Google kills Google Reader

The news broke on Twitter: Google is closing Google Reader. People overreacted since t=0; some did voice opinions of reason while some got taken away by their wrath against Google. Frankly, I’m not that broken up. I’ll explain myself.

The context behind RSS

In April 17, 2012 I was writing the following:

[Twitter is instant] RSS is not instant, yet it is contemporary. Twitter is like Reuters and Associated Press; RSS is like Time and The Economist (or any other similar media outlet based on your interests.) A good curated news platform.

It is a bitter truth but Twitter clearly killed RSS. Mainly because of time relevancy (“insant vs contemporary”), social and sharing context. We must accept this—it happened. The average Internet user didn’t know what RSS or Atom is and couldn’t bother learn it. That’s why RSS couldn’t get mass adoption. It felt weird despite syndication as a notion and practice being extremely well-known and used by many in great scale.

Reader’s shutdown is both ex– and unexpected. Expected because, let’s face it: it never took off with mass adoption as a product in Google’s online suite. Unexpected because we, geeks, knew that Google knew how beloved this product was in our niche. But this is business, not a charity.

All in all, though, RSS is not dead. There are many people who still use it as their medium of choice for receiving news and keeping track with selected blogs and websites—there’s evidence for that thanks to @asterisStorify. And they’re vocal about it. But not being dead doesn’t necessarily mean one is alive and healthy. I think RSS is in some kind of zombie status. Semi-dead, semi-alive. We all loved it (and still do—RSS is the reason the blogosphere took off and why many blogs got substantial readership, this one included. I still remember the 2008 days.) but the majority of us moved on to other media which were not RSS competitors but did the same thing better.

Why I’m not mad at Google and some youthful optimism

Reason #1

As said: this is business, not a charity. Google is a for profit company with discrete and specific goals and a certain path to meet them. We can’t be emotional or hold Google morally responsible because it kills a product. It’s so kindergarten.

Reason #2

Your data is still free and Google’s a safe place for it. They still offer export features of your .xml RSS data. If they didn’t offer an export feature, only then it’d be vendor lock-in. And it’s hard to suppose that even if they were to close Google Drive they wouldn’t also offer an export feature. This isn’t a small startup, it’s a public company.

Reason #3

When Google Reader came into existence it nearly killed all desktop RSS clients. “Client innovation completely stopped for a few years until iOS made it a market again — but every major iOS RSS client is still dependent on Google Reader for feed crawling and sync.says Marco Arment, Instapaper founder. And he continues, “It may suck in the interim before great alternatives mature and become widely supported, but in the long run, trust me: this is excellent news.” I have to agree. There’s a great market out there—remember RSS is not dead, Google Reader is.

Marco’s long run is what I call youthful optimism. Now is the time to innovate, build and challenge the publishing status quo. If you’re into RSS, that is.

posted: March 14, 2013
under: Google

4 Responses

  1. chris says:

    Great post. “Now is the time to innovate, build and challenge the publishing status quo”. I totally agree.

  2. Giannis Tolios says:

    I agree with most of your points, but I’m not sure about twitter being a viable substitute of RSS. I tried migrating my feeds to it and I found that it just didn’t cut it. I use RSS to get a “distilled” portion of the news and other updates about things that interest me. The twitter accounts were cluttered with stuff that just got in the way of my “getting informed” experience. Social media are based on very different notions and are well, too social. I think there will always be a need for a dedicated RSS reading service.

  3. elias diab says:

    Apart from being a Reader user myself, and Google’s decision affecting my everyday internet life, what worries me most is the ease that Google can pull the plug off a product, no matter what is its user base.

    For example, google reader, still drives significantly more traffic than G+.

    Do you trust Google? Do you have a backup of your Gmail?

  4. Apostolos says:

    @elias I do trust Google to let me export my data in case Gmail goes down.

    But it’s not Google that can easily pull the plug—most can; from small startups to big behemoths. I think the key point here is, aside Reader’s shutdown, that by the moment you store your data in and depend on a third party for that, there is inherent risk about given party’s viability. It’s a risk we all take, otherwise we’d all be Stallmans.