Is RSS Feed Synching a New Need?

Humans are lazy. It’s not their fault, but the default action for any situation seems, for most people, to wait and see. It can be something as trivial as what to have for dinner (“Oh, we’ll decide when that time rolls around.”) or as enormous and threatening as Climate Change (“Let’s do more research to see if it really, really, really is the result of human activity and is something that might be dangerous…”) the standard plan for most of us is to wait until we have to do something. It looks like, for an issue somewhere in between dinner and the fate of the planet, is requiring some action on our part, and soon.

Up to now, some of us had gotten used to relying on that huge, ‘non-evil’ corporation, Google, to act as caretaker of our choices for news feeds (as well as a bunch of other pieces of info, but today I’m talking about the news stuff). Because we wanted to keep all of the ways that we consume those news feeds in different places on different devices or software packages in synch, we relied on Google to be the keeper of our choices. In addition to offering a pretty good online feed reader, Google also (and less obviously) gave us a canonical place to save all of our feeds, how they were organized, and even which articles we had already read out of each RSS feed (so as not to reread the same articles again when we switched devices/locations/software).

Google has announced that as of July 1, they’ll be killing Google Reader, the¬†aforementioned¬†web-based reader and keeper of our RSS feed list. That not only means that the web-access to online RSS feeds is going away, but the infrastructure that a lot of other feed readers (since they figured that everyone had a Google Reader account) was something important to support, since it provided a way to quickly synch all of those preferences (what feeds you subscribe to, what feeds have read items, etc.) Google Reader’s feed collection became, partly by default, the single place where you could count on to make sure that all of your readers (and some of them actually depended on Google Reader being their to hold those Feed preferences, ‘in the cloud’ as it were) could be set up the same way. Yes, you can export your feeds as a collection of them (called an OPML file – so nerdy it doesn’t even have a clever acronym), but that’s pain and doesn’t help reconcile 2 of those files, should you add or delete feeds in 2 different contexts. I suppose someone will come up with a method of putting your OPML/reader settings in dropbox, and then the program can use it there to show your feeds, but that already feels like a hack.

So, it looks as if Feedly is going to probably be one of my main ways to read CSS feeds, along with the more standard Reeder on iOS and Mac OS X. I also use Netvibes to read news, along with my mail, calendar, stocks and and a few other odds and ends. It’s a bit cluttered, but a fine start page/dashboard for most of the time.

Still, I like the idea of a service that keeps all of those other readers in synch. Might there be one waiting in the wings, the way iCloud is supposed to keep my calendar, contacts and mail in synch? There has been some noise about a project called ‘Normandy’ that Feedly is working on – mostly that it is a clone of the Google Reader API (but it will never have the horsepower that Google had, especially if you ever wanted to search millions or trillions of feeds in order to find something important). In some ways, my subscriptions are almost as important as my files and other information. I also expect that as computing power gets cheaper, the need to have cloud-based services to keep all of those computing points-of-contact working well together becomes more and more important, and makes the experience all the more powerful. No note-taking software on the iPhone or iPad can even approach the power of Evernote, because with that service, no matter where I take the note on my phone, when I get home it’s already on my computer. Conversely, before I leave to go somewhere, I enter all of the information I’m going to need into Evernote on the desktop, and then when I get there, access it on the phone. My feed choices should work the same way, whether I listen to them read to me in the car, see them flashed on the TV screen, or snuggle up with them on the sofa with my iPad.

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