When tech giant Google announced that it was pulling the plug on Google Reader and the service won’t be available after July 1, 2013, it stirred up strong reactions. Google cited decline in usage of the RSS feed service, which was started way back in 2005, as the reason behind its decision to axe the service. While Google may want us to believe its version of the story, the buzz the news of the closure has generated on the social networks tells a different story.
Badgering Google to change its decision, there has even been a petition directed to the White House, appealing the Obama government to request Google to reconsider its decision. It’s rather amusing and easy to laugh this off. However, the fact is, there may be some truth behind Google’s claim of declining usage, but it clearly doesn’t mean that there aren’t enough people who care.
Google Reader made keeping up with everything you cared about on the Internet so much easier. It was much like getting a fix of your daily newspaper. You could subscribe to the RSS feeds of your favourite site, blog etc. and you would get a feed as soon as the site or the blog was updated. Additionally, you had the option to organise these feeds into folders, star the feeds, search, email and even share them on Google+. And what made it all the sweeter was the fact that it synced across devices, so the feeds that you have read will be marked read everywhere. Simply put, it was the best RSS feed reader out there.
However, there has been a shift in the way people consume information. Rather than subscribing to feeds and skimming through tons of information, what they seem to prefer is reading something that those in their network think they may like or is recommended. Then they can get the latest information first hand directly from the source, say, by following their favourite author on Twitter. And there is no question of missing out on anything big as the social networks will be quite abuzz.
Though comparing the two will be foolish, the fact remains that today social networks are also emerging as a source of information with people pushing their content on these sites. Thanks to their popularity; today every site, blog and even brands are compelled to make their presence felt on the platform that is most popular amongst the masses. However, having said that, social networks will never be able to replace RSS. There are many users who crave for information, sans the fluff, and seek control on what they want to read, rather than being told what to read.
As a technology, RSS is still very much relevant. And the shutting down of Google Reader, which was no doubt amongst the best RSS feed services, shouldn’t be a cause of concern. RSS as a technology tool is still relevant and will continue to exist. Already there are tools and apps that offer RSS feed service; in fact, many of them used the Google Reader at the back-end. What they need to do now is to step up their offerings. Some of these tools – Feedly, Flipboard, Pulse, to name a few – have gained popularity as they have managed to grab the eyeballs by presenting feeds in a more appealing social manner.
Where Google also failed with Reader and received a lot of flak was when it limited the social aspects like following others and sharing links back in 2011. It was a step backwards, probably taken to promote Google+, which ended-up infuriating its loyal users. In all likelihood, this was the beginning of the end for Google Reader.
What we need is a service that is able to leverage RSS to bring information to users, while at the same time have features that will make it relevant and appealing today. Digg has announced that it will soon be launching a service on the lines of Google Reader; let’s hope it manages to fill the void that Google Reader will leave behind.