I reckon it’s been a bad week for the open web. Google have announced they’re shit canning not just Google Reader but also CalDAV and Twitter ran one of their API Version 1.0 blackouts. Both offer alternatives; I am unsure that they are as open as their predecessors. Twitter certainly are withdrawing support for RSS, and Google have over the last 18 months been rebuilding their technology as a secret garden.
I feel that Google Reader jumped the shark when they turned off its RSS/Web forwarding feature to try to force those of us that used it, to publish via Google+. Personally I was too lazy to move at that time, but it massively reduced the tool’s use for me. I used to forward interesting stuff to people via Google Reader, its public XML and web pages and using Yahoo’s delicious. The Google Reader favourites and shares were picked up by my Google Reader subscribers and others who subscribed to either of the two aggregators that I created so that what I posted to the internet via various tools were in one place with one timeline. At about the same time that Google closed the Reader open feeds they also hid the YouTube favourites XML feed address.
The power of Google Reader, which has possibly been subverted by Twitter, is that it brought together blogs and micro-blogs that offered news, comment, opinion or links in one place. It gave reality to the view that “Smart People work elsewhere”, and allowed you to follow other people’s trials and let them find stuff for you. When Twitter started, and until recently, it also published via RSS and so was capable of being “read” by Google Reader. You could use them both in one place. Google Reader was a powerful and open feed aggregator. Rob Fishman tells the story of it’s rise and fall, in an article called, Google’s Lost Social Network at Buzzfeed.
Some commentators, including Dave Winer, the inventor of RSS, suggests the loss of Google Reader is no loss. He argues that the “mailbox” metaphor of Google Reader is now less useful as we get used to browsing a feed in reverse date order and paying attention for as long as we can be bothered. He also argues that Google’s arrogant refusal to adopt the RSS standards was harmful to the web commons. Certainly the persistent purging of the Google Reader feeds became a chore; you had the option of marking all those over 1 day or 1 week as read, but you’d want to do this daily for the BBC, and weekly for the New Statesman, maybe monthly or on demand for less frequent publishers. Certainly if you haven’t caught up with a news story within its natural cycle, then you’ve missed whether it’s in your mailbox or not. Winer describes the new viewing model as a “river” and points people at his tabs.mediahacker.org, as he’s done before. It’s one site I planned to spend some time on to see if it plugged the hole in my personal publication architecture caused by Google damaging the ‘Reader at the launch of Google+. Winer also argues that we need to pay for what we like and we weren’t paying for ‘Reader.
In an article, entitled Google Reader product vs symbol, one of Winer’s correspondents called the Clay Allsopp argues that ‘Reader, inexorably connected to the PC browser was past its best and had been overtaken by mobile friendly aggregators and apps, firstly in terms of the UI and latterly in terms of basic function. While Google’s server based architecture remains open to attack by commercial competitors, the mobile browsers remained capable of delivering the reader experience. Allsopp says,
“it’s another sign that we’ve entered a darker timeline in the history of the net, where information is becoming even more closed and out of reach.”
Mind you I haven’t tried the alternatives mentioned in Allsopp’s article, although the alternatives to Google Reader have been discussed at Lifehacker and I have created a wiki page listing those I have found. Some other people obviously agreed with me that Google Reader was not safe at Google and created a tool/site called the Old Reader which I also plan to check out, and I wonder if I should return to Bloglines from whence I came.
The loss of Google Reader, as I say above, is not a disaster, it had been severely damaged in my mind by the crippling of it’s forwarding features and there remain alternatives.
However I discovered that Twitter are also going to stop producing RSS. I discovered this because both my aggregators suffered during their first blackout test. So, hey twitter, both friendfeed and my personal planets failed to pick the feeds up. (I need to check if Google Reader did or not.) Sadl, I have not kept up with the development technologies in use in the web services space and so am uncler how closed Twitters V1.1 API is. It may just be that I will have difficulty recreating what I had, but to have two such giants walk away from RSS can’t be good. There’s no doubt that Google’s motivation is consumer capture, I am not yet sure about Twitter’s but I shall be revisiting status.net, and checking if Friend Feed and Facebook have plans to act continue to act as Twitter consumers.
CALdAV is the open calendaring standard, Google Calander will only be avaialble via Google’s APIs. I am not sure this is wise. It’d be interesting to know what people use to access their calanders, they will now have an important market share via Android, but I know I use several e-calendars and several of them are exchange based.