Today Google announced that they are shutting down Google Reader. People on Twitter are apoplectic about it all. I get to feel a little smug since I decided a couple of years ago that I needed to move away from Google Reader. It was clear that their vision of what Google Reader should be didn't match with what I wanted an RSS Reader to be. I had no interest in it being social and integrated with Google Plus. It feels a little rebellious being an active user of an RSS reader these days. It's like we are the Mad Max's of the Internet. We want to get content in our own feeds. We want to actually decide which feeds we want. We aren't interested in the marketing departments bundling of feeds. We even believe that this type of plumbing an openness is key to the health of the web. We are so audacious to think that we deserve feed interfaces to our services. We don't need or even want someone in the middle of our feeds deciding what we think is important. Sadly, we and RSS itself seems to not fit into anyones marketing plans.
I am surprised that Google can glean enough personal information from your email reading that they can afford to store a ridiculous amount of data for you and still make a profitable service offering. It seems that knowing what feeds you read, and which items in those feeds you read the most, must not be worth as much money to them. The five engineers that Google had on this product couldn't have cost that much right?
I spent a long time trying to figure out what I could use instead of Google Reader. It is (was) a nice service with some great features. I ultimately decided to host my own instance of Fever and I've been really happy with it. It does require that you run your own server, but it's the only solution that has given me the complete confidence that I'm in control of something that I feel is as important as email. (By the way, I don't use Gmail for email. I pay Tuffmail a monthly fee to host email and they do an amazing job.)
Sadly, the world of RSS readers is battered and beaten. It would be really great if you could just jump to some other product. Readers even have a format for this, OPML, that allows you to move all your feeds from one service to another with a simple export and import. But, you won't be doing that. Why? Because Google systematically removed all economic upside from this segment. There was a day when there were dozens of feed readers. Some hosted, many desktop software. For years these services grew and thrived and then Google entered the market. For free. And it was Google (insert fawning praise of all things Google here). One by one all of these services died. How could they compete?
To be fair, it wasn't all Google. Google made it economically difficult but many services made terrible product decisions. RSS readers are products that benefit from "keep it simple, stupid" and many went against that. But I can say without doubt that a lot of people that were looking to enter that space with great ideas sat it out, the entire segment had been neutralized for anyone seeking direct revenue.
Enough of that. I hate this cycle. And this isn't the first time or last time we will see it.
If your replacement for Google Reader is another free app you picked up in the App Store, you are going to be here again. You need to pay for this service. Either with a direct fee, or by hosting it on your own web server or running your own application on your computer. I don't believe RSS Readers are products that can be offered for free. They use resources, and are complicated. If you agree to pay for this valuable service, you'll make a market for it! If Google couldn't do it for free, do you really think others can? I say no.
I only know of two solutions for RSS that put you completely in control. One is to use a planet feed system to build your own aggregation. I'm not even going to discuss this because it is ridiculous. The bar is so high to make it work. Purely insane.
The best solution I found is to run my own instance of Fever. Pay the one time software fee and I run it on my own server. It's not that hard to run, but it requires some basic web server know-how.
I'll make an offer right now. If I have a few friends that are stranded by Google for RSS services, I will happily create a Linode instance just for Fever installs. You buy a license, and I'll set up the instance for you. We could easily run 10-20 Fever installs on a single web server. $5/month? Comment or email if your interested.
I'm left wondering if we've seen a forest fire. The forest was the RSS ecosystem, the fire was Google Reader. It's blazed for years and burned down every tree in the forest. There are some birds flying around, those are the apps that use Google Reader as an API (which nearly all RSS readers built for your phone do, and was never really supported by Google). Now the fire has ended. The land is scorched and barren. Some folks have left, like me. They are running on their own infrastructure. All Mad Max. Maybe some new saplings will sprout in the charred landscape. I'm not sure how long that will take.