The right way to shut down a service like Google Reader

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!

3 thoughts on “The right way to shut down a service like Google Reader

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    1. Thanks, I’ll take a look. The fact that it is open source makes me hopeful that a standard like IMAP for readers (widely implemented in cloud aggregators and client apps) will emerge. Unfortunately few people seem interested in building and implementing standards these days. If I had more expertise this would be a project I would love to help out with.

    2. I should also state that I would pay for such a service, and in many ways would prefer that to something that is free. I like the idea of a clear business model.

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