Yesterday Google announced it will shut down its free RSS aggregator, Google Reader, prompting outcry from the blogosphere. Some eulogized. Others petitioned.
“Rip off the Band-Aid and abandon RSS.” – Ben Parr, CNET
CNET columnist Ben Parr is in the first corner. Parr quit using Google Reader years ago in favor of social media, setting up a Twitter account for news tracking. He is perplexed by the public’s response, and pointed out the backlash against Google could be attributed to a small group of highly vocal of bloggers, themselves power-users dependent on the product.
He points out that RSS is not very user-friendly, which has limited mainstream adoption. He writes, “Twitter acquired mainstream adoption because following was as simple as typing in a username and clicking “follow.” Once Twitter took off, it was game over for RSS. All that remain are power users, and that doesn’t constitute a business.” It is true that Google Reader becomes cumbersome if you are tracking too many topics. Twitter and Facebook, in contrast, will re-sort their feeds using an algorithm to prioritize posts based on retweets, likes, shares, etc. He expects sites to entirely abandon RSS feeds over the next few years.
“RSS won’t be killed by social media.” – Casey Johnston, ArsTechnica
ArsTechnica writer Casey Johnston takes a different view. She acknowledges social media’s dominance, but notes that RSS is still in heavy use. She points to a petition which garnered 50,000 signatures in less than a day (and has since reached its target of 100,000 signatures). With such a successful product, she ponders, what else might Google be thinking? She speculates, “there’s a better—or at least a more-beneficial-to-Google—place for that RSS-like information to flow. That place is Google+.”
Google has struggled to make itself relevant in the social media world, and might be willing to go to lengths to spur usership of Google+. Johnston writes, “While I can’t say I’m a fan of squirrelly attempts to draw me into Google+, I must admit that RSS feeds could be a good fit.” By integrating RSS into the Google+ feeds, there is one less step to share the article, increasing exposure to more content and increasing opportunities for +1’s, comments, and shares. She also points out a similar technique could make it very easy for corporations to stream their RSS feeds straight into Google+ posts.
The case made by ArsTechnica is interesting. It’s hard to see RSS is disappearing that quickly. Even if RSS aggregators such as Google Reader fall out of favor as social media increases in popularity, RSS remains a ubiquitous standard for blogs and news sites. It’s not clear why Google would want to sound a death knell for RSS, especially if Facebook and Twitter would be declared the winners. It would seem more like them to leverage a product and usership to try to grow Google+, like when they turned Google Places into Google+ Local.
What does this mean at Applied Interactive?
Here at Applied Interactive, we’ve used Google Reader to track RSS for things like:
- Blogs of our industry thought leaders
- Google News queries for our clients
It’s true that Google Reader was a best-of breed RSS. It had some great features such as folders and the ability bundle RSS feed for easy sharing with a team. Best of all, it was free. While we’ll miss Google Reader, it’s only one tool in our arsenal, and we’ll adjust our workflows accordingly.