How To Live Life After Google Reader

Why RSS is a people’s platform and how this was the cause of the tech giant’s termination of its popular service.

RSS is a core tool for trend spotters and information junkies. Social media tools, like Twitter, may provide robust platforms for discovering information but Google Reader can synthesize this mass of content, while allowing users to tailor what they read to their needs and interests. Because of these handy functions, it has become beloved by many across the globe and it follows that the news of its demise has been received with frustration. As PSFK Editor Dave Pinter, mentioned:

I consider myself a Google Reader power user and it has been an invaluable tool for keeping up with news on the web and doing research. It is all function and no flash, but that is exactly what I need. I’ve started my day with scanning feeds in Reader for years and I rely on it for work… The larger worry though is losing Google’s server power which could make any of these replacements not as speedy.

Pinter’s comments highlight that any service that replaces Reader will need to meet a number of conditions. It will require server power for ultimate performance and an interface that will help users wade through masses of information, as well as offering up the option of customizable content. Several existing platforms meet select requirements; Feed.ly, for example,may be a potential replacement for Reader, but its graphic design slows it right down. Zite and Flipboard are fast but have limited reach and scope.  None of these alternatives seem to match Google Reader, which was, and is, fast, extensive and easy to navigate.

The death of Reader, and the subsequent reaction to it, underlines our reliance on giants like Facebook and Google and highlight the need to diversify the channels through which consumers receive information. It is possible to turn to other platforms, like Feed.ly, Hootsuit, Zite, Flipboard, that serve the same functions as these behemoths, with less risk of waking up to radically changed settings and interfaces without user consent. On Twitter, users can create extensive lists of interesting people to follow, they can also revamp their Facebook usage so to use it more as a news reader than a social networking tool.

Assessing Experts’ Opinions on RSS Technology

The decision to shut down Google Reader met with a variety of responses. Some critics pointed to Google’s desire to prioritize profitability rather than its users, while others others lauded the development as a victory for social news. In Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator, author Ryan Holiday gave a context to the closure, bringing the issue of RSS decline to the table. Since RSS allows the reader to be in control, he argued, publishers and bloggers have a bias against it.

Whereas subscriptions are about trust, single-use traffic is all immediacy and impulse… The reason subscription (and RSS) was abandoned was because in a subscription economy the users are in control… RSS never became truly mainstream for this reason… It comes as no surprise that despite glowing reports from satisfied readers and major investments from Google and others that it would not be able to make it. So today, as RSS buttons disappear from browsers and blogs, just know that this happened on purpose

The New Yorker‘s Archive Editor drew attention to the lack of development for RSS users, reminiscing nostalgically that “using Twitter feels, to me, like joining a club; Reader felt like filling up a bookcase. It was a place for organizing your knowledge, and also for stating, and reviewing, your intentions and commitments. It kept a record of the things you meant to read but never did; of the writers you loved but don’t anymore.” Indeed, as Dave Pinter noted, RSS is primarily a functional tool that has not evolved over time, because it is more like an extensive archive for story-building than a network that encourages peer-to-peer interaction. This may explain why it has been stuck in arrested development. Why bother developing technology which will not encourage sharing and social networking?

RSS inventor Dave Winer hit back in a biting opinion piece, describing Google Reader as “a mailbox approach to news.” He stressed the importance of having users buy into a given service, emphasizing, “next time, please pay a fair price for the services you depend on. Those have a better chance of surviving the [tech] bubbles”. PC Mag framed his perspective succinctly by writing that Mr.Winer “feels as if Google is looking to do to news what companies like Apple have done to apps or Twitter has done to real-time information. Which is to say, restrict access to subscription news on a free level and generate some kind of business incentive for companies or users that want to continue to participate in such a process.”

Closing Remarks: Google ♥s Advertisers

British left-leaning newspaper, The Guardian, claimed that Google is in the midst of a vigorous ‘spring clean,’ of which Reader was a victim.

It’s easy to see the managerial reasons for killing Reader. Google is in the middle of a spring clean, trying to focus resources in fewer places. Even mature products with no apparent updates cost money to keep alive within Google’s internal and constantly-morphing infrastructure… But those core Reader users are worth more to Google than any random million Google+ posters. They are the journalists, the producers, the specialist communicators, who need to absorb hundreds and thousands of the web’s primary sources a day

However, to say that Google is simply going through minor changes is disputable.  There may be a larger goal in place to deepen the efficiency of its platforms for advertisers, including Chrome and Google’s app store. Not only has Google begun to eradicate ad blockers and browser extensions from its store, but it has also made efforts to tailor its services towards advertising and media agencies, as evinced through the Creative Sandbox or ProjectRe:Brief. The company’s reasons for shutting down Reader could potentially be traced to the difficulty it is having in reconciling an open platform while still serving the needs of brands and advertisers.

Even without Reader, the wealth of tools out there is immense and constantly changing. If someone is browsing the Internet the same way they were browsing six months ago, they are falling behind. Google’s rejection of RSS should not be taken as a universal statement, but it is what Google believes it must do to hone its vision for the future. Tech giants will continue to be disinterested in RSS because it puts users in control and is not an advertiser-friendly space. When it comes down to it, RSS is a people’s platform and destined to serve a niche user base. Technology may play a major part in today’s lifestyles, but it remains important to be skeptical about the permanence of anything giants like Google can provide.

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