Keeping Tabs On The Social Justice Blogosphere In The Age Of Google Reader

By Guest Contributor David Zhou

Forgive me for anthropomorphizing a website.

The announcement that Google Reader would be shutting down hit me like the loss of an old friend with whom I had lately fallen out of touch–softly at first, then more powerfully. It’s easy to think as tech consumers that things die because of our neglect or disinterest. The biggest cliché that I acknowledge here is that Google Reader was more than a website, and whatever we neglected was more than a RSS aggregator. Still, Google Reader supported a blogging culture in which I have participated more infrequently over the years. Perhaps it’s worthwhile to take a wistful moment to reflect on how things have changed and what we do now.

I think I started using Reader in 2006 or 2007. I started by following some TV fan blogs that I wanted to keep up with. (I was really into Lost at the time.) When I got a handle of finding RSS feeds, I began to add everything. Blogs for cooking, news, tech, music, of college administrators and advisors, and even calendars and events. I must have cleared hundreds of items a day, reading post titles in fractions of a second. (The Trends feature in Google Reader tells me opaquely I have read 300,000+ items since 2009; apparently, it can’t fully count how many items I have read.)

In the summer of 2007, I started a blog with a close friend for our campus Asian American student organization. In the process of gathering things to write about in the world at large, I started a folder in Reader called “asian americana”, and then set out to find all the Asian American blogs there existed. There weren’t that many. Into “asian americana” went Angry Asian Man, of course. Hyphen magazine had a blog, too. Reappropriate was refreshing. Sepia Mutiny was still alive. Disgrasian was just a new upstart. If I missed any, my sincerest apologies; I read you all.

I also had a folder called “politics”, but I forget if it evolved in parallel or as an offshoot of my collection of Asian American blogs. (Interesting either way, no?) In there were FeministingFeministeColorlines when it used to be RaceWire, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ blog at The Atlantic and all the other “political” blogs that weren’t “Asian American”. When my feelings about Asian American issues changed later, so did my Google Reader folders. I had chosen to do a Comparative Ethnic Studies minor over an Asian American Studies minor, whatever that means. I started to care about different things. I eventually deleted “asian americana,” and moved the blogs I still cared about into “politics.”

I have a lot of nostalgia about blogging culture back then. The community seemed very coherent and intense, partly because no one else was writing about certain issues, and partly because there was so much to write about. There were so many various poor casting decisions, nationally broadcast microaggressions, conservative antics, and small victories to report on. (Remember that one kiss we all cheered on that television show, for reasons purely related to race and representation?) But like in most areas of critical discourse, cohesion can be a fleeting or naive luxury. We developed in different ways around the ideas of marginality, social justice, media and representation, and power. Some eventually stopped writing and chose to focus their energies elsewhere. When I had read enough blog articles to know more or less what was fucked up at any given time and place, I cut down on my subscriptions. And then I logged off for longer periods of time. I let go of my old college blog and logged onto Tumblr and Twitter.

Jadedness aside, where would we be today without this blogging community that we kept tabs on? Phil Yu might be more modest about this, but would where would Asian American pop culture analysis be without Angry Asian Man? (On a panel in 2008 at the New York City Asian American Student Conference, all the co-panelists affectionately called him “grandpa.”) And the social-justice blogosphere continues to bridge socially conscious teenagers in high school, ethnic studies majors in college, and activists and organizers in the professional world. I know that, for me, every blog post was a dot connecting larger issues about who we are and where we are going. Google Reader held all the dots in place.

Where do we go from here? In the age of reaction GIFs, retweets, and Buzzfeed, we can wonder about the promise that a blogosphere still holds. Perhaps the promise remains. Blogs are still the home of semi-longform writing ungoverned by media companies or publishers. They are the vanguard of progressive political culture for young writers now as they have been before. We will certainly interact with each other differently, after the shutdown of our favorite RSS aggregator. But alternatives exist, and social media persists. The name “Asian Americana”, for example, is survived by an eponymous blog that I manage these days on Quora.

Moment of silence for our old friend Google Reader. (Or, at least, take a moment to make sure you have somewhere else to keep reading.)

David Zhou (@dvwz) is a co-founder and editor of The Microaggressions Project.

  • francisco

    in the wake of that disappointment, i’ve moved everything (including my racialicious subscription!) to newsblur. it’s a project of just one guy at the moment, so it can get easily overwhelmed (it happens to be down at the moment), but he’s working on scaling it to handle the huge increase in users. in many ways i prefer it to reader. most conspicuously, it still features the social functionality (sharing/commenting) that made reader so great for so long. keep up the good work, y’all.