RSS (Wikipedia) Really Simple Syndication was first implemented in the late 90s but really came into its own with release of version 2.0 in 2002. RSS was a democratization of the web. Before RSS if one wanted to follow a website an email list was the only option. Email lists place the power to curate in the hands of the publishers, they are centralized and leave the reader passive in their content consumption. With widespread usage of RSS power was decentralized and the consumer/reader had control over what they read and when they read it.
In late 2005 Google released the RSS aggregator Google Reader. The advantage of Google Reader over previous aggregators was that Google maintained the list of feeds and their status on their servers and they could be accessed in their proper state from any computer. Peruse your feeds at work and when you went back online from home Google Reader would load where you had left off. This advantage led to the downfall of other RSS aggregators; they became niche products used by the diehard few. And RSS suffered because of it. The promise of decentralized feeds with the consumer in control was consumed by Google’s centralized feed storage and handling. Convenience won out over decentralization and RSS became just one more way that Google added to the plethora of information they are gathering on users. For a time the status quo was maintained in equilibrium.
Then along came mobile. Publishers and aggregators used the disruption to further cement their hold on consumers and their consumption of web content. Aggregators and publishers then sought to curate feeds based on what friends were reading, likes and dislikes, or ad dollars. These new aggregators (such as Flipboard and Google Currents) not only serve the reader their feeds but also curate and include ads based on content, in some cases publishers maintain control over content and receive payment in exchange for their content. Readers were further reduced to passive consumers. The novelty of flipping through digital magazines that are similar to their real world counterparts won out over the goal of decentralized RSS.
Earlier this year, in an attempt to move more people to the higher ad value Google Plus, Google announced the closing of Google Reader to take place July 1st of this year. Google had successfully used Microsoft’s tactics to cripple an unprofitable technology: Embrace, Extent, Extinguish. But not all went according to plan.
Rather than passively migrate to the more centralized higher ad yielding sites like Plus or Currents, consumers sought out alternatives. And as the market is wont to do, others rose to fill the vacuum being left by Google Reader. A race ensued to give consumers what they wanted. Internet stalwarts such as Digg and AOL were joined by up and comers like Feedly in a race to fill consumer demand.
Instead of the slow death of RSS following the closing of Google Reader, we are witnessing a revival. The promise of RSS as a decentralized consumer controlled technology is being restored. This reader/consumer, while taken aback by the announced closure of Google Reader, now sees it as a sort of renaissance in syndication. While before their was one reader controlled by one technology behemoth, there are now many aggregators each serving a different niche and in doing so, returning the early promise of RSS.
The death of Google Reader is not to be mourned, but to be celebrated; as the title says: “Long live RSS.”