Will Google Reader's demise revive RSS?

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Now that Google Reader got its death sentence, the cries from die-hard fans of the online feed reader have gone out across Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and websites the world over.

The outcry was especially loud on our forums. “This royally sucks,” one commenter posted Wednesday. “It would be easier for me if Google decided to shut down email than Google shutting down Reader. This is going to be hard to replace.”

It may have a declining user base—one of the reasons Google cited for the shutdown—Reader can still boast a core group of users that relied on the service. Journalists and individual bloggers with big Twitter followings are just two examples of that core ‘Google Readership.’ “Haven’t heard that many people swear in our office in a long time,” GigaOm staff writer Janko Roettgers said on Twitter, echoing similar cries by other reporters who used Reader to keep tabs on their beats.

Google Reader’s demise doesn’t just affect users who directly use the service, but a host of desktop RSS clients that synchronize with a user’s feed subscriptions on Google Reader. The FeedDemon RSS reader, for example, will shut down after Google Reader disappears, although the client will still function for anyone who doesn’t use FeedDemon for Reader synchronization. “If you’re an avid FeedDemon user, you probably know that I’ve struggled to keep it updated,” FeedDemon creator Nick Bradbury said in a blog post. FeedDemon stopped “paying the bills” a while ago, so Bradbury took a full-time job elsewhere and hasn’t been able to give enough attention to FeedDemon.

If you’re not familiar with RSS (Really Simple Syndication), it’s a way of providing an automatic feed of links to new and updated pages on a website, including either the full text or a summary of the page. RSS readers automatically download the updates and display them in a list, making it easy to follow a collection of news sites and blogs and keep track of which ones have been read, without having to visit each of the sites in turn. Google Reader is an online service that can aggregate RSS feeds.

Reader will continue to operate until July 1, at which point the service will disappear. Until then, users can export their feed subscriptions to transfer to another client.

While Google Reader may have been the most widely used feed reader, alternatives remain for getting your daily RSS fix; they include NetVibes, NewsBlur, and The Old Reader. Others are even trying the popular Web service IFTT (if this, then that) as an alternative.

All hope is not lost

Amid the wrenching cries of loss over Google Reader, however, others remain a little more hopeful. “Google Reader is a convenient way to sync between our RSS clients today, but back when it was launched in 2005, it destroyed the market for desktop RSS clients,” Marco Arment creator of the Instapaper news reading app said in a blog post. “We’re finally likely to see substantial innovation and competition in RSS desktop apps and sync platforms for the first time in almost a decade.”

For example, NewsGator decided in 2009 to shut down NewsGator online and have its RSS readers synchronize with Google Reader, to focus on social sites for enterprise organizations.

Software developer and early RSS developer Dave Winer offered a similar opinion to Arment. “It’s possible to use RSS without being dependent on Google Reader,” Winer said in a blog post Thursday. “And since [Google Reader] is going away, that should probably be seen as good news, not bad.” Winer uses RSS to create what he calls a “river of news” that can display your feeds on a public Web page.

Flipboard hopes to convince Google Reader users to move their feeds to its mobile reader app.

If you’re not interested in Winer’s DIY solution, many alternatives are already fighting to take over the space Google Reader occupied in the hearts and minds of power users. “We’ve Got Your RSS Covered! Save Your Google Reader Feeds Now,” said a blog post by Flipboard, which offers a reader for mobile devices. “If you already have a Flipboard account and you have signed into your Google Reader, you don’t need to do anything.”

Feedly, which also offers a reader, has attempted to clone the Google Reader API, and is also offering the backend to third-party developers using the Google Reader API. “We would love to keep the Google Reader ecosystem alive,” it said in a blog post.

Feedly says it’s been expecting the closure of Google Reader for some time. The company has been working on a project called Normandy which is a Feedly clone of the Google Reader API, running on Google App Engine. When Google Reader shuts down, Feedly expects to transition to the Normandy back end. “So if you are a Google Reader user and using Feedly, you are covered: the transition will be seamless,” it said.

After this article was initially published, Digg threw its hat into the news reader ring. In a post on the social news website’s blog, Digg said it would build a news reader, targeting the second half of 2013 for its release. “We’ve heard people say that RSS is a thing of the past, and perhaps in its current incarnation it is, but as daily (hourly) users of Google Reader, we’re convinced that it’s a product worth saving,” the Digg post reads.

Digg says it hopes to “identify and rebuild the best of Google Reader’s features (including its API), but also advance them to fit the Internet of 2013, where networks and communities like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit and Hacker News offer powerful but often overwhelming signals as to what’s interesting.”

In the meantime, users aren’t exactly ready to give up on Google Reader and hope to persuade Google to do the same. A petition at Change.org calls on the company to keep its online feed reader running. As of Thursday morning, the petition had more than 60,000 signatures.

Updated at 2:12 p.m. PT to add information about Digg’s reader plans.

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