Someone took my feedbag


With the exception of the web browser itself (and I have three different browsers open right now as I write this, as I often do), it’s hard for me to think of a digital tool more integral to my life than Google Reader. I probably do the majority of my online browsing inside Reader,  I use it across platforms and devices, treat is as a “bounded search” of websites that I trust, and I’ve worked it deeply into my workflow via its many useful features and a number of IFTTT recipes. So the closure of Google Reader will be a major pain in the ass, and judging from the response of my peers I am not alone in that.

I’m inconvenienced, but I have a hard time working up much outrage. I see something almost pathetic in begging Google to take pity on us and keep the service open. It was a free service, and we never paid for it with anything except our privacy. Obviously, Google decided that intimate knowledge of our reading habits was not worth maintaining the service, and really, what right do we have to complain? To hell with them. There are options moving forward. And yeah, it’s a wake-up call.


But thinking about the bigger picture, a familiar melancholy is amplified. RSS has always been special to me, going back a decade now, it was the first text formatting language that I really loved. It built in dead-easy deeply accessible interoperability and hackability to rapid-fire grassroots web publishing. Back then, RSS support was a sign that an application was with it. And over the years I’ve come to see RSS as something of a benchmark protocol that gauges the health of the open web. So I place this as the latest episode in an increasingly sad story, a sequel to when Twitter discontinued RSS support.


Robert Scoble has not lost his knack for annoying me with his peculiar gift for fatalistic corporatist hype-mongering:

Wow. Google is closing Google Reader. Truth is I don’t use RSS anymore but I know lots who do. What killed this? Flipboard and Facebook for me. Prismatic too. The trend line was there: we are moving our reading behavior onto the social web. Normal people didn’t take to subscribing to RSS feeds. Heck, it’s hard enough to get them to subscribe to tweet feeds.

But this is sad. Particularly shows the open web continues to be under attack. We have to come into the walled gardens of Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn to read and share. Here’s a problem: a few of my friends have deleted their Facebook accounts. Dave Winer and Ryan Block, to name two famous examples.

So they will never see my words here. The open web is going away and this is another example of how.

Shorter Scoble: Pity to see the open web go, but I’m hopeful that mindlessly hyping whatever Silicon Valley is onto today will keep those consultancies and paid speaking gigs coming for me…. Hey look! The KARDASHIANS ARE TRENDING!!!!

I feel really bad for not getting back to Boris Mann when he proposed an RSS Wake. It was one of those ideas so appealing I couldn’t think of the perfect response. It would be fun to get the band back together. In the meantime, the proprietary social web will probably continue to tighten its stranglehold on the hit parade, but screw that loser scene… I’m happier making a racket here in the garage.

17 thoughts on “Someone took my feedbag

  1. I have to say the outcry over Google Reader has been nothing short of pathetic. Really? “Google is a corporation after all? Oh no? How will I go on?” Google Reader bores me. Google more generally bores me. But the abject is good and I can still find ways to read it.

    Now the death of RSS, that’s another thing all together. I’m not so interested in RSS for reading blogs (I agree with Winer the whole list of blog posts unread in GReader was annoying, felt like work and I stopped using it a year or so ago), I can the same thing in other ways with tools like Fever or what have you. What I like RSS for is mashing content into syndication hubs, and that needs to be streamlined. So RSS may or may not be dead, but its value remains for work we are doing to connect people in a community. Now, if we cut the corporate, centralized middle-machines like Google out of that there’s no real down side I can see. And if people stop reading blogs as a result, well….fuck em. Maybe the web will get a little smaller and focused again—at least for me—-and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

  2. Brian, you were the one who introduced me to RSS in the first place, and I completely agree with its import (as well as what Jim Groom says about connecting people to a community). For example, it’s the best way to read blog posts from people in #etmooc who don’t want to engage on Twitter or G+ for some reason, and so don’t tell the rest of us about their posts that way. I make a point to go to the etmooc blog hub feed at least once a week (should do more, I know) to read and comment on a few blog posts there that I didn’t catch through social media. And there are a bunch of blogs I follow through RSS outside of etmooc; I hate the idea of “subscribing” to blogs through email…. Really? I want to add even more emails to my inbox every day? Not.

    And yes, it’s about the RSS, not about Google Reader. I don’t see that going away, but then I’m not very up on these things.

  3. Jim – I think Winer also said something like Google’s dominance effectively gave it control over how RSS developed, that we’d been frozen in amber. Will this lead to an underground groping toward that streamlined the format for autonomous syndication hubs? Man, that would be fun…

    D’Arcy – Does that mean you will help me out when my attempt to install Fever on my server goes horribly wrong? We know how this story goes…

  4. Christina – I don’t know whether I should thank you or apologize to you for infecting you with syndication. The #ETMOOC syndication framework is a beautiful thing, and I hope to employ that model for a couple projects sitting on my hopper now. That combination of individual autonomy and promoting community and serendipity… I hope you’re right about RSS not going away.

  5. I should be thanking YOU for introducing me to RSS, of course! Syndication changed my life. But maybe we’re the minority? I don’t like just relying on social media b/c that doesn’t promote as much serendipity, I think. Don’t know if that’s enough for the rest of the world to keep using/supporting RSS. Even if others decide it can’t be monetized well & so not supported, there will still be some supporting it through more local means, perhaps, like self-hosted RSS (which I am too low-tech to figure out).

  6. Have to join Christina in saying Brian is the one who first introduced me, and then converted me, to RSS. Google’s decision to shut down Reader, clearly intended to push more and more people into Google+, makes me realize I do need to take this wake up call seriously and start fighting harder for the open web.

    Brian, thanks for your leadership and inspiration throughout the years. Perhaps the fight will start in earnest now.

  7. I don’t use google reader, but google / twitter turn off their services / APIs all the time.

    I have “some” experience of using RSS though, and agree that for general usage it is really handy.

    Google’s decision raises two questions for me

    1) Are they turning this off to make something new (a la Dart)? This of course risks the open like android open spreading, being more normative
    2) Where does it leave openness when mergers / acquisitions turn services off – (posterous, tweetdeck) – are services that we wish to use not important for companies to offer, or instead, is the value of internet companies tied instead the potential to monetise a userbase?

    Would perchance offer, as one galivants out the door like a behankerchiefed Georgian Cad, the suggestion that the open web is but an ether of both space and intoxication with which to sedate ourselves from the true hope, which may be, the democratic development of software

  8. @patlockley software is just a tool. the democratic development of culture sounds far more interesting.

    of course, software is a part of that. but I don’t *care* about software. I *care* about culture.

  9. The Fuss is Us. (inside joke for the other two amigos)

    The thing to worrisome about ReaderKill is a signal that the consumption of RSS, be it by people or other machines site, is unimportant. That signifies to people who create software that perhaps there is no need for their site to publish a feed. Google already has been signifying that for a while but how crappily itself implements RSS into its own blogging platform (via a cryptic URL only a robot can infer, a lack of feeds on its label feeds).

    The value of RSS we all know is both in the ability to make our managing of many web sites easier through Reader-ish software, but also for sites to communicate, via the syndication buses many of us steer, drive, and manage.

    And not having yet blogged this our in my own space, I shall hint that I am facing a decision on how to manage my own Feed2JS Service, which has been stumbling of late under demand. The stats suggest that among the normal long tail of singular users, are feed laden ad-driven sites that have as many sa 15 calls to my site.

    The management of the code and the service is going beyond my meager skills, and although I have issued repeated calls for code help, no one has really stepped forward to help keep this a free/open service. It costs me $180 a month to run that server, and the funds from the last go around are running out in June. And frankly I am having trouble seeing doing it when the heaviest users are a bunch of link bait sites.

    It’s not about the money, which could be raised again, its about getting some coders on board who can make it better. Cause I cant.

    There is free as in taking, and free as in doing.

    Starting my own plea for help.


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