The Death of One RSS Reader

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Last Chance to See

Google Reader is about to be shut down, and most people who would care have already found a replacement. Personally I have not logged into my Google Reader account for a while, not since I moved on. There are a lot of alternatives available and apparently Feedly is a fairly popular alternative, though there are a number of other ones out there. Personally I have already switched to Tiny Tiny RSS, a self-hosted solution like Fever. Google Reader’s sunsetting also saw a number of other unexpected alternatives competing for attention. Digg apparently has a reader and Flipboard now lets you migrate your RSS subscriptions from Google Reader to your account via their app.

There is one thing these alternatives will struggle to replace and that is Google Reader’s popularity. While Feedly seems to be the most popular alternative, it still does not have the same level of support for its API that Google Reader had. As the proverbial 300lb gorilla for years, Google Reader was the default choice, and as such, it was used to power a lot of other cool apps, including Feedly and Flipboard. No one else seems to have this. You could argue that none of the alternatives are likely to either.

The Death* of RSS

Some have asked; are RSS readers necessary anymore? These days shared links on platforms like Twitter, Linkedin and Google Plus are a far better and more popular way to keep up with the news. Other tools like Flipboard seek to make it easier to browse content from your social media profiles, and their magazine feature creates another way to curate and share information.

Ideally, following people who find and share great information is a far more effective model for generating your own curated flow of information from people you trust to provide you with what matters. Though depending on how often they post or you check, you might miss a few things.

There are more ways to approach this problem though. Other tools like Trapit and Prismatic try to source the best content based on your own tastes and what you actually interact with. These tools seek to find information based on what you are interested in, and not on who you happen to follow at the time.

An RSS reader can easily do a number of things the tools above can’t. It is easier t0 avoid missing something interesting if you were not looking at Twitter for an hour. Most RSS tools provide search tools, more or less turning them into a simple Custom Search Engine. Finally a good web-based RSS reader with app support and a device agnostic web interface simplifies managing information.

Niche Tools and Niche Audiences

Subscribing to RSS feeds never seemed to be mainstream. For most people, RSS readers never seemed to be an option for managing the information firehose that is the Internet. Ever. Tools like RSS readers were used by niche audiences, some journalists, bloggers, professionals and a small, slightly more technically-minded minority of the online population.

Over time some have moved away from relying on RSS readers, replacing them with some of the tools mentioned above. However a loud, vocal and engaged minority still seem to care, as we saw when Google announced the end of Google Reader. Ultimately though it is still just a minority.

* Death may or may not involve actual death, and in fact it is incredibly silly to argue that a technology is ‘dead’ or ‘dying’ simply because one way of using one niche implementation of it is declining. It makes as much sense as arguing that printing is dying because newspaper subscriptions are down.

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