With Google Reader gone, can FeedBurner be far behind?

Google's gradual euthanasia of RSS products does not bode well for the future of RSS technology. Here's what you can do

Yesterday evening Google announced it would abandon the Google Reader RSS feed-reading app on July 1. That isn't Google's first blow to RSS technology. In last year's "spring cleaning in summer," Google cast away the easily customized iGoogle RSS-aggregating website, effective Nov. 1, 2013. The theme in both cases was similar: "With modern apps that run on platforms like Chrome and Android, the need [for iGoogle]... has eroded over time, so we'll be winding it down," and "while [Reader] has a loyal following, over the years usage has declined."

Ted Samson talks about the user backlash over Google Reader's demise -- and points to a petition you can sign (joining more than 58,000 others to date) asking Google to stay the execution.

Those aren't Google's only retreats from the RSS frontier. In a move that received little mainstream attention, last September Google closed down AdSense for Feeds, which was Google's only way to make money from RSS feeds. "AdSense for Feeds was designed to help publishers earn revenue from their content by placing ads on their RSS feeds."

Then in October Google cut off the APIs for FeedBurner, the mother lode of RSS feeds for more than half a million sites. Google paid $100 million for FeedBurner in 2007, then new development shriveled up, and it now looks like FeedBurner itself may be headed into one of Google's "spring cleaning" dustbins. Frederic Lardinois at TechCrunch says, "If you are actively using Feedburner, I think it's time to start taking full possession of your feeds again (which isn't easy). RSS may still be the plumbing that makes a lot of applications tick, but don't look for Google to provide a platform for RSS much longer."

I'm starting to get concerned about the future of RSS technology as a whole. RSS never reached critical mass in the general computer-using public. It's easy for consumers to visualize a Flipboard kind of aggregation of frequently updated data, but RSS remains an arcane "glue" topic, like .Net or IPv6. While you can find millions of people who will enthusiastically describe what Flipboard does, you'd be hard-pressed to find 1 percent of them who understand how it's done --or care, for that matter.

RSS is here for the long term, in one form or another, as a glue technology. But it's never become a consumer technology -- not even close. The demise of FeedBurner will make life more difficult for some techies, but other services will fill in the gap and most consumers won't even feel a bump.

What can you do if you're among those who will be impacted by the demise? Lots of people (present company included) have been relying less and less on RSS readers and more on Twitter. The concepts are similar, but the implementation's more granular; whereas few writers maintain their own RSS feeds, many have Twitter accounts. Most organizations worth following via RSS have Twitter accounts as well.

If you feel that you really need an old-fashioned RSS reader (I'm only gently chiding here), here's one important piece of advice: Don't even think about switching for the next month or so. All of the major alternative sites are clogged, and it'll only get worse in the next couple of weeks. Wait until things settle down, then try one of these:

  • NewsBlur has an interface that's at least vaguely reminiscent of Google Reader. Open source NewsBlur's greatest claim to fame is its ability to learn (more or less) what interests you, then help you sift through volumes of feeds guided by what you've taught. The social side of NewsBlur lets you post items on your NewsBlur blog and view posts from others. It'll import your subscriptions through an OPML file or directly from Google Reader, and will let you run up to 64 sites in its free version. (The unlocked $1-per-month version has no restrictions.) It runs as a website or as an app on iOS or Android.
  • Feedly runs as an extension to Chrome or Firefox, or as a stand-alone app on iOS, Android, or Kindle. The interface is organized like a magazine with tiles, so it won't be familiar at all to Google Reader fans. There's also a social dimension and a "read later" flagging capability. The service currently relies on Google Reader's API, but the folks at Feedly have assured us (before their blog went down) that they have their own version that will be working before Google Reader shuts down.

If neither of those fills the bill -- and you can't survive with Twitter or Facebook and/or Flipboard -- try using NetVibes; it has a home page that's a bit like iGoogle. And The Old Reader gets high marks for copying Google's old Reader interface (social interaction provided by Facebook), but it doesn't have mobile apps.

This story, "With Google Reader gone, can FeedBurner be far behind?" was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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