The Fertile Ashes of Google Reader

Announced amidst the furor over the election of a new Pope and the resignation of Andy Rubin, Google yesterday outed the less-than-stunning revelation that its RSS product, Reader, is set to retire this summer.

Of course, Reader has been on deathwatch for quite some time. Popular — and grossly misinformed — opinion has deemed RSS an irrelevant and dinosauric technology — a relic of the early days of the Internet. Thus, as the service enjoys relatively few users and offers little in the way of revenue streams, Google decided to shutter the service.

Although my initial inclination was to voice disappointment and anger toward Google, upon further reflection, I feel this is a warranted and pragmatic business decision. Highlighting a waining portion of its infrastructure, Google sought to — rightly — rid itself of cruft. Moreover, it liberated one of the most technologist-engaged — and therefore most volatile — properties within its wings.

For months, we've watched ambivalently as Google's shed excess products, outmoded designs, and refocused itself on the future. As with any change, many felt resentful toward Google for axing some beloved services. Others, on the other hand — myself included — felt the decisions represented a welcome narrowing of focus within the notoriously nebulous company.

In my eyes, the latter philosophy is utterly applicable to the death of Reader.

Perhaps Google could've kept Reader on life support. Or, perhaps they could've worked to monetize and improve the platform. Regardless, the likely outcome of either scenario would've been unilaterally underwhelming. We would've been left with a deplorable product amidst a rapidly improving Google ecosystem. There would've been no semblance of consistency and there would've been a gaping sore on an otherwise attractive, new Google visage.

So, rather than slip into complacency, Google euthanized a product that had fallen into irrelevant stagnation years ago.

In doing so, as many optimists have been quick to highlight, Google has removed the anti-competitive barrier to entry in the RSS marketplace. For the first time in years, developers and thinkers are engaged and actively pursuing innovative means to work with RSS.

Quite a remarkable turn of events for a purportedly dead and irrelevant technology.

For those who choose to decry RSS as outmoded technology, I cannot help but pity such a misguided and pessimistic outlook. RSS is a backend technology designed to be withheld from your view as a user. Just as OS X has undergone an aggressive path of simplification, RSS has also been steadily ushered behind the proverbial curtain away from our prying eyes.

And just because you cannot see something does not mean it cannot have a profound impact upon the manner in which you engage with the world.

RSS is a platform agnostic, apolitical, enabling technology that allows for the efficient distribution of content. Considering the resurgence of long-form writing and its confliction with the ever-more cluttered experience of Twitter and Facebook, there has never been a more fitting time for a new (or revitalized) distributional technology to make waves across our space.

The arguments for the death of such a fundamentally useful technology are most certainly not new. They've persisted for years without ever showing any tangible proof of a demise. In fact, looking back, the first article I wrote for The Loop was entitled, "The Purported Death of RSS." For context, that was written in November, 2011. And it was most certainly not the first article to seep onto the Internet refuting widespread conjecture over RSS's demise.

In other words, people have been blustering about the death of RSS for a very long time. And yet, as we all witnessed yesterday, the shuttering of a "dead" Google product caused outrage and Twitter activity to rival the election of a new Pope.

2013 is a monumental and utterly formative year for digital publishing. In my eyes, it's certainly no coincidence that RSS has been set free during this time. Readers are receptive, writers are experimenting, and publications are reforming. RSS stands to undergo a renaissance of relevance and that's certainly not a bad thing at all.