Many pixels have been spread across the Internets the last two weeks over Google’s announcement that they are shutting down Reader. I have been using Reader ever since it first became available, so I am amongst those who are disappointed by the announcement.
The reaction that I first saw on Twitter suggests that few understand Google Reader’s true value. Most tweets that I saw were along the lines of “what is the big deal, there are plenty of alternate RSS readers available.” While this is true, what is overlooked by that point of view is how Reader acts as a backend for many third party apps like Reeder.
I read my RSS feeds on my smartphone, tablets, work and home notebook computers, and I don’t want the same items that I have already seen appearing an every device. If I mark an item as read on my smartphone, I don’t want to see that same item on my notebook computer.
The value of Google Reader is that it provides the backend capability so that when I mark something read in Reeder on my iPad, I don’t see it as a new item in Reader on my notebook. Reader provides that capability by centrally storing my subscriptions and which items in my subscription feed that I have read.
If I switch to one of the OS X or Windows RSS readers, I will only be able to read the RSS feeds I subscribe to on my notebook computers, unless I am willing to weed through items I may have already seen on my other devices. If I switch to one of the other web based RSS readers I then won’t be able to take advantage of the many mobile apps available for iOS and Android.
Feedly is a popular alternative, and there are Feedly apps for iOS and Android, and Google Chrome and Firefox extensions for notebook computers, so I can use it on one of my several different devices. For now Feedly is still using my Google Reader account, so it is acting the same way as Reeder, but after Google shuts Reader down Feedly will apparently store my RSS information on their own servers and make it available to my account that I will then access on these different devices using their app.
The problem with using Feedly is that means I will have to use it on my iPad rather than Reeder, which I have grown fond of using. For its part Reeder has statedt hat Google’s announcement does not mean the end of the app, but I have not seen any details for how Reeder will mange RSS subscriptions.
Google Reader matters as a centralized RSS synchronization server, which enabled a coral reef of third party apps to grow around it. Shutting down Reader breaks up the reef, causing each of the different apps to scramble to find an alternative.
Hopefully, some other third party will provide a RSS synchronization service that provides similar functionality as Google Reader. It will be difficult, however, because the management of RSS updates coming from tens of thousands of web sites is a large scale problem best suited for the likes of Google that already has the computing power and web crawling to gather the information. Microsoft, which has Bing, could provide a good replacement as I imagine Yahoo could. My fear, however, is that they will follow Google’s lead of viewing RSS as an artifact of the past.