Industry observers have been saying for years that RSS is dead or dying. And yet, strangely, we still use RSS to disseminate and aggregate content today. If you're still not even sure what RSS is, click over to "What is RSS, and how can RSS help my business?" and then come back to our discussion today, because it's important.
The problem, what has everyone on Twitter and Google+ flummoxed, is that Google Reader, the undisputed King of RSS tools, is being shut down. Google announced that Google Reader will be discontinued, along with a running list of products, as of July 1. While many are crying foul, many other people like Christopher Dawson over at ZDNet are applauding the move and urging RSS users to embrace new technology. And still others have never even heard of RSS and don't know what all the fuss is about.
Did Google just kill RSS?
Fortunately, no. RSS is not dead, and frankly, will not be dying any time soon. Google's just been trying to dump this feature for a long time now.
According to a post on Quora that Mark Traphagen spotted, Google has been trying to shift resources off of Google Reader since 2008. They had a team of engineers devoted to maintaining Google Reader and felt those resources would be better served elsewhere. Let me repeat part of that: Google had a team of engineers. That means there was a significant expense to keeping Google Reader around, at least as much salary as a lot of small businesses, with no return. There was no ad revenue from Google Reader, and no growth path. While it does make us wonder what might happen to other Google services that aren't serving ads, where the axe will fall next, it's a decision that obviously took them a long time to reach and can't really be faulted.
But without Google Reader, and by extension, Google's support, will people stop using RSS? Nope. Here's why.
The idea for RSS was that individuals would use RSS to subscribe to news sources and get notifications as soon as there's new content. Millions of people still do that, but usage is not growing. If I had to guess, RSS usage has probably been in a steady decline. Why? Facebook and Google+ and Twitter. Why use yet another tool when you can simply open your favorite social network and see today's news and hottest stories? Facebook in particular wants to "give everyone in the world the best possible personal newspaper."
While that's fine for consumers, the people who are actually using RSS feeds the most today are tech journalists and bloggers like myself. We can't afford to get our news and information from social media - by that time it's already someone else's story! Instead, we subscribe to the blog and news feeds from the businesses and sources in our industry so that as soon as something is announced or released, we can write about it.
For instance, and ironically, the announcement from Google regarding the closure of Google Reader was posted to their blog. As a major player in the social media and tech industry, I watch Google closely and have subscribed to their RSS feed. I found out about this breaking news when I opened my Newsify app and brought up my Google Reader feeds. In other words, I was using Google Reader when I found out Google Reader was going to be shut down.
Additionally, content syndication sites like Business2Community.com and SocialMediaToday.com and others all depend on RSS feeds from their publishers for content. Without an RSS feed to nourish them, those sites would die off.
And I may be the only one doing this, but I've written about how I use RSS feeds from Craigslist to monitor new ads that fit specific search criteria so that I can quickly respond to potential business leads, without having to manually search throughout Craigslist daily.
Any business that is publishing news and information from their site is including an RSS feed, and millions of people are subscribing. These businesses aren't going to simply turn off their RSS feeds just because Google turned off Google Reader. So what do we do about it?
Google has provided a method, using Google Takeout, to export all of your feeds and data. The data can be particularly important if, like me, you've starred a lot of content and articles for later reading or future reference. The export will provide you with:
All of this data can be imported into a new service or app of your choosing.
So what should we use instead of Google Reader?
Actually, nothing. Wait. Do not waste your time transitioning all your data to a new service today. Just wait, and see what's going to emerge as a replacement. Developers and innovators have three and half months to fill a vacuum that Google just created. You don't think anything cool is going to come out of this? There's even a petition to save Google Reader going around, so maybe Google will recant.
Feedly is certainly an option. They're providing help with the transition, and have been a nice alternative all along. Feedly is constantly evolving so they may bring even more enhancements to the table now.
And Newsify, the app that I use daily and have recommended in the past, is going to be working on this issue. Unlike Feedly, Newsify was 100% dependent on Google Reader. Without Google Reader, Newsify doesn't exist, so you can bet they're going to be working on an entirely new solution (as they've stated on their website). Whether that's their own subscription system or something else remains to be seen.
For now, I'm going to continue to use Google Reader via Newsify and take a wait and see approach. While the news was shocking and disappointing at first, I'm actually excited to see what comes from this. I believe that this will result in an even better RSS tool and experience, and maybe even a revival in RSS usage!
What do you think?
Image courtesy of HeatherWeaver, Flickr.