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.
Last week Google announced it will shut down its Reader service. It is a web-based RSS reader. It therefore allows to be kept updated of news from around the net in a central location. I liked the service for 3 reasons (on top of the fact it’s free, 0$, to use):
It’s web-based, accessible from anywhere/everywhere with a simple browser;
It’s text-based, you can quickly scan headlines and use the powerful search function from Google;
It’s backed by an API so you can use it via different apps on different platforms and they all stay synchronised (the web/mobile version of Reader is not as efficient as the web/desktop version; hence the proliferation of apps using Reader as a backbone).
An interesting solution could be an Evernote RSS reader. Evernote has already a portfolio of application ranging from a note-taking software, screenshots, drawing, food, … They have a synchronisation process in place. Why not a RSS reader then?
But what can be done for free (as in free speech)? One of the solution is Owncloud (AGPL) and they recently released a RSS reader add-on. Another solution could be pyAggr3g470r, a news aggregator written in Python. And I was wondering why there isn’t just a simple API that would allow any kind of application to connect, update and display RSS feed. Something like the NewsCredNews API but free, simpler to use than Owncloud and with apps/website interface for mobile devices. And a poney with that, please.
Just a little post to write how I hate those “Read More” sentences in blog post!
“Read More” is a way to cut your blog post in two: one part that will be shown in your blog RSS flux, on your front page and another part that will only be read by those who click on the “Read More”. A variant of this is the […] (as shown above).
Most of the time, I read blogs I subscribed to via a RSS reader (or news aggregator). I read blog posts when I have time. A central place like the RSS reader is like a personalized newspaper. I usually read blog posts grouped by the interest I have at the moment I read them. An organized place like the RSS reader is like a personalized newspaper, just on a certain topic, just when you need it.
Now, if there are “Read More” after 2 or 3 lines of text, I usually don’t know anything about the quality of the remaining article. Either I click, I launch my web browser (wait, wait, wait …) and finally read the remaining part of the article. It’s very rare I do that. Usually, I just go to the next article. Most of the time, the next article is by someone else, on another blog (items being classed by interest topic and time in my reader). After a few disappointments of finding a “Read More”, I just cancel my subscription to the RSS feed. Unless information given there is very, very interesting.
I know that “Read More” directs more traffic to your website. I know getting more traffic makes you earn money (if you serve ads), can potentially make you earn money (if you sell something) or simply gives you more details about your audience. I know that “Read More” allows to “shorten” long blog post so your front page is not 10-pages long.
But in the end, the goal is to be read. If you write well, have a good product and/or don’t annoy people with unnecessary “clicks”, people will anyway come to your website and potentially buy your stuff. Imho, simplifying readers’ lives by giving them all the information they want in the format they want regardless of the channel (RSS, e-mail alert and website) is more important than any other reason. Don’t force page views, it’s annoying!