Google Reader is changing, and that leaves a door open for a competitor. Google Reader is among my most used tools. It’s up there with the browser, text editor, and command line. I am pretty sure people have snickered at my interest in RSS more then once, and even then it’s only when I am in the company of people who know what the hell RSS is, an every shrinking pool of people. All that aside I think Google Reader is a powerful tool, and powerful people use it.
Today the Google Reader team announced that they are going to be changing Google Reader. It’s not surprising. Everything that google does now is going to be to prop up there social efforts. Their pay will even depend on the effort. I feel two ways about this change, one side is happy that more people outside of Google Reader, who will never use Reader, will see the good stuff that google reader can produce, but another part realizes that this is the start of the demise of the feed reader inside Google.
It’s hard to think that anyone ever thought RSS would be the next hot thing. That it would pave the way for the internet, and create the next hit company. I think a number of companies even hitched there success to it. When Google Reader came on the scene it was a competitive market. Google capitalized on the fact that they had a group of engineers who probably really wanted to make the best feed reader they could. In reality though this happened to also serve the needs of a company trying to WIN, win at everything they could. Google may not have even cared if Reader was popular as long as it won in it’s given category.
We all know the story from here, they won. They won so well that there is no one left. Bloglines, an old vestige of the war, gave up in the last year. The small ecosystem that has grown up has all hitched them selves to Reader as the backend. And why not? Google reader really is the best feed reader out there. But, where does this leave the eco-system.
The ecosystem has been put on notice, google is no longer building the best feed reader they can, google is building things to prop up Google+. They are playing the game that matters in terms of the future of the internet, but that leaves the RSS ecosystem screwed. A simple example of how screwed they are is the share button. Any Reader client has by now included a share button. The new Reader built for Google+ will have a way to share with a circle. How will the old share button translate to the new sharing with circle. Is google even going to give the ecosystem a head up before they launch, or one day will it just stop working.
I know it can sound like I dislike google, or the google reader product. That isn’t the case, I am merely trying to breakdown the consequences of the upcoming Readerpocolpys. There is a bright side though. Reader is making some changes. We don’t know when it’s coming, or exactly what is going go change, but if you really use google reader it will impact you.
In any time of change, chaos leaves a door open for a competitor. Here is the opportunity, there must be a core of google reader users who will be pissed off. There important tool is now playing backseat to a tool they can’t use in the same way, and they may even highly dislike it. If a new tool came out to help these hard core users they might be able to steal the hardcore audience.
They just need to look at the feature set that was what there core audience wanted and go from there.
When sharing was introduced to Reader it made the experience much more fun. There became this feeling that you weren’t in a vacuum tube. It didn’t make you feel like you had to share though. I like to think of the Reader model as some sharing, or just enough sharing. The competitor also needs to have share by email, huge, and public sharing. Probably something simple like what Reader does, but it could probably be improved upon. Maybe borrow a bit from tumblr.
When you talk with others about Reader, you realize that the star feature is actually a read later feature. This is an absolute must have. Although you could probably hook it up too a service like Instapaper, or Read It Later
Folders are my triage system for dealing with the huge amount of feeds I want to track. It makes it possible to wade through the social media river every day.
Make a publicly documented API, not something that people have to reverse engineer. Also, it needs to be at true in/out system. Sure you can hook up the send to feature, but that required a pop up. I would rather the backend do something automatically when I click share. Like send to twitter, or clip it to a links blog. It doesn’t matter let the users figure out where they want it to go, but seriously put the power in the hand of the users.
What I see happening right now in the RSS area is two things. First is like what flipboard, and zite are doing. They do bizdev deals to syndicate content. By syndicating content people know, and love they are limiting the ‘crap’. This for sure makes it easier to create a nice looking, magazine like experience, but hard cord feed readers could give crap, usually, about look and feel. Instead give use our stories in a straight line so I can mainline that shit into my brain.
Second thing is a machine learning approach. A great example of this is NewsBlur. This is a great site in general if you want to re-build the news reader, but the focus is to much on machine learning. Instead I would rather have something like what Sarah Perez talks about in her google reader piece.
“Although there are many other services out there that promise to bubble up relevant content based on my interests, the best product I’ve used to date was the human curation of my Google Reader friends.”
Which is totally true. I have never found a better source of curation then other google reader users. That needs to be the biggest focus of a Google Reader competitor, how do you rope up all the hardcore google reader users into one place, and get them to share with one another.
This may not be something you want to start your next company on. It’s not going to be the next Facebook, but RSS is a long game, and someone is going to cash in on it.