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?
As the details about the bombings in Boston unfold, it’d be easy to be scared. It’d be easy to feel powerless and demand that our elected leaders do something — anything — to keep us safe.
It’d be easy, but it’d be wrong. We need to be angry and empathize with the victims without being scared. Our fears would play right into the perpetrators’ hands — and magnify the power of their victory for whichever goals whatever group behind this, still to be uncovered, has. We don’t have to be scared, and we’re not powerless. We actually have all the power here, and there’s one thing we can do to render terrorism ineffective: Refuse to be terrorized.
Don’t glorify the terrorists and their actions by calling this part of a “war on terror.” Wars involve two legitimate sides. There’s only one legitimate side here; those on the other are criminals. They should be found, arrested, and punished. But we need to be vigilant not to weaken the very freedoms and liberties that make this country great, meanwhile, just because we’re scared.
Empathize, but refuse to be terrorized. Instead, be indomitable — and support leaders who are as well. That’s how to defeat terrorists.
The impending death of Google Reader has got me thinking about what an ideal replacement for would look like. The first and most important feature (of an idealized replacement) is something I alluded to in an earlier post. Namely that the feed reader backend (which keeps track of all subscriptions and which items have been read) needs to have an API that is an open and standardized.
It almost seems like every single developer is working in a replacement for the Google Reader API. Feedly, Superfeedr, and even digg (and probably plenty others that I have already forgotten) all have something in the works. My personal favorite feed Reeder has also indicated that the app will transition to some other back-end API (though what exactly that means remains a mystery). It would be a shame if all of these developers didn’t come together and create some sort of standard (kind of like the equivalent of IMAP for feed reader as I mentioned in my previous post). This would prevent us from going down the same path that got us into all this trouble in the first place.
A long time ago the RSS ecosystem was a vibrant place. Developers were experimenting and trying out cool new thing. Sure some of them were terrible but this experimentation lead to an understanding of what worked and what didn’t. It eventually lead to the creation of Google Reader, which offered a fast, simple and efficient UI. But more importantly it was one of the first cloud based readers, which meant your feeds and all the articles you had read were synced across devices.
This might seem like an obvious feature, but back then the ‘cloud’ was just getting started. Back then most feed readers were native applications that did not sync with anything. If you spent a few hours reading articles on your laptop, you would have to wade through all those articles again when you sat down on your desktop and fired up your feed reader to do more reading.
In fact Google Reader was so good that it quickly dominated the landscape. Most other feed readers faded away, or pivoted to something else. Once the dust had settled only Google Reader remained. Innovation in the RSS space ground to a halt.
With the launch of the iPhone and Android phones, there was a renewed interest in RSS and a new crop readers emerged (like Reeder). There apps were great, but generally they depended on Google Reader for they backend feed management and syncing. The ones that didn’t simply weren’t very useful. They locked you into their walled garden and made it difficult to keep one centralized list of feeds and read articles. Without syncing with Google Reader these RSS apps were about as useful as the feed readers we all abandoned in favour of Google Reader. Reading a bunch of articles on one device, meant that those articles would still show up as unread on all other devices.
But this reliance of Google Reader made the entire feed reader ecosystem brittle. If Google Reader ever shut down then the entire ecosystem would come crashing down as well. That is exactly what is happening now.
It would be very short-sighted if now that Google Reader is shutting down we went down the same path and all coalesced around one proprietary feed syncing service (Feedly seems like the leading contender right now) It would leave us in exactly the same position.
A far more robust approach would be for the various developers working on replacing the Google Reader syncing backend each worked together to create a standardized API to access any feed reader service.
This would allow feed reader app developers to connect to any sync backend. Much like email clients can connect to any email server.
That was the first feature I want to see in whatever replaces Google Reader. I want to replace the reliance on one single backend syncing service and instead rely on a standardized syncing API that anyone could implement that doesn’t have a single point of failure. One that lets me, the user, chose who I want to trust with my feeds and articles.
I would even be more than happy to pay for such a service.
In Part 2 I’ll delve into the misguided river of news vs inbox debate.
My internet world came to an end today when Google announced they were shutting down Google Reader (the best RSS reader in existence).
The problem is that Google Reader was more than a website, it was a backend that powered a bunch of useful services. All of those services are now in trouble.
So how, assuming you thought it was the right thing to do (which it isn’t!), do you shut down something as important as Google reader?
You start with the back-end. Make it a standard. A standardized feed aggregator service that keeps track of which feeds you are subscribed to and which articles you have read. Most importantly is that it have a standardized and open API.
An open standardized feed aggregator platform (think of it as the IMAP of feed readers). Once this is built, Google could encourage others to run this standardized feed aggregator. Third parties could build front-ends that innovate and meet people’s needs what ever they might be, (like my favorite, Reeder).
In essence having a standardized back-end would allow for real competition. Don’t like what some company is doing (say Google shutting down Reader), no problem since you can move from Google’s service to something else (perhaps something running on your own server so you have absolute control), and all the front-end apps you use to access your RSS feeds can continue to work just as they did before.
In essence the experience would work similar to the way email works today, where you can use any email application with your email service. Want to use Outlook, or Thunderbird with your email? You can. And if you decide to switch to another email provider you can still use Outlook or Thunderbird, or something else.
This is the beauty of standards and this is what we need for feed readers.
If Google had gone down this road (instead of just announcing their plan to turn off the service) there wouldn’t have been the huge outrage today. And RSS would be in a much better place.
If Google had gone down that road people would have just moved away from Google Reader and started using something else. Easily.
While this isn’t fully happening Feedly is looking to pick up the void left by Google Reader by creating a similar back-end service. This is a great short-term fix, but ultimately it leaves us in the same boat if Feedly decides to shut things down.
I hope the RSS developers community comes up with a more long-term solution (be it the one I propose above or something else).
Otherwise this might happen:
UPDATE: Fixed a bunch of typos. That will teach me to quickly write a post when I am exhausted!
Physicists who want to protect traditional Christmas realize that the only way to keep from changing Christmas is not to observe it.
That is all.
… and this doesn’t even include the Twitter cards issue.
I am tired of the fact that the vast majority of the opinionated reporting on the situation in Gaza portrays it as a simple good vs evil fight, with the roles of good and evil cast predictably by the writers political affiliation.
Reality is not usually that simple and the situation in Israel and Gaza definitely is not. The history between the Palestinians and the Israelis is long and complicated. The current political realities of the situation are also complicated and the correct course of action is often not known. Which means the simplistic viewpoint of good vs evil is not only inaccurate, but also unhelpful.
What does it say about us if we are incapable of discussing such a complicated issue with the nuance that such complexity makes inevitable?