The much maligned shutdown of Google Reader has been discussed to death leading up to its discontinuation. I had originally begun drafting this post around the shutdown announcement in early July. After writing some amount of “too many” words on the topic and reading way way too many words on the topic, I sort of lost interest and let it sit, bringing us to early December. A passing mention of the Google Reader shutdown in post or comment somewhere on the internet got me thinking about this again.
A heavily edited post follows, detailing my history with RSS, how I ended up on Google Reader, and where I ended up going. The primary takeaway that I’ve come to after this span of months is how resilient technology/services can be when they are built with/on open standards. Had this been a more modern web “fad” like any number of social networks there would be very few options to use the exported data. From a library point-of-view it is important to utilize and promote open formats and services that will make providing perpetual access both possible and sustainable.
I’d like to take the opportunity to join the many, many, people talking about the Google Reader shutdown. While I may be a victim of the echo chamber where I hangout online, it seems that the great deal written about this shutdown not only shows how good (=convenience*quality) Reader is but also represents the impact that the service has. The panic surrounding the shutdown may reflect the realization of having given in too much to a single entity like Google, although I may be speaking only for myself here. While it has been an inconvenience to settle on a new solution for reading my RSS feeds, the shutdown has served as an impetus to find a better and more sustainable/less vulnerable solution.
RSS is tons of fun.
I remember my first exposure to RSS, sort of shrugging and wondering what really was the point, but playing around with it nonetheless. At the time I was an undergrad studying Media Studies and Political Science, specifically conducting content analysis of the coverage coming out of many different news organizations. In hindsight this type of research almost seems tailor made to utilize RSS, but at the time I didn’t see it, that is until the morning after subscribing to my first feeds. When my computer and I woke up the next morning I watched as the RSS client magically populated all the stories from all the newspapers that I had subscribed to the night before. It was like having my own wire service. During big news events,especially elections, the rapid rate of updates coming from all over the web was intoxicating for a news junkie like me. I was hooked.
The efficiency of not having to visit the same site over and over checking for updates coupled with the ability to monitor less frequently updated sites changed the way I interacted with information. The openness of the protocol was excellent, simply export and opml file and try different readers on different computers running different operating systems- no problem, no lockin.
After years of my feeds humming along nicely in my local client I got a smartphone. The smartphone, as fuel for adoption of hosted data/services far and wide, came into my life and disrupted my personal computing. With regard to RSS I now thirsted for synced feeds among all my devices and workstations. At this time, looking through iOS RSS app options I kept seeing Google Reader syncing as a widely touted feature and went ahead with importing my feeds. Google reader provided a web-based central location and reader for all my feeds. Just about every iOS RSS client and many desktop clients supported Google Reader login, providing the whole package. I was already going to Google for email so nothing could be more convenient than reading my feeds from the same login.
Google Reader took over my RSS feeds and I never looked back. As accessing my feeds along with my email became routine, as a result the desktop clients fell away (helped in no small part by platform and device hopping) and my use iOS even lessened, although stayed synced to Google Reader. I got quite accustomed to starring articles and emailing them to myself.
The announcement of the Google Reader shutdown was somewhat surprising. With all Google services (all free services) the user isn’t the customer and reader falls into this category. Google has countless services and often seems to throw a bunch of products up to see what sticks. Those that stick are those with a sufficient user base and potential for monetization.
Google reader seemed like a no brainer, it was established, mature, I assume had a steady user-base, and provided Google with ample space to monetize in the same what they monetize search or gmail. The display of sponsored results and ads relevant to the user’s subscribed feeds would be a logical extension. I would also have assumed that it was another valuable data point along with search and gmail scanning.
While I don’t necessary have a unique perspective I have to believe that the move to shutdown reader is a move against open standards. Along with the reader shutdown, xmpp is being depreciated and caldav.
This is particularly unsettling given that Google often seems to get a pass from FOSS people for using linux and open source. While I don’t want to minimize Google’s contribution to open source projects and the community, their most recent move seems to indicate that they are pulling inward and attempting to close off in some sense. It is also worth considering that Google has forked many projects long ago to create their own specialized systems. Not that I have any objection but they do not exist to support the community. The Do No Evil seems to be going through a realignment.
With the shutdown imminent I have read endless discussions about the merits and features of different replacements. A future post will detail my replacement process. Regardless of where I go from Reader I hope to avoid having to make another change anytime soon, RSS has simple in the name, I don't ever want to have to over think this again.