The Future of RSS

On July 2, 2013, Google killed Google Reader.
Google Reader

Thank you for stopping by.

Google Reader has been discontinued. We want to thank all our loyal fans. We understand you may not agree with this decision, but we hope you’ll come to love these alternatives as much as you loved Reader.

Sincerely,

The Google Reader team

While I have used Google Reader on and off for years, I don’t use it now. However, I still know and care about the value of RSS as a publishing syndication platform and feel that Google has hurt that by creating a monopoly of sorts by buying up RSS apps then killing them.

ZDNet wrote a piece on this entitled, Embrace, extend, extinguish: How Google crushed and abandoned the RSS industry in which Ed Bott writes, “The entire RSS industry is being rolled back to about 2006 and asked to start over.”

Hacker News (HN) chimed in when bambax said, “The killing of Reader looks like a desperate move to help Google+: since Google can’t kill Facebook, they’re willing to hurt themselves instead — to cut their left arm so that their right arm can grow stronger. If this is indeed the case, it’s very shortsighted.”

In another HN thread about the economics of “Evil Google“, RockyMcNuts said:

It’s not the RSS reader. It’s the open publishing ecosystem. Most clients point to Reader as the central feed aggregator. Most publishers point to Feedburner as the central publisher. Google seized the commanding heights with Feedburner and Google Reader and captured all the publishers and the clients, and now they’re killing the ecosystem. I don’t see why they couldn’t have integrated Reader into Plus without killing the ecosystem. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn are moving into news aggregation, and Google is killing a successful news aggregation system. I don’t understand their strategy, but it’s seems sort of like, we want everyone on G+ and we don’t care how heavy-handed we look or how early adopters feel, and we don’t want an open ecosystem that people can use to pipe content into Twitter and Facebook.

What other platform has such ease of opt-in as RSS? There are email newsletters and Twitter. Both require that the publisher does some sort of action. With RSS it was/is automatic. That is/was the beauty of it. I keep talking about it like it’s dead. It’s not dead. Google Reader is dead. I asked a friend if he still used Google Reader and this is what he said:

I definitely still use it. I probably will wait until the last week of June to commit to a new solution. I’ll probably go with Feedly, but I’m not sure if they let you pick any website, etc. Also, I don’t know how they accommodate custom searches [like Google Alerts]. I’m going to wait until there is an opportunity for a mature alternative. I also have questions about how the web will attempt to syndicate in the absence of Google reader. I know people are saying that the shuttering of reader is a pronouncement of Twitter winning vs. RSS. But, Twitter isn’t an adequate replacement for RSS and leaning on newsletters is a step in the wrong direction. I’m all questions and all ears.

RSS Reader Alternatives

And if that list isn’t good enough for you, NPR suggested Digg. Microsoft Outlook also has a RSS reader and some Internet browsers have RSS readers built-in. Did you know Internet Explorer 9 had an RSS reader? Firefox requires an add-in like Simple RSS Reader, Feedly, or Sage. Same for Chrome. AOL also has a RSS reader aptly named AOL Reader.

RSS: Curation VS. Aggregation

I remember the first time I saw Google Reader. A coworker had invited me over to his house and while there he told me he wanted to show me something cool. When I walked over to his computer he proudly showed me how he had collected all of his favorite information into one place. He was able to sort through article after article with the spin of his mouse wheel. It was glorious. I signed up for my own account and quickly began adding RSS feeds from sites I wanted to follow. I quickly became inundated with more articles than I could read in a day. I started to get discouraged and eventually I quit.

Marco Arment wrote in The Power of the RSS Reader, “The most common complaint I hear about inbox-style RSS readers such as Google Reader, NetNewsWire, and Reeder: that people gave up on them because they were constantly filled with more unread items than they could handle. If you’ve had that problem, you weren’t using inbox-style RSS readers properly…If a site posts many items each day and you barely read any of them, delete that feed. If you find yourself hitting ‘Mark all as read’ more than a couple of times for any feed, delete that feed…The true power of the RSS inbox is keeping you informed of new posts that you probably won’t see linked elsewhere.”

RSS is not a curator of content, it’s an aggregator of content, but sites like Reddit and Hacker News are kind of both. Articles are collected there and self-curated by the community. Compare this to Fark, which is a news aggregator curated by Drew Curtis. What RSS doesn’t do is filter out all of the mediocre or non-relevant articles that inevitably appear over time no matter how targeted the blog. Far better to find a community around a subject you like and have articles aggregate and share there. This is the difference between Twitter proper and Twitter lists. The former is mostly noise and the latter is much more concentrated. Apps like Hootsuite can also help curate with search lists for keywords.

RIP Google Reader. Long live RSS.

Comment (2)

  • Jason| July 3, 2013

    Great summary of the state we are in. I especially like instructions on how to deal with feeds that clog your inbox. Cut them out.

    Google bought up all of the competitors and then shut them down. It that ecosystem, Google was so big and handled the job reasonably so there was no need for additional innovation from the market. Prior to that, there was all kinds of new things coming out in this space. Now that the marketplace is open again due to the (foolish imho) decision of Google, we all of a sudden see great innovation and new competitors rising up. It’s like the desert floor after a rain. Goes to show what a damaging effect a monopoly can have.

    I’m using feedly and am amazed they’ve ramped up so quickly. They are doing a great job.

    • Erich Stauffer| July 5, 2013

      “Desert floor after a rain” – I like it.

      I’ve heard negative reviews from hard-core users about Feedly, but everyone else seems to like it. Since writing this I’ve noticed a related trend: an increase in the centralization of organizational content. By this I mean that the web used to be a lot more decentralized and distributed. RSS was one way that tied all of that together. It was like a super-API. But now we have these massive, siloed gardens called Facebook, Google+, and Twitter. They are all actively closing down their access to outsiders and hoarding their users into the gates. Facebook was one of the first ones to do this, but is it their fault? It may have just been an inevitability. Think about the way America was founded: we spread out and went ‘everywhere’ (a decentralized and distributed environment) and then contracted into major metropolitan areas. Maybe it’s just a natural thing that humans do – or maybe it just makes sense from a conversion of resources standpoint.