by Jonathan Rothwell

The funny thing about RSS

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Google Reader is on its way out. We’ve known this for a while. Its dwindling user base have been clamouring to offload their data into Feedly, NetNewsWire, Digg, et cetera.

None of these are “bad products.” All are reasonably fast, reliable, have had competent launches, and are attractive. However, if we take a look at my choice, Digg Reader, we can see that underneath, besides the more attractive styling and much faster scrolling, it’s still broadly similar to Google Reader.

"Digg Reader"

I suppose I’m a little disappointed. I hadn’t touched Reader in years, so when I imported my data into Digg, that meant the best part of an hour spent going through, deleting many of the feeds I had subscribed to years ago: the good-cause blogs, the development logs for products that have since been released and superseded, the ‘angry liberal’ blogs from my militant atheist days, and (oh god) the lolcats. Many of these feeds hadn’t been updated in years, either because the site had moved, changed blogging engines, or the blog’s owner had simply stopped updating.

I suppose I was looking for something different. One of Google’s major successes has been Gmail, and a large portion of that success, back when it launched, was that it took what we expected about mail at the time and threw it out the window. Messages could be removed from the inbox without deleting or laboriously moving them. Multiple tags could be assigned at once. Spam went away without even hitting the inbox. Later additions like Priority Inbox have built on this.

The trouble is that Google Reader (along with its ilk) is now much like Outlook Express 5. There are a few tools that do a different take on feed reading (Flipboard, for instance) but none have yet shaken it up like Gmail did.

My own tendency has recently been to use a combination of Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Instapaper to find and collate things to read on the train. I don’t think, though, that this means that feed-reading is dead, any more than MSN Messenger killed email. Someone just needs to come up with a different way of doing it, that:

  1. is more convenient than either “traditional” readers, or manually collating articles;
  2. doesn’t suck.

I hope we don’t have to wait for too long before something like this comes along.