RSS, former love-child and poster technology of the social web, is something of an enigma. For some, it’s the second coming of Christ: versatile, indispensable and it can turn one a fish and two loafs of bread into a feast that will feed a million people (disclaimer: that last point is rampant conjecture and might actually not be true). For many others, though, it’s a technology that’s so utterly uninteresting and unattractive, they’d be glad to see it disappear in the depths of that pool where great but unattractive technology disappears to die a slow and painfully ignored death. I’ll just call that the ”Not as shiny as Apple”-pool. In that vain, every year there’s renewed discussion whether RSS is dead or not and it never leads anywhere.
The motivation of the latter is clear: Twitter, Facebook and a myriad of other social networks have replaced personal curating. Nowadays, friends and contacts decide what’s worth a read, while, ideally, you can lean back and enjoy. It’s an interesting, albeit heavily flawed concept (more about why I think it’s flawed either in this article, or sometime later. It kinda depends on how much I still care when I’m done writing that other stuff you see below).
Anyway: Google Reader, after the demise of Bloglines and just about any other full-featured RSS-reader probably the last beacon of original RSS-feed love out there, recently received an update which was meant to streamline it with many other Google products. The update is mainly a facelift, adapting it to the no-nonsense, loads of whitespace, more icons, less text design of recent Google products (closely modeled on Google’s new Google+, that social network that’s a lot like Twitter and a bit like Facebook but pretending to be neither).
In addition to that facelift, they also removed its social elements, that is seeing what people you added within Google Reader shared, and the ability to share your stuff with others in return. Instead, they added a big and shiny +1 button underneath every item, allowing you to send stuff to your Google+ profile.
Basically, Google turned their reader into another content provider for their fledgling social network, removing what they regard as cruft and detrimental to their goal of reaching world dominance. And by world dominance I mean social network dominance (I’m not THAT paranoid).
There’s a small but outspoken minority of Google Reader sharing fans and they are pissed off (as is, according to TechCrunch, all of Iran). Google doesn’t care and I don’t think they should. You see, Google Reader is, first and foremost, a feedreader. You feed it with feeds, it slices, dices and does its thing and what it spits out is what you consume. I remember quite clearly when after their second iteration (the first one was a dud and everyone simply KNEW that Google’s Reader would fail against the mighty Bloglines), that they introduced social elements. And back then, everyone either balked or was foaming at the changes (there was actually not a single person on earth who liked them from the start – I know this for a fact). Fast forward a year or two, and lo and behold, people actually liked the social elements. Fast forward another few years and people are foaming at the mouth for removing those features.
My point, for all you tl;dr people out there: Google Reader is now what it used to be initially: a tool to read your feeds. If you want, you can share articles to your peeps on Google+. And that, my friends, is that.
PS: So no, I don’t feel like elaborating on the flawed concept of the recommendation system. Fear not, I might have time on my hands sometime in the next few months to actually write something up.