I’d been looking for some kind of handle on why the recent Google Reader Death Date announcement would affect more than a handful of geeks until I came across this post which explains:
Even if you don’t use an RSS reader, you still use RSS.
If you subscribe to any podcasts, you use RSS. Flipboard and Twitter are RSS readers, even if it’s not obvious and they do other things besides.
Lots of apps on the various app stores use RSS in at least some way. They just don’t tell you — because why should they?
Google Reader, of course, isn’t just a way to read RSS feeds online. Its API is used by a lot of apps and services that you might use — for example Reeder, my RSS reader of choice. So its going–away means temporary bad juju whilst everyone scrambles around in the dirt to become the next Google Reader. There are already at least 20 viable replacements. I wasn’t annoyed or upset by the announcement: like Marco Arment said, this is good news.
I’m positive that something good will replace it — hopefully something I can pay for.
What worries me is an increasingly popular opinion I’ve noticed: that Twitter and other social networks will replace Google Reader’s functionality. This is okay in some ways — you can, sort of, groom a little garden of twitter feeds which will lead you to interesting content. But there seems to me to be some severe problems with this.
1) Everyone with any kind of site which contains posts generates some kind of RSS feed, whether they know it or not, and if they don’t then you can make them. Not everyone cross-posts to Twitter. Not only that, if you follow a set of people in order to curate your own feed, you’re relying on second-hand interest: hoping that the people you follow have the same interests as you. And you have to sift through the 90% of inconsequential and trivial matter that your stream will contain. RSS gives more control.
2) Whilst it’s true that having too many RSS feeds in your reader can quickly cause burnout, it’s fairly easy to organize them in such a way that you avoid this. In my case I have a few folders: essentially categorizing my feeds into those I never want to miss, those who post infrequently enough and with enough decent content that I usually can easily keep up with them, and “Firehose” which I only delve into if I have extra time and nothing else to read. The great thing about an RSS reader is that you can actually decide whether or not you want to catch everything from certain sources. You just can’t get that with the “dip into the stream” philosophy that social media espouses.
3) Social Networks are trying to make money out of you. Not up front, but over time. This means that the content you get to see is (at least a little) affected by what’s going to make them money. This is why you see ads and promoted posts, and it means that you’ve lost another measure of control over what input you receive.
There are other objections, but the main gist of the problem is this: from this point on in history you are going to be assailed by more information, more available sensory inputs every year. Whereas before it was (arguably) acceptable to be more passive about what media you consumed (when there were 3 available newspapers and 4 TV channels) we don’t have the same luxury now.
If you don’t take control of what you’re reading, someone else will — and they probably won’t have your best interests at heart, just your wallet.
Published on March 20th, 2013