So the tech world is freaking out about the announcement that Google Reader will go offline on July 1, 2013. There’s been talk about this for a while now, along with talk that RSS is dead. This feels like the biggest blow to 141+ character social media in history. And why did it happen? I think Dave Winer and Bruce Schneier sum it up:
- Dave Winer: “Next time, please pay a fair price for the services you depend on.”
- Bruce Schneier: “Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re Facebook’s customer, you’re not – you’re the product,” Schneier said [at the RSA Conference]. “Its customers are the advertisers.”
Google Reader’s biggest problem was its API. A good API leads to a lot of extensibility, but they didn’t have a way to monetize it in the face of thousands of third-party clients. Google Reader itself became a synchronization engine with a lame web UI that few people used. Faced with Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ as ways for most non-technical people to get content I understand the decision to close it down. Google is a business, a U.S.A. corporation after all, and “Don’t Be Evil” takes a back seat to “Improve Shareholder Value.”
That doesn’t mean I like it, though. I’ve been using Google Reader in some form since its creation. I wake up and read content via Feeddler on my iPhone. I’ve got IFTTT rules that push starred articles into Buffer, tweeted throughout the day. My pre-travel routine on the iPad is to sync & cache thousands of posts to read while I’m stuck in a flying metal tube, or traveling in parts that don’t have good connectivity. All this workflow needs rethinking.
So now what?
First, if you’re worried about how you’re going to read stuff in the future don’t panic. July 1 is just around the corner, but everybody who’s ever written a feed reading service has thought about this for some time now. Take Feedly, for example. They’ve been working on cloning the Google Reader API. Theoretically that means that anybody who has written an RSS client can update it to point at them instead. There’s going to be a lot of work done over the next month or two to fill this giant vacuum, and making a hasty decision about your own reading workflow now might have to be rethought again shortly. Besides, all the services that compete with Reader are slammed now because of everybody jumping ship. Now is not a good time to evaluate a new cloud-based news reading product because they’re all performing sub-optimally.
It might be a fair time to evaluate local clients, if you read news like that. I need offline synchronization and caching but many people just read feeds via a single desktop client. I might choose to not pay much for anything right now, figuring that everything is going to change in the next month or so. Milk the free trials. It’ll also be telling who makes changes and who doesn’t. The clients that don’t change probably should be looked at as being abandoned by their developers (FeedDemon, for example).
If you have servers available to you there are interesting web-served options in Shaun Inman’s Fever and Dave Winer’s River2.
Anyhow, as Ving Rhames’ character in Pulp Fiction says, “go back in there, chill them…out, and wait for the cavalry which should be coming directly.”
Second, be prepared to pay for the services you use. Google Reader was free for the same reason that Gmail is free: they’re using your data. The next service you pick won’t be the same. This also means you should start looking at what other services you use and depend on from Google. If it isn’t something that you directly pay money for, Google Search, Google+, Gmail, or any part of their core advertising business (Adwords, Adsense, and Analytics) I’d assume that it’ll be shut down in a year or less and figure out an exit strategy. This goes for Google Calendar, Google Talk, Google Voice, and Feedburner. You don’t need to act on your strategy, just position yourself for it.
Third, get a copy of your data to use while you’re evaluating new products. Google Takeout lets you export your data as an XML & JSON archive that will likely be able to be read by replacement services. Plan to sync it again when you cut the cord in a month or two. You might use this opportunity to export all your data so you have it backed up on your own terms.
Fourth, if you’re a content creator you have some work to do. Pursuant to my second point if you use Feedburner you should start to move off of it now. I undid the redirection from my blog to Feedburner a while ago so that new subscribers get my blog feeds directly, and the Feedburner users stay alive for right now. That appears to be a prudent move, though it did mean that my readership stats need to come from somewhere else. Now is a good time to figure that out. There are also replacement services that might suit you, but they’re paid. Of course, I think that’s a good thing, even if it hurts the pocketbook initially.
It also means that if you’re using any of the Google products for your blog, like Blogger or Blogspot, you should be looking at your options and setting yourself up to move in the future. If you aren’t using your own domain that should be high on your to-do list, because it means you have more control over what happens to your readers. Use DNS to always present your readers a host name that you control, even if it means paying for a higher tier of service in a blogging platform. Setting permanent 301 redirects now might be prudent, so that when Google Reader users export their data it’ll have the updated URL already in it.
I’m going to wait until Feedburner actually dies to take the last step of moving people off of it, since I didn’t use my own domain (hey, that was 8 years ago, I was new, too). This Google Reader death might fix a lot of that for me, though.
You should probably think about the other social media options available to you, and pursue them. I’ll leave this as homework for you, though the options should be pretty obvious. At the very least you should have a Twitter account that posts new content announcements so that people can follow you.
Beyond that, expect this to be a big shakeout of readers. Your subscriber numbers will drop. For people that offer advertising opportunities this might be bad, but this also might be good. The readership numbers will turn into truly active readers, and not all the slothful folks that have you subscribed in Google Reader but never check in. Steel your ego for a correction, but don’t panic, because as the market sorts things out smaller blogs might see more revenue that was previously going to the big folks with huge subscriber counts. We just don’t know yet.
Whatever you do, remember that content is king. Write good stuff and people will come to you.