When it comes to end-of-the-day news dumps, nobody does it like politicians. Google came pretty close last night, though, letting slip that on July 1, it would no longer support its Google Reader application and that the feature, which allows users to subscribe to blogs and news outlets via RSS technology, would be killed.*
The statement instantly sent the Web into an uproar. Some declared this the final nail in RSS’s coffin (the standard is so old, it predates the iPod). Others, such as Slate’s Matt Yglesias, argued that it would lead to a new cottage industry in the RSS business:
"The way I use RSS is through Reeder's suite of Mac, iPhone, and iPad apps […] my bet is that it and its competitors will actually thrive without the Google Reader bigfoot in their way."
I'm increasingly of the same mind. Not only has Yglesias's app of choice vowed to keep running, but so have alternatives like Feedly and Newsblur. It probably won't be long before the market becomes filled with new entrants. Let 100 Reader replacements bloom!
One such product is about to come from Digg, the social Web portal that famously rose, fell, and rose again. According to a blog post, the service is planning a Google Reader replacement that aims to bake in some of the old Reader's social magic:
"We’ve heard people say that RSS is a thing of the past, and perhaps in its current incarnation it is, but as daily (hourly) users of Google Reader, we’re convinced that it’s a product worth saving. So we’re going to give it our best shot. We’ve been planning to build a reader in the second half of 2013, one that, like Digg, makes the Internet a more approachable and digestible place. After Google’s announcement, we’re moving the project to the top of our priority list. We’re going to build a reader, starting today."
But Digg isn’t just looking to reproduce Reader; its parent company, Betaworks, also owns well-known Web properties like bit.ly, Chartbeat, and the now-defunct News.me. If Digg’s final product draws inspiration from those, it would get a major leg up on other independent developers without access to those resources. Imagine if Digg used Chartbeat’s real-time traffic analytics to tell readers which stories in their subscriptions were popping at any given moment. Or if users chatted about articles using News.me’s filter-rich commenting system, which allowed readers to screen out trolls and other distracting elements. (This would be a boon to the Google Reader faithful, who were appalled when Google did away with the app's robust commenting system.)
The death of Google Reader will be painful at first. But if it opens up a new universe of ways to read RSS, it might not be so terrible after all.
*Google cites declining usage of its RSS tool as a key reason for switching Reader off — so if you're unfamiliar with RSS, you're not alone. The technology allows users to receive news-service and blog updates in one, unified inbox. In some ways, RSS was the first stab at creating a personalized newsfeed. RSS technology will outlast Google Reader — you can switch to other services freely — but this marks the end of an era.