Stagger onward rejoicing

Tag: RSS (page 1 of 1)

How Google Reader died:

At its peak, Reader had just north of 30 million users, many of them using it every day. That’s a big number — by almost any scale other than Google’s. Google scale projects are about hundreds of millions and billions of users, and executives always seemed to regard Reader as a rounding error. Internally, lots of workers used and loved it, but the company’s leadership began to wonder whether Reader was ever going to hit Google scale. Almost nothing ever hits Google scale, which is why Google kills almost everything.

I was never a big Reader user, in part because I wasn’t interested in the social dimension of the app, and in part because I was a very early and loyal NetNewsWire adopter. I fiddled with it from time to time. But if Google had stuck with it, I think I might have become a serious user when Twitter began to decompose. 

Yair Rosenberg:

In 2013, Google shut down its celebrated RSS client, Google Reader, citing a decline in RSS usage. Today, millions of people still use RSS readers, but many times more use social-media sites and don’t even know that RSS exists. This imbalance means that media outlets and other content providers have greater incentive to invest in social-media infrastructure rather than RSS support, leading some to drop the latter entirely. But though the internet’s creative output deserves our attention, social-media companies do not. When the primary way we read online is filtered through the algorithms of capricious corporations that can change what we see on a whim, both writers and readers suffer. RSS is a reminder that it doesn’t have to be this way.

Long-time readers know that I’ve been preaching this message for years and years (see the “RSS” tag at the bottom of this post). If you don’t believe me maybe you’ll believe Yair.

a better way

I’ve often written in praise of RSS — see the tag — as a Better Way to read stuff online than any social media platform could possibly be. There are a thousand ways to use RSS, but if you happen to have a Mac an especially good one is NetNewsWire, the app that, many years ago, introduced me to RSS reading. NetNewsWire is free, and here’s a post from its developer Brent Simmons explaining why. I also like the document on NetNewsWire’s Github page — it’s open-source — explaining what you can do to support the app, since you can’t pay money for it. Excerpt:

Write a blog instead of posting to Twitter or Facebook. (You can always re-post to those places if you want to extend your reach.) Micro.blog is one good place to get going, but it’s not the only one.

Use an RSS reader even if it’s not NetNewsWire. (There are a bunch of good ones!)

Teach other people to use RSS readers. Blog about RSS readers. And about other open web technologies and apps.

Suggest apps for macopenweb.com.

Write Mac and iOS apps that promote use of the open web.

Donate to charities that promote literacy.

Tell other people about cool blogs and feeds you’ve found.

Support indie podcast apps.

a better internet

Annalee Newitz:

What would “internet realists” want from their media streams? The opposite of what we have now. Today, platforms like Facebook and Twitter are designed to make users easy to contact. That was the novelty of social media — we could get in touch with people in new and previously unimaginable ways.

It also meant, by default, that any government or advertiser could do the same. Mr. [John] Scalzi thinks we should turn the whole system on its head with “an intense emphasis on the value of curation.” It would be up to you to curate what you want to see. Your online profiles would begin with everything and everyone blocked by default.

Where I come from we call that an “RSS client.”

Apple News vs. RSS

What Michael Tsai says about Apple News is correct:

I continue to find Apple News to be disappointing. It’s like Apple reinvented the RSS reader with less privacy (everything goes through an Apple tracking URL) and a worse user experience (less control over fonts, text that isn’t selectable, no searching within or across stories). So the idea of content that must be accessed from the app — and likely can’t even be opened in Safari — is not attractive to me.

Those are among the reasons I deleted Apple News from my iOS devices — Apple won’t let you delete it from the Mac — some time ago. But I downloaded it again yesterday and signed up for the trial subscription to News+ just to check out developments. I found that the problems Tsai mentions are still there, along with what is for me the single greatest deterrent to using Apple News: Apple’s insistence on feeding you clickbaity stories, especially about celebrities, no matter how many times and in how many ways you try to indicate that you don’t want to see them.

When you sign up for News+, you get a list of suggested magazine content in a sidebar, and can click/tap a Like button to get stuff from that magazine or a not-Like button to … well, to do what? Because when I tapped the not-Like button next to Vanity Fair I still got stories from Vanity Fair in my feed. And I found this to be true of several other magazines as well.

Apple is taking a Facebook-like approach to News: “No, you don’t tell us what you want, we tell you what you want.” So I canceled my subscription after about an hour.

Here’s a cool fact for you all to keep in mind: Guess what you see when you look at your RSS reader? Exactly what you chose to subscribe to. Neither less nor more.

RSS is a good tool. It gives you a simple way to shape and filter the web’s content to suit your own needs. It lends you its power when you need it without requiring any broader entanglement. Its developers, to their credit, made its simplicity central. They were acting as tool-makers, which is how software programmers and web developers tended to act a decade ago. That was before the platform-builders arrived, with their schemes.

Google was once a tool-maker. Now, it’s a platform-builder. Like Facebook. Like Apple. Like Microsoft. Like Twitter. Like all the rest. And so Google is killing off its popular RSS tool Google Reader. Tools are threats to platforms because they give their owners ways to bypass platforms. If you have a good set of tools, you don’t need a stinking platform. If you’re happy with RSS, you’re a little less likely to sign up for Google or Twitter or Facebook. At the very least, the tool gives you the choice. It grants you self-determination.

RSS, like other web tools and even other personal-computer tools, is doomed—not doomed, necessarily, to disappear, but doomed to be on the periphery, largely out of sight. “We’re living in a new kind of computing environment,” said Google engineer Urs Hölzle in announcing the “closure” of Google Reader. He’s right. The tool environment is gone. The platform environment is here. Consider yourself entangled.