I’ll freely admit I was part of the vocal chorus crying “NOOOOOOOO!” when I woke up yesterday to the news that Google is shutting down its Reader RSS feed product. Like many people, I’ve been using feed readers of one kind of another since well before Google entered the market, but (also like many people) I’d succumbed to Google’s ubiquity and switched to Reader pretty much as soon as it was stable. It’s the first item in my Google products ‘black bar’; its tab is generally the one which stays open the most in any given day; it’s the source of almost all my blog and news site visibility, and even when (because I am a geek after all) I try out other readers I still take the easy option and ‘sync with Google Reader’. Why wouldn’t I? I already have everything I follow carefully categorized and sync’d up across all my other devices.
In fact, so many other RSS apps and services use Google Reader’s API as a base that I suspect an awful lot of people who think the Google news doesn’t affect them are in for a shock come 1st July.
But with a little reflection, I found myself wondering if this change might not be a good thing. I don’t wholly buy into the ‘decline of RSS’ which has been cited in a lot of the discussion around the Reader news – I think it’s a channel which offers a lot which can’t be achieved by other means, and that it will be a while before there’s anything else quite so useful to take its place. But I do buy into ‘the decline of RSS reader development’ which hit in the wake of Google’s descent on the space. A lot of previously well-featured and well-supported desktop client readers pretty much vanished when Reader appeared, while others took the path of least resistance and integrated with Reader’s API. Innovation in the category took a nosedive.
Yet the shock of the Reader news had barely subsided before some positive developments began to strike me. Within hours of the announcement, Feedly declared that they had been preparing for a Google shutdown and have been developing their own clone of the Google API which will allow a seamless transition following the termination of Reader. Others have followed with news that they too are planning ways to cover the gap left by Google’s decision, and even advance the space by incorporating areas like social media and other communities which already offer both news and commentary, like Reddit.
So it’s possible that given the depressive effect on innovation in the RSS client market that Reader had, its departure may be more like the removal of a millstone around development’s neck than the descent of an axe on the RSS space as a whole.