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Is it so difficult to maintain a free RSS reader?

August 5, 2013

A few months ago Google decided to retire its Google Reader (it stopped working on July 1st, 2013). As it was simple, effective and good-looking, a lot of people complained about this demise. A few days ago The Old Reader, one of the most successful replacement for Google Reader, also announced it will close its gates, only to keep early registered users. And today Feedly, another successful alternative, announced it is introducing a pro version at 5.00 USD per month.

One of the reasons often evoked is the difficulty for these relatively small projects (before Google Reader demise) to handle the many users who migrated to their platform. Difficulties in terms of hardware resources but also human resources, finances, etc.

So, to answer my own question, yes, it looks like it’s difficult to maintain a free RSS reader with an extensive number of users. And free software alternatives like Tiny Tiny RSS, pyAggr3g470r or Owncloud can be difficult for users to install (and especially maintain – same type of difficulties: necessity to have a host and technical capabilities, time, money (even if at a different scale), …).

Two thoughts on this. Fist people are used to free products on the internet (count myself among them). And we take for granted that services on the web are and will remain free. RSS and its associated readers were a great inventions to keep track of information coming from various sources. However with the explosion of the number of these sources is RSS still a valid tool? One solution is to restrict ourselves to some, carefully selected sources of information. The other is to imitate statistics: summary statistics exist for raw data, datamining should become as easy to use for raw information (but I don’t think datamining is as easy as summary statistics).

Which leads me to my second thought: aren’t this just signs of the end of RSS as we know it? People thought of it because of a giant web service provider removed its “support” for RSS. What if it is just the end of RSS because it is not adapted anymore to “modern” use?

Let me try a comparison. E-mail is an older system than RSS. It is however still there. It serves another purpose: one-to-one or one-to-few communication. But since its origin e-mail clients tried to innovate by adding features, among which is automated classification of e-mail. Spam filters exist since a long time. Rules can be defined in most e-mail clients. GMail (again from Google) is now classifying your own e-mail with “Priority”, “Social” etc. These tools help us to de-clutter our Inbox and keep only relevant e-mails in front of us when we need them. I think RSS would benefit from similar de-clutter/summarizing tools. We just need to find / invent them.

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