Google shuts down Google Reader on the 1st July. “Don’t you say?” – I know, if you want to stay up to date you probably should not rely on DubbelBlog alone. However, I would like to write down some thoughts about Google, RSS and the structure of the web.
What are you talking about?
RSS is an open standard to announce and transmit new content on the internet in a machine-readable way. It could be used for example by a news website which writes their latest 30 articles or so in a structured file, together with headline, content and link the the source.
RSS Reader collect the articles from RSS files the user had specified before and present the new articles in a more or less user-friendly way.
Google Reader was/is a webservice which not only presents the RSS feeds but also enables to user to synchronise the articles on multiple devices. Now Google announced to shutdown this free service after nearly 8 years.
And how does the internet react?
Not happy. And the internet does what it always does when it is not happy: It signs petitions, writes angry comments and blog articles (oh…) and is not amused at all. This happens usually when a service is shut down and the last resisting users are left behind. What is different this time?
The unusual thing this time is that a lot of Google Readers users are social news multipliers – journalists, bloggers, people that need access to a lot of news sources to be able to inform their readers about things that happened – and if you anger these people you may reckon that they will spread the word about it.
In this case even outside the nerd-news-bubble on main stream news websites.
So, Google is evil now?
Not more evil that it was before. All in all only some people had to learn the hard way (although it could have been a lot harder) what can happen is you rely on closed systems you cannot control. At least Google gives the Reader 3.5 months “sunset” period and offers the opportunity to export the list of RSS-Feed-URLs.
Whether or not Googles decision was correct from a business view point cannot be determined yet. Of course Google Reader was not profitable, but who if not the internet giant is able to run a service even if it does not make money? Google has angered the remaining users and lets them use the remaining Google services with a unpleasant feeling.
No problem, I use (Twitter|Facebook|Google+) as my main news source
Of course that is okay if your news consist of short relationship status checks or smartphone mirror-pictures.
And there are rumours that Google closed down the Reader so that the users make more use of Google+.
But ironically exactly this shutdown shows, why this would not be a good idea: When Google Reader closed down it was quite easy to change to another RSS-Reader, as you could simply export your Feed-URLs. In social networks this is not possible, because not every news source is registered on every platform and publishes their new articles there.
While RSS-Feed-files are stored in a de-central way on the servers of the content providers and only need to be accessed by the RSS-Readers, the content providers would have to register on every social network platform and publish every post on every platform. Of course there are plugins doing that already, but the names used on different platforms may not always be available, while URLs are unique. So if Google+ gets closed sometime in the future there is no way of retrieving the same information easily with another service.
The good thing about the internet was and always will be its de-central structure. We should not give away that easily.
And what can I do?
So, we learned that it is best to rely only on yourself if you really need a service. The most lists of Google Reader alternatives that popped up SEO friendly on every second news website list services like feedly (+500,000 new members in 48 hours) or NewsBlur shortly after the shutdown was announced, which made the servers of this services very, very slow.
And there is already the problem: If these services decide to close sometime we will have the same clamour all over again, as the users still rely on a server structure outside of their control.
As I know a little bit about web technologies and happen to have my own web space, I decided that selfoss was the way for me. Selfoss is a little PHP application everyone can install on their own server quite easily. After a short test period I will introduce it with another blogpost here.