A few months before its eighth birthday–on July 7, 2013–Google will be shutting off its Google Reader service. Reader, for those who don’t use it, aggregates RSS feeds.
RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. Websites use it to announce when they have a new post and users can then subscribe to those announcements (called RSS feeds) to be constantly updated. If you sign up for email announcements for a blog you like, for example, you get constantly notified. Maybe even annoyingly so. But with RSS, you can sign up and get the update when you want (or still have the notification announce itself). They run behind a lot of websites too. Almost every podcast uses RSS to deliver their new episodes.
But RSS feeds aren’t just for reading (or listening); they’re very helpful for job announcements or emergency updates.
Google is closing the service due to declining usage (though they acknowledge the service has “a loyal following”). That loyal following took to Twitter in an uproar about the service’s closure and Reader alternatives are now seeing enormous amounts of new signups.
There’s even the ReplaceReader website (www.replacereader.com) where castaways can vote for their favorite replacements (using Twitter, which no longer supports RSS feeds either).
Currently the most popular replacement, Feedly has both desktop and mobile device versions, though the desktop version works as plugins for web browsers. Firefox, Chrome and Safari are all supported. According to the developers, no Internet Explorer option is planned at this time. Feedly is free.
The second most popular alternative is NewsBlur. It has a web-based interface and mobile apps. Besides integrated sharing options, its functionality resembles Reader the most. NewsBlur was free until the Google Reader closure announcement, when thousands flooded the servers; it’s currently only available to new users if they pay. It does sound like the service will return to a freemium model (for free, you only got sixty-four feeds) once the new signups have calmed down.
Some technology pundits have opined Reader’s demise will lead to the first development of RSS feed readers since it came along. Google Reader did such a good job; the free service obliterated the competition (both pay and free).
Over the last few years, most major sites and technology platforms have done away with RSS–an open source format for freely sharing information. Apple used to tout it, but no longer does (though the functionality still survives). Services concentrating on ad sales have also turned their backs on RSS, as no one has successfully monetized it. Twitter turned off RSS feeds. Google+ never offered them.
Hopefully new app development will breathe life into the format, which has never fully been developed.
Any 2013 RSS article, however, needs a mention of Aaron Swartz. His story makes Google Reader’s closure seem trite. One of the format’s principal creators, Swartz, killed himself in January. A freedom of information activist, Swartz was hounded by the U.S. attorney’s office for conspiring to distribute legally downloaded scholarly journal articles. The U.S. attorney wanted Swartz to serve thirty-five years (while the actual rights holders had dropped all charges).