Sad to see Google Reader go? Come on, folks...it's 2013.

Sad to see Google Reader go? Come on, folks...it's 2013.

Summary: RSS is a comparative dinosaur in a world of social sharing. I'm going to get so much hate mail for this post.

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TOPICS: Google
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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 David Morgenstern 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.

Topic: Google

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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57 comments
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  • False Premise

    See Chris, there's a false conclusion being drawn here. It says that since Twitter exists and people post links on twitter, that there's no need for RSS anymore. That's like saying that Mass Effect 3 didn't need a single player campaign because they introduced multiplayer.

    RSS is excellent because it takes very low bandwidth, very few system resources, and enables the user to, at some level, determine the content. This is, in fact, useful.

    Joey
    voyager529
    • Twitter?! Really?!

      Twitter isn't the same at all. I'm sure for a journalist it looks like a great deal, because you're networking and you have to communicate with people anyway. But for consuming news, I don't want to rely on someone else's tastes. If I buy a magazine I don't ask my wife which articles I should read, I look at the whole damn thing myself. Using Twitter as an aggregator is a good way to be misinformed and miss a ton of cool stuff. But for you, it's not a magazine, and it's not entertainment, you HAVE to subject yourself to the whims of popularity to get your job done. HUGE difference. Twitter isn't even a thing for real people, it's for celebrities and groupies. Facebook is what normal people use, and mine is full of stupid requests, obnoxious ads and 0 people who share my tech interests. And I know I'm an outlier, thanks, that's the WHOLE reason I'm online.
      solomonrex
    • Twitter

      is useful, sometimes, but there is so much junk, that it is difficult to find the good stuff. Plus, you need to "be there" to see the stories.

      With RSS reader, if I am offline for 12 hours, I can instantly see all the new stories I haven't seen, listed nicely in bold. In Twitter, I would need to scroll backwards through thousands of posts.
      wright_is
    • Mass Effect 3? Really?

      Would've thought the natural pick for that analogy would be SimCity...
      buckybone
    • we all need an UPGRADE not just a replacement

      Well, a replacement would be nice indeed, but it can’t really match the original iGoogle and doesn’t really add value to your startpage... I feel it’s somehow a downgrade from the original iGoogle.

      You you will enjoy the change, I felt a real Upgrade after I start using http://startific.com

      It has a beautiful interface, you will love it!
      George Oneday
  • It's its

    It's sometimes spelled its.
    fuhrmanator@...
  • The irony....

    Of seeing a follow via RSS link at the top of a post about RSS being a dinosaur.
    eeeezypeezy
    • good one

      That was very good. I have found though that Twitter is excellent for web content, it has been gradually replacing bereader on my phone for a while now. I don't use Twitter to read Sally's update about taking her dog for a walk, mostly news
      gordongr
  • some people don't want to outsource everything to others

    I use twitter just as much as I use Reader, but often in Twitter I just find people linking and relinking to the same articles; sure with "different perspectives," but different perspectives on the same thing. You could say if I want to find other relevant articles from any one source I can just go to the websites myself and look around, but RSS still is the best solution to aggregate all the content from any one site in a simple, frustration-free format. Try finding the article you just saw on Wired's RSS feed on the Wired homepage. It will take you a second or two at least, and sometimes it's buried on some other page. I guess Google would just say that for people like me there are other options, and since that's evidently their executive decision, I'll go somewhere else. But don't pretend that something as personal and distinct as the articles I read and the feeds I follow on Reader couldn't be monetized in targeted ads. It's just a failure of imagination on Google's part. They could have left Reader on autopilot and it would have been fine.
    urbandk
  • My google/ig home page...

    has 53 RSS feeds. It allows me to read my daily internet net sites in 10 minutes 4 times a day. It replaced email notifications and any reliance at all on Twitter and Facebook. Yes, I know that google.com/ig has announced its demise, I have a similar function on my Yahoo home page, but Google and the Teahouse look so much cleaner. I hope that RSS / Google Reader will be abandoned but not deleted from the internet. Hey, Google, if you don't want to maintain it, give it away or open source it.
    William Chinn
    • replacement alternative

      Hi William,

      If you're looking for an alternative to skim headlines, please give Skim.Me (http://skim.me) a shot. We're a startup that will be releasing soon to help you keep up at a glance. Part iGoogle, part Google Reader.
      ClintonWu
  • Actually, I agree

    RSS will always have its uses, but social media is no longer one of them. Google never owed us (free) users anything, and to make for us a niche product is not their responsibility.
    Master3
    • Really?

      I'm still half trying to figure out what your first sentence even means. How is "social media" a "use" of RSS? Do you mean the same way that Twitter and Facebook are more or less an endless system of RSS Feeds, XML, and MetaData/tags?
      malna
  • Two flaws with your logic

    1. Many of those articles that pop up in your Twitter stream were curated by someone using RSS, and likely Google Reader. Just because you're not using it doesn't mean the people who are curating content for you aren't.

    2. Twitter is only searchable based on the headline. RSS is searchable/filterable based on a much larger amount of data/metadata. If I don't want to just dip my toe in the Twitter stream and see something interesting -- if what I want instead is, say, articles that talk about a very specific topic, e.g., LinkedIn profiles or photovoltaic cells, Twitter isn't much help.
    ScottAllen
    • totally agree.

      Your first point is excellent, the author basically admitted that they are a freeloader. Who is going to do all the 'tough' work of reading a variety of news sources? Not this blogger!
      solomonrex
  • "Conversations"? "Social"?

    What a narrow view you have of the value of RSS. An what an immature suggestion that because "it's 2013" that people should leave RSS behind -- as if Twitter and other social media serve the same function. Is suggesting that useful technologies that happen to be a few years old are obsolete the way you convince yourself that you are cutting edge? It almost seems like you haven't even used RSS.
    KR_in_DC
    • But it's 2013!

      It's 2013 and if it's not "social media", then it's crap!! Obviously. :)
      KenMarable
  • Frustrated

    I use fine-tuned RSS feeds to keep on top of breaking news in specialised topics.

    Google Reader syncs across my PC and phone.

    Twitter is crap in comparison - I don't want to get alerts about people chatting about events. I want to read full news stories about the events.

    I want to see my Google real-time alerts (which I stream via RSS) ... I want the news blogs.

    After the shock this morning, I have tried to find another RSS product that will do for me what Google Reader does, and there doesn't seem to be one.

    PS. Dinosaurs were wiped out by a catastrophe. This is a catastrophe for me!
    klaatu69
  • Twitter and LinkedIn? You can't be serious.

    Try as I might, I have found Twitter to provide me with ~2-3 articles worth reading in a given week. There is so much unnecessary, self-serving garbage on LinkedIn that I question whether or not you even read high-quality content.

    RSS is the only easy way to make sense of a tremendous volume of information -- and do it on a smartphone, tablet or laptop. If I want to join the conversation, I can do that. If I want to share, I can do that. Unlike Twitter, articles don't vanish forever in a few minutes.

    I know RSS is clunky and perhaps not flashy enough for the modern era, but you know what? It works better, with less noise, better organization, easier sorting (I use Reeder and love it) and fewer corporate interests getting in the way. In contrast, you plan to let Google teach you what it is you want to read about? Good luck getting a balanced perspective... or uncovering anything that challenges your assumptions...
    DM Cook
    • I agree.

      I barely spend any time on Twitter anymore unless its to either talk to someone directly or share a contest link. There's so much that's garbage on it, even though I've carefully curated my network on there. LinkedIn articles aren't much help, either.

      Google Reader was the only easy, organized way I could read the 12 blogs I most like to follow quickly. I check in once a week, read the articles, comment where needed, and be done.

      If RSS is really going away, a lot of blogs need to improve methods to follow them. Many don't have email subscription and FB/Twitter posts are ineffective as they clear off the screen within minutes.
      cfbandit