Over the weekend Google announced they will be shutting down Google Reader (their RSS Aggregator) on July 1, 2013. This may or may not be a big deal to you. If you don’t use RSS, it’s not a big deal to you. I use RSS feeds every day. It’s a big deal to me.
If you don’t use RSS feeds, allow me to explain. Imagine you are the manager of a newspaper in a small town. In this town, there are 200 businesses. There are two ways to get news stories for your newspaper. One way is, every morning you could go visit every single business and ask the owners if they have any news for you. Or, you could set up a voice mailbox and have the business owners call and leave a message if they have any news for you.
That’s what RSS is. It’s a system that allows you to subscribe to updates from websites. I subscribe to RSS feeds of roughly 200 websites. Some of them are news sites like CNN and ABCNews. Some of them are tech sites, like Wired and Tech Crunch. Some of them are blogs, some of them are podcasts, and some of them are functional. Netflix has an RSS feed of new releases. You know those annoying websites that only seem to update once or twice a month? When they do, my RSS reader (Google Reader) adds a little “(1)” after their name in my list. That’s how I know something new has been posted. I don’t have to visit the site day after day after day wasting my time to see if something new has been posted. When they do, well, “Joshua calls me.”
There are dozens if not hundreds of RSS readers out there, most of them free. Some of them you have to install, some of them are browser plug-ins, and some of them (like Google Reader) are web/cloud-based. The reason web-based RSS readers work best for me is because I use multiple computers throughout the day. I use my laptop downstairs, my main workstation upstairs, my work computer, my phone, and my iPad. What’s so nice about Google Reader is that it keeps track of what you have read on their server so when you move to a different device, you don’t get the same news stories again. Remember our newspaper editor? Without RSS it would be like having to call all 200 business owners every time you moved to a different room. RSS isn’t used by everybody, but for someone like me who tracks a couple hundred different websites it’s indispensable. Some of you may be thinking, “Who cares? I get my updates from places like Facebook and Twitter!” Ah, but guess where the people posting the links you read are getting them from? That’s right, RSS feeds.
Google Reader is free, which makes it tough to spend too much complaining about its demise. For its part, this is not unprecedented by Google. They’ve set up lots of free projects before only to pull the rug out from under their users and shut them down. Without going all sour grapes, it does make you question the stability and security of Google’s other products. The reason Google offers free services is so they can glean information from your data and use it to market things to you. Apparently the information being gleaned from Google Reader wasn’t enough to keep it up and running. It does make you wonder what’s next.
Years ago I was using an online service to keep track of all my “favorites,” so that I could access them from whatever machine I happened to be using at the time. When that service closed down, I found an open source solution and installed it on my server. I’ve been using it for years and couldn’t be happier. No matter where I am, all I have to do is visit a page on my webserver and all my favorites are there waiting for me. There are other cloud and web-based RSS aggregators out there, but each time you get burned it makes it a little harder to trust the next guy.
Feedly, another online RSS aggregator, reported 500,000 new users over the weekend. Digg also announced that they plan on launching their own RSS aggregator. I think Google missed the mark here. RSS is nowhere near dead.Share on Facebook