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Google Reader is Dead, Long Live RSS

Irritatingly, Google Reader is to be discontinued. It’s an RSS reader web app, which over the past few years has become a kind of industry standard. I use it to read blogs, but others fell in love with it as a social network. Many people have said that Google have made a huge mistake in sacrificing an organic social network in favour of the failing, centrally planned monstrosity that is Google+.

Despite the fact I use Google Reader a lot, I think it’s demise is probably a good thing. Within hours of the announcement there were plenty of posts published, telling me about alternatives like Feedly or Newsblur. And I was won over by Marco Armet (creator of the brilliant Istapaper) who said:

Now, we’ll be forced to fill the hole that Reader will leave behind, and there’s no immediately obvious alternative. We’re finally likely to see substantial innovation and competition in RSS desktop apps and sync platforms for the first time in almost a decade. … It may suck in the interim before great alternatives mature and become widely supported, but in the long run, trust me: this is excellent news.

There is one more thing: Google Reader managed to force a large chunk of the RSS feeds through a single, cloud-based server run by a single company. This was bad. Many of the reading apps out there were not really RSS readers. They were just Google Reader readers!

If you have read any of the writings of Dave Winer (credited with inventing RSS), you will know that one of its virtues is that it is a decentralised tool for publishing. Anyone can publish a feed for their website (or for anything application or machine, it just needs to generate XML information about what it is doing). Anyone can subscribe to that RSS page. It makes no sense for an intermediary like Google to be in the middle of that relationship.

Torrent technology is similarly decentralised. Information is saved in multiple places at once, seeded my more than one person. Users connect directly with each other, unmediated by what a particular web company chooses to let you see or download.  These technologies are in the decentralised, democratising spirit of the Internet, of users communicating directly with each other, without interfernce from a Government or Corporate behemoth that monitors that communication, and imposes its own restrictions on what can or cannot be communicated.

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