Let’s retire RSS when they retire Google Reader

Originally published on Pandodaily on April 29, 2013

It’s been over a month since Google announced it would shut down Reader on July 1. Over that time, I’ve come to realize how unnecessary and outdated RSS and RSS readers are today. Like a Palm Pilot, this 90’s technology is no longer the most effective way for readers to scan news or for publishers to reach readers. There are better technologies for content discovery. More important, pushing all these RSS readers back to websites will enable publishers to create more revenue. Google is right, despite protestations to the contrary. It’s time to retire RSS for good.

Between my time on Bloglines and Google Reader, I’ve been using a Web-based newsreader for a decade. That’s a hard habit to break. But I was determined to move on once the announcement was made. I deleted my Google Reader bookmark from my Bookmark Bar and removed the shortcut on my phone. I went cold turkey on Reader so I could focus the search for my next great reading tool. What I found surprised me. In fact, this exercise has massively changed my reading habits for the better.

I tried Prismatic for awhile. It did a great job of pushing new sources and stories to me, but it didn’t feel comprehensive. Same with Pulse. Then I checked out Feedly, but that felt like kicking the can down the road on the Web-based reader problem instead of moving on to a better reading experience. I started using Reeder on my phone because the company swears they will continue development past the Google Reader shutdown, and it’s a great app. I even bought Reeder’s Mac version of the app for $4.99 thinking the little extra cash might help the company figure it out. But going back to using software to read RSS feeds really felt like a real step back in time. Was I going to start using Outlook again too? I started to get bummed out.

Then all of a sudden, I realized that I was spending a lot more time reading newsletters. You read that right…newsletters. There’s kind of a newsletter renaissance going on right now, and I am finding great news and new sources through them. I now find these emails invaluable: MediaReDefined, Launch, StartupStats, Newsle and, of course, our very own PandoDaily Digest.

Each email from these sources does a great job of pointing me to tech/media/entrepreneur news I wanted to read. They also make me feel like I’m getting coverage I might have missed that wasn’t on my usual news sources. That was the big feature for me about RSS readers. I always felt like I could check in on Google Reader and catch up on everything I missed. These newsletters are actually even more convenient, because they pop into my inbox, where as a business guy, I spend a lot of time. They also made my news searchable, too, if I want to find an article again that I had read.

There was another big behavioral change after I went cold turkey on Reader. I noticed that I have become even more reliant on Twitter. I’ve always gleaned news from my Tweetstream, but I only thought of my Twitter feed as the stuff-happening-right-now kind of news source. Now I am going back and reading hundreds of posts to see if I missed something.

That works okay, but I wish there were an easier way to scan important news links from the people I follow — whether they are MT’d or RT’d or whatever. Since it seems like the best link practices on Twitter are up for debate,  I thought I would throw out an idea for another Twitter abbreviation for linking to news called “MR”, which stands for “Must Read.”

The format would be like this… MR: “fav quote from the article” and link to the article. Bonus points if you link the author and hashtag. Here’s an example:

MR: “..online learning doesn’t do anything to address people’s motivational needs.” tatum.in/12vCs6L by @theman#education

— mike tatum (@miketatum) April 26, 2013

That way, I could just scan my feed and quickly see the important links with quotes and context from the people I follow. Can we start that? Maybe if this catches on we can convince Twitter to add a “MR” tab at the top of the page that immediately pulls all the links and quotes from our follows for us. Now THAT would be an awesome Google Reader replacement and make going to the Twitter a bit more interesting. Maybe make some suggested MRs from people or sources I don’t follow too. But I won’t hold my breath on this one since prescriptive solutions are rarely widely adopted.

Getting off RSS also sent me back to websites I haven’t seen in years. I almost didn’t recognize these sites because they had been redesigned since the last time I visited. I also realized they had ads. Then it hit me: publishers just need to ditch RSS and get people back to their sites. It’s better for their business, and a much better reading experience in most cases.

While there are a few creative entrepreneurs creating interesting new revenue towers, er, models for publishers that can replace or supplement ad revenue, ads still help pay for the content we need and want. So reading the content on their sites is the easiest action we can take to help support great content (and I know how tired this argument is already dear commenters). I also like the remove ads option with a paid subscription model. Both require that users go to their sites to work, therefore, retiring RSS will only help publisher revenue efforts. How about driving traffic? I looked at PandoDaily’s Google Analytics just now and RSS readers don’t really drive that much traffic. Twitter, direct, and emails are by far the largest sources of traffic. Unless I’m missing something, there just doesn’t seem to be a business case for publishers to support RSS anymore.

Nothing against RSS, it has been a good tech service for a long time. It has just outlived its usefulness. Removing RSS and getting folks going back to websites will create a better experience for readers and publishers, spurring more creative business models for publishers too.

So on the day they kill Google Reader, July 1, let’s make it “Kill RSS Day” and everyone remove RSS feed options from their site. We’ll all be better off. Do we have a deal?





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