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 @asteris‘ Storify. 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
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.
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.
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.