This post is not going to be popular. It's probably going to bring out more than a few critics. It certainly doesn't represent the feelings of most of my colleagues here at ZDNet. But here goes anyway: It's time for Google Reader to go and time for it's loyal fans to step forward into 2013.
Google announced yesterday that it was retiring Google Reader as part of it's overall pruning of legacy Google Services. As noted,
I really don't understand the dissing of RSS and apparently I'm not alone based on the alarm on Twitter as well as worried posts on discussion boards, such as that for the popular NetNewsWire app on the Mac and iOS platforms. I've been a long, longtime user of NetNewsWire and use it throughout the day.
RSS, though, while very useful and pretty cool when it was released in 1999 (basically an eternity ago in Internet years), has not aged well in the hypersocial second decade of the 2000s. I'm not suggesting that just because something is old that it must be replaced. I don't even mind the UI of most RSS readers, including Google Reader (arguably one of the best). That's not what has aged so poorly (even if Google Reader does look a bit old school by current Web standards). What is in need of replacement (and has already, for many users, been replaced) is the approach to finding and reading content on an increasingly crowded Internet.
About a year ago, I stopped bothering with RSS entirely (up to that point, I'd relied heavily on Google Reader for feeds of news, entertainment, and fodder for my own writing, as do many tech writers). By that time, though, my Google Reader inbox was a mess of barely relevant, from countless blogs and sites that I'd discovered and with which I wanted to keep up. There was too much to read, too little time, and much of what rolled under my cursor had little to do with my interests for any given week, let alone a particular day.
Twitter, on the other hand, never failed to surface several articles worth reading, often from an author or three that ended up buried in my RSS feed. Since most of the people I follow on Twitter are at least peripherally involved in my primary fields of interest (education, search, digital marketing, and sustainability), all I had to do was dip my toe in the river of Twitter for a few minutes and I had what I needed. I usually ended up with a couple things that I didn't even know I wanted.
I've made a point not to fill my Twitter feed with an echo chamber of exclusively like-minded individuals, so I generally had balanced perspectives in my reading and made use of what was essentially a crowd-sourced, personalized RSS reader. Facebook tends to be more for interpersonal commmunications for me, but LinkedIn has become a very useful source of current, relevant reading as well. The same can be said for Google+. RSS? That's just a mess created by a Web that has proliferated so dramatically that my little set of favorite sites and authors was woefully inadequate to uncover the wheat hidden amidst all of that chaff.
RSS readers don't exactly lend themselves to conversations either — the sorts of conversations that happen quite naturally on social media (including social bookmarking/linking sites like Reddit). These conversations add a great deal of value to what we find on the Web and help build context in overwhelming volumes of information.
It's no wonder that Google has seen such a drop in usage that they could no longer justify keeping the product active. Although I know it's a bit Big Brother for most folks, I personally can't wait to have Google Glass make reading suggestions to me (and then read me the articles I select) based on current trending topics in areas where I frequently search, my social feeds, and my recent writing. Obviously, this extreme vision of the "Web 3.0 RSS reader" isn't for everyone, but it is, after all, 2013. We can reasonably expect every service we use to be social, personalized (preferably automatically), and look great on mobile. And Google Reader just wasn't cutting the mustard.