A New Dawn for RSS

A New Dawn for RSS

It’s morning here in Sydney, Australia on the 1st of July 2013. In a few hours time, Google Reader will be no longer.

As an RSS power user for many years, Google’s evolution from embracing to dominating then ignoring and finally abandoning the RSS market has been astonishing. I first started using RSS well before the advent of Google Reader, initially with web based tools then Google Reader through the browser and most recently to Google Reader as a backend to tools like Mr Reader (for iPad), Reeder (for iPhone, iPad and OSX) and others.

Like most people, I was disappointed but not entirely surprised when Google abandoned Googe Reader, but I have cometo the opinion that this move might well be a good thing for the future of web feeds, and might have interesting and positive benefits for personal privacy issues.

For web feeds, once Google dominated the RSS market, in many ways it stopped innovating and there was little effort to build further on top of the nascent capabilies in RSS. The barriers to entry for others to get in were high – Google held near 100% market share, and provided a free offering. For its own part, Google had few options to monetise a free offering, especially when many users (myself included) simply used it as a backend to smart phone, tablet and computer based apps.

So advertising revenue (Google’s primary income source) was limited. I can only assume that Google could not find a way to extract value from knowing what information sources its users were subscribing to, reading and clicking through on.

On the personal privacy side, I am a great believer that we, individual users, need to be more responsible when it comes to how we share our information. I think it’s responsible to not put all our eggs in one basket (be it Google, Facebook, Apple or any organisation), especially when dealing with free products. With such free products, we are not the customer, but the information we provide and generate is the product the company sells to its actual customer – the advertiser.

So I now spread out my digital footprint across multiple services, and I favour those that charge a realistic and fair price, and who have a good privacy policy. This may cost a little more in subscription fees, but it means no one company has a complete picture.

So what do I use now?

I have two back ends that now work with an identical set of front end apps.

For the back end providers, I user the cloud based service Feedbin and a self-hosted Fever installation. Overall, I like the idea of the self-hosted service, and the developer has done much to create something unique. But, Fever is low on his list of priorities, and I am not confident there will be regular, continued development of new functionality. Already, the app API does not support subscription management, something I consider important.

So Feedbin is my primary RSS management system, and for $2 per month ($24 per year) it meets my needs nicely. It works well (especially since an infrastructure upgrade last week), and has a nice web interface supported by an API that has a good legion of apps.

At this point, my primary tools for accessing my Feedbin feeds are Mr Reader on the iPad and Readkit on OSX, supported by Reeder on iPhone when I am out and about. These apps all support both Fever and Feedbin, giving me a consistent user experience (in so far as this is supported by the API).

I really like fact that there is serious competition in the RSS marketplace now. I am keeping an eye on services like those offered by (or soon to be offered by) companies like Feed Wrangler, Digg, News Blur and others. Whilst my platform of Feedbin/Fever and Mr Reader/Reeder/ReadKit support my needs well now, I will be keeping a close eye on further developments and evolutions, and am excited by the future of RSS.

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