March 14, 2013

Why must all my favorite web services leave me? I’m still peeved about yesterday’s announcement that Google Reader, the very best RSS reader out there, is being shut down. The move is ostensibly so the company can “better focus” on other things, like making products no sane person could ever want, even though Reader used very few resources – there were zero developers working on it in the past year, according to a former member of the team.

There have been death knells ever since Google+ came out, and probably before that, but I didn’t think it would actually go away for a few reasons:

  1. They spent millions of dollars in RSS technology as well as blogging software.

  2. As of 2010, the number of users was steadily increasing and RSS seemed healthy.
  3. The founders and most of the company itself used it:

    “Everyone from Google used Reader, from Larry and Sergey to the newest engineers. It’s such a beloved project.”

  4. It is the market leader, albeit in a niche field. With most everything else – search, maps, e-mail, mobile operating systems, cloud services, browsers – Google has a strong competitor or two, but Reader stood alone.

I think part of Reader’s lack of success was due to Google never really giving it a big push. There was very little marketing for it at all; a new user checking it out for the first time is greeted with example feeds from typical nerd sites like xkcd, which reinforces the “RSS is for nerds” mentality. Maybe they should have put it in Gmail, like they did with Google Buzz, strengthening the “it’s like e-mail for websites” metaphor. Google Chrome has no built-in RSS detection (there’s extensions you could download), which is completely inexplicable for a modern web browser, particularly one made by a company with a vested interest in feeds.

There’s already a number of alternatives out there but so far the ones I’ve seen lack some of the functionality, are slow, and/or have unpleasant designs. Still, here’s hoping a great one will come out soon.