What Does the Demise of Google Reader Tell Us About Open Web Standards?
Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 14 March 2013
Google Reader is Dead!
We’re retiring Reader on July 1. We know many of you will be sad to see it go. Thanks for 8 great years! goo.gl/7joct
Despite the announcement only being made a few hours ago we are already seeing bloggers up in arms about the news. We might expect large-scale service such as TechCrunch (GoogleReaderpocalypse. For Real This Time.) to provide a speedy response to the news but closer to home bloggers such as James Clay have responded in blunt terms: Google Reader is Dead.
What Does the Announcement Tell us About Open Web Standards?
The implications of the demise of applications was always intended to be mitigated by use of open standards. But in this case the underlying format used by Google Reader (RSS) is widely accepted as an open standard in both its variants (RSS 1.0 and RSS 2.0). Blogs will continue to publish RSS feeds as will a variety of other tools and services. Why should the demise of Google Reader cause so much anger amongst users of the tool?
As RSS grew in popularity we saw the development of a range of RSS readers. Initially we saw dedicated RSS clients which users installed on their desktop. We then saw RSS add-ons to existing tools, including RSS extensions for popular email clients such as Outlook. But the development of the “Web as a platform” led to a growth in popularity of Web-based RSS tools, which meant that users did not have to install software on their desktop computer (which was particularly useful for those with locked-down desktops and IT Service departments who were reluctant to install new software).
One of the early Web-based RSS readers was Bloglines. I used this service many years ago but haven’t logged in for several years. As I learnt from Wikipedia the service was scheduled to be shut down on 15 November 2010 but a last-minute reprieve meant that it continued under a new owner. However a few minutes ago when on to the service I discovered that the feeds that I had subscribed to had been lost. This was not a problem for me, as I have migrated by feeds to Google Reader. But now it seems that I will once again shortly be losing the service I use to view my RSS feeds.
I should be able to export the list of my feeds held in Google Reader and return to Bloglines as my preferred RSS reader. However in reality it will not be so simple. I now use a variety of tools on my mobile devices (such as Flipboard, Currents, Pulse, etc.) to read my feeds, and use Google Reader as the intermediary for managing my large number of RSS feeds. I suspect I will be reluctant to wish to manage my subscriptions across a range of clients. For me, as for many others who have been commenting on blogs today, Google Reader has been the ideal tool.
What conclusions can we reach about the role of Web standards in light of Google’s announcement?
The view that open standards protected the user from the vagaries of the market place seems to be undermined – in reality it seems that users grow to love tools which are embedded in daily use.
It also appears that successful applications not only attract large numbers of users; successful applications can also attract developers and companies who can develop an ecosphere of applications which are dependent on services such as Google Reader.
It also seems that social sharing services are undermining the use of RSS for bringing relevant content to users. Perhaps related to this will be the difficulties companies will have in monetising RSS feeds.
It is interesting to see the arguments which have been made in the Hitler parody: Hitler finds out Google Reader is shutting down which is available on YouTube and embedded below. I’d be interested in other’s thoughts on the reasons for the closure of Google Reader and the implications of this announcement.