Last week, Google caused a right kerfuffle by announcing the closure of Google Reader – the RSS feed reading service that lets you keep up with news and websites via the magic of syndication. They’ve blamed the closure on a desire to focus on key products, plus the decline of users on the service. They’re not saying they want to promote the use of Google+ instead, but we all know that is the case.
The instant reaction from most users is shock, horror, and a desire to find a replacement. Google have granted a grace period until July until they close it for good, but they haven’t made much effort in promoting alternatives. I tried out Feedly, and I’ve backed up my feed list, but I’ll wait and see if there are any exciting developments before I pin my hat to any particular replacement.
Aside from the “what am I going to do now” reaction, there have been two trains of thought on how this will affect RSS as a whole. Both stem from the fact that Google swamped the feed reader market with their free product and huge reach, thus stifling innovation. Some think their withdrawal will mean the death of RSS feeds, whilst others think it frees up the market for innovation to return.
I can see both sides. On the one hand, the news made me go and look at my RSS feeds in a fresh “do I really need this” light. There are a few personal sites I look at that don’t seem to have Twitter or another means of checking in. I’m unlikely to remember to go back to sites on a regular basis, so that could be an issue. Otherwise, I follow heaps of news sites that I can’t really keep up with, and now that I am more on top of recent podcasts (like Tech News Today) I’m not sure I need to fail at keeping up with all the stories from CNET and The Verge as well.
If Google Reader disappears, and I don’t get round to finding a replacement, would I really be missing out on that much?
On the other hand, I’m intrigued to see if innovation does thrive. I’ve got a couple of apps scattered about that are great feed readers, but they hang off the Google Reader structure. It would surely only take a couple of tweaks to be able to deal with the subscriptions themselves, and from there, the app-makers will be in full control. That in turn, could see feeds and readers develop. RSS itself has fallen woefully behind in terms of keeping up with standards and emerging web technologies, so this is something that needs to happen.
I can’t predict which way the RSS future will fall, but I think that something needed to change, and if Google being the bad guy is what is required to make it happen, well, I think they can take it.