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An ideal replacement for Google Reader: Part 2
Inbox vs Stream

It’s been much longer than I intended when I wrote part 1 of an ideal replacement for Google Reader. But I haven’t forgotten that I promised a part 2

As you might recall the first (and probably most important) requirement for an ideal replacement for Google was that the back-end syncing service become an open standard. Think of it like IMAP for feed readers.

Ok so that is the back-end, what about the front end? You know the part people actually see and interact with?

Even before the untimely demise of Google Reader there has been a long-standing debate about whether the inbox model that most RSS readers used even made sense anymore. The argument goes something like this: Trying to follow a lot of feeds in your RSS reader increases stress because the count of all the unread items just sits there getting larger, taunting you. A better approach is to use the stream model (most famously employed by Twitter) where you can just dip into the stream when you want and not worry about making sure you read absolutely everything. There are no unread counts to taunt you. You could go away for weeks and come back and never feel overwhelmed by an unread count in the thousands (or worse!).

There is definitely some truth to this. Just like it is easy to get overwhelmed by a torrent of emails, it is easy to get overwhelmed by a torrent of unread articles in your feed reader. But there are also advantages of the inbox model. The downside of the stream model is that if favours people who are prolific in producing content. I follow some very interesting people on Twitter but almost never see their tweets because they rarely tweet. Their occasional tweet is quickly pushed down the stream by people who are always tweeting. With an inbox model even if these people only have something to say once every few months (or years) I could ensure I never miss it. I don’t know about you but, I find that often it is people who rarely have something to say why are the most interesting. Twitter, or any stream based client doesn’t do a good job of serving anyone who isn’t constantly talking or anyone who want to listen to people who aren’t constantly talking.

Trying to get caught up on more than a day or so of Tweets is virtually impossible for anybody who follows more than a few dozen active users — you simply can’t comprehensively take in the full stream. With RSS, on the other hand, you can scan through headlines and save them (or, yes, share them) and it’s possible to do so after a few days off the internet. Or a few hours. Woe betide the nine to fiver who wants to come home and quickly catch up on the day’s news via Twitter. Not everybody has the luxury of being able to keep tabs on Twitter all day. Twitter is realtime and RSS is time-shifted. Both are important. Just tell these same people you’re taking their DVR away and see what happens.

But, importantly, I think we have been presented with a false dichotomy in the inbox vs stream debate. Why can’t we have both? Put people who are always talking in the stream, and those who only pipe up occasionally in the inbox. Or use any criteria you want to categorize people into either the stream or inbox buckets. This way we get the best of both worlds.

And while we are at it, why limit our feed readers to just RSS, why not include social feeds, like Twitter Facebook and Google+. Make what ever replaces Google Reader a true reader for web content regardless of where it comes from.

That would truly be an ideal replacement for Google Reader. This is what I want, I would pay for something like this. Is anyone willing to make it?

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