It has been a while now that Google announced it would close Google Reader, one of the most popular RSS readers, and since then lots of services and apps have rushed into what looked like a race to be the “best alternative”.
Digg launched its own version, Feedly also started working nonstop on its own independent infrastructure (which successfully launched), and it was rumored that even Facebook was working on some sort of reader.
Now, why did Google finish its Reader? According to Richard Gingras, Senior Director of News & Social Products at Google:
As a culture we have moved into a realm where the consumption of news is a near-constant process. Users with smartphones and tablets are consuming news in bits and bites throughout the course of the day — replacing the old standard behaviors of news consumption over breakfast along with a leisurely read at the end of the day.
The problem I saw with those statements was that they are wrong, at least in my case, and probably also in many other people’s case too: I usually read the news when I’m on the bus on my way to work, and I don’t normally read again until I’m on my way back home or right before going to sleep; I don’t normally read during the day.
Yes, Facebook is obviously a news source because I end up reading what my friends share, but in general, I still follow the “old” model of reading the news when I don’t have anything else to do.
That means I want to have control over the sources, I want to know what I have already read and what I haven’t, I even want to jump between today’s news and older news (perhaps some opinion articles that I found really interesting)… and that’s precisely the magic of the RSS readers: control over information.
Several of my friends have already moved into that model proposed by Google: reading news through their social networks, subscribing to their sources of interest. To some extent, the same kind of information can be accessed, but there are big differences and definitely less control: what if I want to read old content from several sources in a single place? what if certain blog doesn’t have a page on Facebook or Twitter? what if I want to go back to a post that is two months old?
RSS readers provide all these options and many more, but what would happen when the main provider closes down? would that mean that the RSS format would also die? In my opinion, RSS is as ready to die as Facebook itself, simply because the power of a platform is defined by its own users; and judging by the “gold rush” mentioned above, it’s clear that there are still people interested in reading their favorite news while enjoying a cup of coffee.