The demise of two RSS readers marks the passing of an era

Google Reader and FeedDemon

Yesterday, Google announced the sunsetting of eight products and services in a move they described as a second spring of cleaning.

The one that is making headlines across the social web is Google Reader, the browser-based tool that aggregates and lets you read and share content from your RSS feeds.

On the Google Reader Blog, software engineer Alan Green says there are two reasons for the closure:

[…] usage of Google Reader has declined, and as a company we’re pouring all of our energy into fewer products. We think that kind of focus will make for a better user experience.

(My interpretation of the focus point – Google would prefer to have your attention and time with Google+, the embryonic one-stop-entry for everything Google.)

Passionate responses abound, ranging from a petition to Google to keep it going, a single-page fan site that politely asks Google the same, and opinions of every emotional hue.

I can’t imagine Google will reverse its decision, but you never know.

Also yesterday, Nick Bradbury, developer of the FeedDemon RSS aggregator and reader for Windows, announced the end of the road for that application, with no further development or other support for it beyond Google Reader’s closure date on July 1, adding:

[…] If you’re using FeedDemon without Google Reader synchronization, it will continue to work beyond July 1. You can keep using it to read your feeds for years to come. If you’re synching FeedDemon with Google Reader, you can disable synching by selecting Tools > Options > Synchronization Options, then switching to the “Accounts” tab and removing your Google account.

That sync between FeedDemon and Google Reader was useful as it gave you access to your RSS-delivered content on two platforms, so to speak – your computer for the Windows program, and the same content in the cloud (as we call it today) via your browser. Although I’ve never really used Google Reader, I found that feature useful from time to time.

I’ve used FeedDemon just about every day since 2004. But perhaps it is time now to find a compelling alternative as directly accessing RSS-delivered content from different devices is becoming a prime behaviour.

Lifehacker has some recommendations on alternatives for Google Reader (which ironically recommends FeedDemon as one, clearly unaware of the FD news).

Feedblitz’ Phil Hollows has some interesting perspectives on the Google Reader announcement, focusing on it as representative of a shift or change in how people use tools like RSS feeds:

[…] Feeds are not Dead

Anyone calling this the end of RSS is on crack. RSS lives and is the core technology binding your site’s content to other sites and services, such as Facebook and Twitter. Google doesn’t own, nor do they control, RSS.  RSS is a core content marketing technology. It is the core service-to-service content distribution technology, and as such delivers your content more readers than possibly anything else. RSS is alive and kicking.

People Use Feeds Directly Less and Less

When Google says that usage of reader had declined, I believe them. RSS as a way to consume content for people appealed to a minority.

In the early days of the social web – that’s a decade or so ago – when the infrastructure was being developed, RSS was a key component of that. Hence tools like FeedDemon, and undoubtedly one reason why Google stepped into the fray with Google Reader.

Now, RSS is, effectively, part of the internet plumbing. As Phil Hollows notes, feeds are not dead, you just don’t notice them any more. Today, much of the content you might get on your computer or mobile device is actually delivered by RSS yet you’re no longer exposed to that tech aspect.

And maybe that’s how things ought to be now. As ideas and technologies shift and evolve – where are we now? Web 3.0? – our usage methods and our behaviours shift too.

Still, change with some things can be hard to get used to.