I’ve been a heavy user of Google Reader for over seven years, so I was a little upset yesterday when I saw that, buried in a “spring cleaning” blog post, Google quietly announced that it was
killing retiring the web-based RSS reader on July 1, 2013.
RSS never went mainstream, so Google Reader was always sort of a geeky niche product. But, the people who used it, used it. It was (and is) one of the best way to efficiently scan and consume large amounts of information. If you were the kind of person who still used Reader in the age of Twitter and Facebook, you no doubt depended on it, making the announcement of its closure really sting.
And yet, the end of Google Reader was inevitable. Its user base was tiny in comparison to search and maps, and Google never made an attempt to monetize the product or make use of the massive amount of data it had on users and their subscriptions. Plus, it distracted from the company’s headline social project, Google+.
Life after Google Reader
Google Reader started its life as a web-based feed reader, but over time, its real value became its ability to act as a centralized place that other applications could sync against. Take, for example, the excellent Reeder app for iPhone/iPad. It1 lets me scan through my feeds quickly wherever I am and allows me to read items or take action on them (“star” it, send it to InstaPaper to read later, save the link to Pinboard for archiving and search). New items and read items are synced across all my linked reader applications and the Google Reader web app, so they’re always consistent.
Despite Google Reader effectively killing off competition in the market, there are other web-based feed readers available, so I think we’ll be fine on that end. In fact, I agree with Marco and think we’re going to enter the golden age of RSS readers:
Now, we’ll be forced to fill the hole that Reader will leave behind, and there’s no immediately obvious alternative. We’re finally likely to see substantial innovation and competition in RSS desktop apps and sync platforms for the first time in almost a decade.
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.
What we need going forward, however, is a canonical feed store/sync API to replace what Reader had evolved into. That way, any number of web, mobile, and desktop apps could tie into it and share feed information with each other. That is what made Google Reader so great, and so powerful.
The opportunity for App.net
In episode 13 of Glenn Fleishman’s “The New Disruptors” podcast (now my favorite interview show), Glenn talked to Dalton Caldwell, the creator of App.net (ADN). The big revelation for me was the discussion about what ADN really is. It’s not just the Twitter-like application they’ve built in alpha.app.net. It’s really about the infrastructure and tools they’ve built that allow developers to build other, more innovative applications on top of. As Glenn says, they’re more a Amazon Web Services competitor than a Twitter clone.
ADN already has programming APIs for messaging, file storage, and places. I think a “feed” API would a great addition, and allow for some interesting possibilities with the built-in App.net social features.
In fact, I noticed this morning that I wasn’t the only one with the same insight:
We’ve already made the mistake of entrusting an important piece of infrastructure to a free product. This time around, let’s put it in the hands of someone who’s interests are aligned with customers and developers, and who will charge some money for it. This is the perfect opportunity for ADN, and I hope they take it.
Specifically, the iPhone version ↩