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Friday, March 22, 2013

The Death of Google Reader: Did Email Kill the RSS Star?

Alas, the day has come. We knew it was coming and we were all just digging in our heels waiting for the day. I admit I'm not as mad as before, as the dust has settled off since they killed sharing and replaced it with a very limited Google+ sharing feature (on top of the "send to" feature that was there before). At the same time we see other "social networks" of Google's (Youtube) hitting over a billion active users. Compared to that, Google Reader was minuscule.

With all that though, there's no doubt to those of us, the most devoted and perhaps heaviest users of Google Reader (I saw some stats that I promised not to share that suggested before Google Reader killed sharing I had some of the highest numbers of shares on the site), will miss the service. Like, a lot. So much that you see all of us bloggers that depended on its superior interface (which works best in Ninja Mode, btw) screaming from the house tops like little children. Many are even screaming that the death of Google Reader is the death of RSS and the beginning (or end?) of the death of "open". Truthfully, there is nothing else out there like it and most of us don't know what we're going to do.

With all that I can't help but wonder if the paradigm has just shifted. Users have spoken. While RSS is great for B2B applications of sharing information and likely won't go away, from a consumer perspective I think email has won this battle. If your site, which previously had a "subscribe via RSS" button on it doesn't also have a "subscribe by email" button, it probably should. It is evident to me that while many are searching for a new RSS reader that the answer for many trying to guarantee delivery of content will actually be email. In many ways Google Reader is forcing many of us to simplify.

The advantage RSS gave us is that for every site that implemented it it gave more than just a way for Google Reader users to subscribe and get updates one-by-one with their "j" and "k" buttons on their keyboards. It gave every user on the web a way to consumer information any way they wanted. And for that, I'm sad. Google Reader was the last straw, supported by a great brand that made it official.

As much as I hate it, I'm afraid we're headed towards the death of open ways to consume information. Every website is being forced to create their own APIs for accessing information, and there is now no good reason to use a common standard as simple as RSS to allow consumers to consume information on your site.

There will be a day when we all look back and remember "the roaring 90s/00s" where anyone could consume any data they wanted on the web. The problem is businesses found easier ways to make money and RSS never found a way to fight back.

I hope I'm wrong. I hope RSS makes a come-back. If not, I hope some other standard comes available that makes the web a more open and connected place again. I hope big businesses like Google and Facebook and Microsoft will fight for that and provide solutions to make these things more widely available. Thus far they have let me down though.

With the death of Google Reader, a little piece of me dies. But with it, another open standard, email, replaces its stead. My hope is that even while RSS is not as important as it used to be, we continue to see businesses and organizations and websites and mobile apps provide means to allow consumers to consume information, at a minimum, through the open standard of email.

Until then, I'm going down with the ship. I'm not giving up, and we'll find a solution that fixes this big mess we're in right now.

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