Thursday, 14 March 2013

Google dropping the RSS ball?

Last Thursday I awoke to the news that Google had decided to retire its Google Reader service. News I was particularly surprised at.

Google have always struck me as a company that stood out from the rest, much the same as Apple have (or had depending on your point of view or OS allegiance). I've watched interviews with its founders, used their services for many years and have been very happy with what I would describe as a reasonably best case example of an integrated online toolbox that caters to the vast majority of daily user requirements.

They have undeniably, one of the best and most well respected search engines on the entire planet. They've also provide an extremely flexible and dependable email service with Gmail. Over recent years, they've also ventured into the social networking scene with Google+ which is a great example, in my humble opinion, of how to do social networking the right way.

Lets look at that last service a little more.

Google Buzz was Google's first attempt at social networking before Google+, and was a great 'testing of the water' to fill that gap in their service portfolio. Buzz was soon retired, but not before Google+ was on the scene and had been put through its paces to a large degree. In that particular case, most, if not all functionality was replicated in some form to the extent that it wasn't so much a cancelation of a service, more a progression of one. However, in the case of Google Reader, there is no other Google service being offered or on the horizon that we are aware of which can fill the void.

Lets be clear about this. RSS syndication is still extremely popular. Almost all blogs provide syndication feeds of one format or another (even Google's Blogger does), and many users rely on their daily feeds almost as much as they rely on their email client. That in itself is a massive amount of data wealth (and Google absolutely loves data). With Google Reader, Google was providing a service to cater for this widely used data format, and in doing so, with minimal effort, they added another tier to their already impressive stack of services. Its also worth mentioning that RSS feed generation is a very easy thing to do from a creators side and is something that can be generated automatically and easily by many, many systems these days.

Having one central place where a user could manage their feed subscriptions and navigate them quickly via numerous methods, was just fantastic, and to have a large user centric company like Google supply this just made so much sense. One of the worst problems in the digital age these days is fragmentation problems (Larry has spoken of this about working with Facebook). Fragmentation introduces the potential problem of different systems not being able to 'talk' to each other. The fallout of this is a bad user experience. The best approach should surely then incorporate open formats.

I've heard it said that the Google founders use "10x" thinking (to do something 10 times better), and that this approach has been integral to a large portion of their success. Well, switching off Google Reader isn't 10x thinking, its -10x thinking.
10x thinking would be to completely overhaul the service. Make it the example by which all others should follow (Google isn't exactly short on cash). Perhaps submit improvements to the RSS specification to make it even better than it is currently.

As far as i'm concerned, this action by Google is a statement about their faith in RSS syndication and it really does seem silly, misguided and worrying. I hope they reverse their decision. If they don't then many users will just move to 3rd party solutions and the inevitable fragmentation problems will rear their heads once again.

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