Google has announced the end of Google Reader. The tech media breathes a collective “meh,” but they are missing the real tragedy here. There are all sorts of ways to read RSS. Some people read every article in a feed, while others watch it flow by in a river of news. The one thing that is constant in everyone’s consumption of RSS-based information is that they very likely do it from more than one place, more than one application, and probably more than one mobile or desktop O/S.
Here is the incredibly powerful thing that Google Reader provides that will leave a huge, gaping hole in my daily RSS reading:
Google Reader was at best an average RSS reader. But it excelled at keeping all of my other 3rd party RSS reader apps in sync. By providing a set of APIs that allowed remote readers to mark/unmark individual articles as read, it let me start reading news on my phone with Feeddler, continue on my desktop with Google Reader, and switch to Flipboard on my tablet later in the day without having to wade through the same news articles twice. What was marked as read on my phone never showed up as unread on my tablet. It also gave me centralized management of all my RSS feeds. When I nuked an entire feed on my desktop computer, it disappeared from my mobile devices.
When Google Reader shuts down, what is going to do that for me? The answer right now is “nothing.” RSS just became not only less valuable to me, but an actual impediment to how I consume information. People are saying that shutting down Google Reader is no big deal and it doesn’t mark the “death of RSS.” But losing this synchronization feature, an invisible but vital part of the RSS 3rd party app infrastructure, means that RSS reverts to something significantly less than it is now and removes its singular advantage for me over just serially visiting web sites in a bookmark list.
I hope someone is paying attention to the loss of this not-so-visible piece of Internet infrastructure and steps in to fill the void. Otherwise I’m gonna be cranky and have to write something myself.