Updated on December 10, 2021
Yesterday marked the fifth anniversary of the demise of Google Reader, Google’s former RSS (Rich Site Summary/Really Simple Syndication) news reader app. Google Reader was very popular with hardcore news and information users (including journalists and bloggers). Unfortunately, it fell prey to one of Google’s “spring cleanings.”
Reader was shut down over supposed declining use. However, the difficulties companies have in monetizing RSS likely didn’t help. There’s also the rise of social media (seen as more user-friendly versus RSS) and its related algorithms. (Google tried to push Google+ as a Reader replacement/its own social media solution, but without much luck.)
A few sites have even stopped offering RSS feeds altogether, both for the above reasons and as a way to force readers to go to the site directly. One such example is digital newspaper comic strip site GoComics. However, I view this as user-unfriendly; a lack of RSS feeds is also counter to how most webcomics work.
Despite the above, RSS still stayed around as a basic part of online infrastructure. Podcast readers, for instance, rely on RSS.
Fortunately, recent events involving social media (Cambridge Analytica, the 2016 election, etc.) are starting to make some realize social media algorithms have downsides. Some are starting to once more advocate for RSS. Wired wrote in March about the need for its revival, as did Cory Doctorow.
Benefits of RSS
Some benefits of RSS include:
No algorithms or “fake news”
RSS feeds are just a website’s latest posts or articles served. That means you’re guaranteed to receive every new article on a blog or website, without algorithms “deciding” what you should see.
Also, since users have control over what RSS feeds they subscribe to, they can opt to receive only trustworthy news sources. Granted, there are those concerned about “living in an information bubble.” However, self-curated news (assuming reputable sources) beats some Facebook algorithm or Google News search popping up something Fox News or Breitbart reports.
Non-proprietary, open standard
RSS is a non-proprietary, open standard, and thus not owned by anyone. Compare that to Twitter’s tight control over its API, meaning third-party Twitter apps often face restrictions.
RSS isn’t locked into any particular operating system or device, as it’s a fundamental internet standard.
More user control
Users have control over what sources they read, and are free to read an article at their leisure. They also don’t have to worry about articles being buried under a pile of other tweets or Facebook posts, or go unnoticed altogether.
RSS news readers
As for what news reader I’m using, I’ve largely stuck with Feedly (https://feedly.com) since the Google Reader shutdown. Feedly is easy to use, and since it’s web-based, it works across all platforms (important in my case). Feedly does offer Android and iOS apps, however. A free version’s available, as well as a premium version for $7/month or $65/year.
Others I’ve seen recommended online (though ones I’ve not used or used in years) include:
- Netvibes (https://newsblur.com/). A web-based service, Netvibes offers both a free and premium tier (at $36/year). Mobile apps are also offered.
- Liferea (https://lzone.de/liferea/). A desktop news reader for Linux (specifically GTK+ based desktops like GNOME).
- Tiny Tiny RSS (https://tt-rss.org/). A self-hosted news reader.
There’s also RSS support built into some web browsers like Firefox.