inessential by Brent Simmons

One Year After the RSS Apocalypse

Google Reader shut down July 1 last year — so it’s been almost a year.

As a developer who used to write an RSS reader, as an avid follower of the category, I’ve been curious to see what would happen.

First thing: there are a bunch of new and newly-popular services that can replace Google Reader. Feedly appears to be most popular, but they all look good.

Me, I have a Feedbin subscription. Others include The Old Reader, Feed Wrangler, and NewsBlur – and they all have, and deserve, their fans. (I hope I’m not leaving any out.)

There’s also Fever — which is a little different because you host it yourself, and has been around a while, but is worth mentioning (and is very cool).

This is all good news. An ecosystem is better than a single 800-pound gorilla.

At the same time, native iOS and Mac apps tend to use several of these systems as syncing providers. Reeder, ReadKit, Unread, and others support multiple accounts from multiple systems.

Some of these readers have also branched out to include queues from read-later services such as Instapaper and bookmarks from services such as Pinboard.

Why This Is Good

In a way, the situation hasn’t changed — in a way it’s the same as it was when Google Reader still covered the map.

The situation with RSS readers is much like the situation with Twitter clients: there’s no data penalty in switching apps. Just as I can go from Tweetbot to Twitterrific and still get the same tweets, I can go from Reeder to Unread and still see all my feeds and the correct read/unread states.

This is great for users. New thing comes out that you like more? No problem in switching. Like Vendor X’s Mac app but don’t like their iOS app? No problem. Use Vendor Y’s iOS app instead.

Again: this was true during the Google Reader era, and it’s still true.

But during the Google Reader era it might have made sense for a native RSS app developer to create their own syncing system, because relying on a single syncing provider is a very bad idea — especially when we knew that that one system was likely to disappear.

These days there’s no way to justify it. There are multiple providers, and any one or more could go out of business (or just start sucking), and it would be okay, since there are other services.

Furthermore: RSS reader users now have many years of experience showing them that they can mix and match and switch native apps at will. There’s no lock-in.

This leaves native RSS app developers free to concentrate on their app without the distraction of writing and maintaining a server.

And that means better apps. Which is cool.

(Any native app developer also writing a syncing system is making a fatal mistake, since users won’t accept the cost of switching. And they’d be wasting time better spent on making the app itself awesome.)

(Note: the same is not true for podcast clients right now. It’s RSS, but it’s a different thing.)