleary describes the idea quite simply: "A replacement for Google Reader. Basically an RSS reader with a bit of social thrown in." Cleary explained the idea further to The Atlantic Wire. "The way to think about it is that the people on the hive are going to mine out the best content on the internet," said the 26-year-old Pennsylvania native, who settled on the name with the help of 40 other Sharebros.

So far, the Sharebro community seems pumped about the new open-source Reader alternative. "I'm definitely excited about it," Stu Watson told us in an email, "It seems like Francis is trying to preserve the elements of Google Reader that have been lost in Google+."

Cleary expects to launch a private beta test for HiveMined on Monday, and for now, most of the features will resurrect the features that Google plans to kill off. People can subscribe to RSS feeds, read the content in the same window, star or like their favorite items and follow other HiveMined users. With the help of fellow Sharebro Peter Shafer, each user can sign in using a HiveMined account or their Facebook log-in credentials and with the help of the Open Graph can quickly find out which of their friends are already using the site. The site is built using Django and Twitter Bootstrap, a framework for web design built by the developers behind the microblogging site. (The Facebook and Twitter functionality must sting the Googlers working on Plus, at least a little bit.) Every story is shareable, there are no ads and Cleary says that like the old Reader everybody loves, the focus is on "content, content, content" This is where Google+ comes up short.

"Google+ is a cool idea, but it's not about content first," Cleary told The Atlantic Wire. "It's about page views--that's not what people want. It's about the content you like. It's not about you pushing the link and being like, Everybody look at the link and look what I shared."
Other Sharebros we've talked to — all of whom seem super upset about Google axing Reader's social features — have said similar things about the difference in the two platforms. On Google+, there's an emphasis on the individual. There's a feed that sorts items based on a secret algorithm aiming to tell you what's the most important. It's personal, sure, but it's not as fast as Reader and requires too much clicking, too many open tabs. Cleary admitted that it's better for publishers to earn the unique visitor and the pageview, but the user experience isn't the same it it doesn't create the same tight knit community that is the Sharebro circle. Furthermore, with so much content flowing in from the RSS feed, it can be overwhelming so when you find someone who's a good curator, there's a unique value added that's just not the same on Google+ or even Facebook or Twitter.
"If I share a link on Reader — let's say BuzzFeed has a hundred pugs in costumes — I would click share and people would look at it and comment on Reader," Cleary told us. "I feel like you have to earn every follower."

Although he also didn't finish college before moving out to the Bay Area, Cleary is not trying to be the next Mark Zuckerberg. He's just interested in keeping the Reader experience alive, and people around the world are offering help, money and support. The Iranian freedom fighters who depended on Reader for basic social networking features have reached out, and Cleary says he's doing his best to build HiveMined in such a way that the government won't shut it down like they did Facebook and Twitter. In fact, he told us that he'd prefer not even to be referred to as a founder of Hivemined, because he's not trying to create a startup or fire up a new business unless he has to. "I have a full time job," says Cleary, who works as a software developer in San Francisco. "I just need to find a way to pay for the servers, and I'm gonna pay out of my pocket until I can't."

We couldn't help but ask if Cleary secretly wanted to work at Google, but he didn't bite. "I do like the idea of trying a startup or at least a trying to set up a lifestyle business," he said. "Who knows maybe this or another idea will turn into something. I'm just going to keep chugging along and doing what I love."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.