I’ve been reading a lot about people bemoaning the death of Google Reader. In the end, I don’t think Google really killed the Google Reader. Twitter did. Facebook probably helped.
Let me back up, I have quite a background in RSS. I was the co-founder of a company called Pluck which, for a time, was a (the) thought leader on RSS. There was a broader vision which was basically to allow users to customize the web. This meant identifying things the user liked, finding those things, and constantly finding more of them (or similar things) and bringing them back. RSS was an important part of that because at the time it was a powerful way to constantly monitor websites for new stuff. It worked well.
While working on various product concepts, one idea that I sketched out and discussed with my other co-founder was a personal RSS publisher and reader (let’s call it RSSpr for easy typing). At the time we already had a web-based RSS reader and a plug-in. The idea of the RSSpr was as follows:
- I can enter small chunks of data, including links, that are new entries to my RSS stream.
- My RSS stream can be followed by other users either in the RSSpr or with any RSS reader.
- I could easily follow other users by adding their RSS streams to my RSSpr list.
- I could easily follow other RSS feeds by adding them to my RSSpr list. (At the time we also had an RSS directory that was pretty deep.)
- So when I logged in I would see an integrated view of all the RSS feeds that I had subscribed to (either normal RSS or user created in RSSpr) or post to my personal RSS feed.
It seemed pretty cool. I had two concerns:
- User adoption. RSS seemed technical, but had attracted a lot of attention in the “digerati”. It was a great, open system for content syndication. But could it go main stream and would users want to publish their own feeds?
- How would we monetize it? Advertising was not as evolved. A small company called Feedburner had just started up to monetize RSS, so there was some potential. (Side note: Dick Costolo, one of the founders of Feedburner is now the CEO of Twitter.)
You’ll note in that feature list the basics of Twitter. In fact if it was designed correctly, it would basically be Twitter. (I’m not saying I invented Twitter. We didn’t pursue it and even if we had it probably is unlikely we would have ended up at something as streamlined and clean as Twitter.)
The core of Twitter is basically a walled garden of RSS. Companies now publish many things to Twitter in a way that is almost identical to the way RSS was used. Twitter makes it very easy to both publish and subscribe to what are effectively personal RSS feeds.
So in the end, I believe Twitter created a better, closed version of RSS. Because it was better and easier to use it beat the open RSS – which lead to the slow death of RSS over time. So again we see an example of closed beating open on the basis of ease-of-use.