Thursday, March 14, 2013

Google Reader is Dying, RSS Isn't

The Internet is once again melting down: Google has decided to close shop on Google Reader. People are not amused. I can kind of see why Google might think Reader wasn't worth their time. Feed readers have been around for a decade, which in Internet time is essentially forever, and they still haven't attracted mass appeal.

But consider this problem:

Let's say there are handful of sites that I get information from. For example, a popular news site, some dude's blog, a community site and a forum. How am I supposed to keep up with all this content?

I could manually visit each of them, but depending on how many sites I want to read, this will get old quick. Sites that don't update content regularly but when they do I'm eager to read it, suffer the most in this scenario. After checking for new content a few times and not seeing it, I'm probably not going back to that site again.

RSS and feed readers elegantly solve this problem. You put all the sites in one location, and visit that one location to find out what's new. A site that posts 10 times a day, and one that posts monthly, can be kept up with just as easily.

You could argue that over the years major players have surfaced that will do this aggregation for you. I don't need to visit 10 different pop culture sites when a single visit to Buzzfeed will do. And you could also argue that services like Twitter provide a stream of headlines that can replace a news feed. But both of these arguments miss the point. They leave the above problem unsolved. And in a world where everyone is a publisher, we've got more streams of content on the web today not less. Feed readers are more important than ever.

And to those who suggest the demise of Google Reader as a sign that RSS itself is dead, I'd have to disagree. RSS is a simple and powerful mechanism for sending around information. In many respects, it's a great equalizer: CNN, Twitter, the status of your printer, the contents of your fridge, can all be codified as RSS streams. I'd expect my Mom to care about RSS as much as I do about the pipes that live behind the walls in my house. We just want everything to work. And when her new TV starts showing her CNN headlines, the latest photo updates from my brother and articles from my blog, she'll be happy. She won't care or even know that the whole shebang is powered by RSS.

Google is stepping out of the market feed reader market and I say good for them. Before Google Reader there was a healthy ecosystem of entrepreneurs battling it out to see who could win the feed reader game. Google Reader squashed that. With them leaving the space, it should make room for the little guys to matter again. The problem of making it easy to track content from disparate sources is still there, and the person who solves it will win big time.

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