It’s Time to Move Beyond the RSS Reader

Alex Sharp
I. M. H. O.
Published in
3 min readAug 7, 2013

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A few months ago, Google killed it’s long-time Reader product, a free RSS reader and aggregator.

The announcement was met with cries across the internet. And rightly so — Reader was a fantastic, innovative service, especially for it’s time. It seems trivial now, but Reader was one of the earliest “social” apps I can remember — it was social before social was social.

But there was something about Reader’s death that seemed off to me. Reader was once arguably the best RSS aggregator around, and there was a time when I loved the product and relied on it to stay up-to-date with my little corner of the internet. But in recent years I had become an infrequent user of the service.

When Google announced they were killing Reader, I wasn’t at all affected. In fact, I couldn’t have cared less.

Now, I’m actually glad it’s gone, because maybe now we can evolve the way we think about online content consumption.

Google Reader was never the right product for an app-centric world. And it’s not because it wasn’t mobile.

The core problem is that there is simply no place in an app-crowded world for a product that houses hundreds or thousands of links and inlines their text into a readable format. I use a product exactly like that already — my email — and it’s daunting.

I don’t need another one.

Many of us spend most of our working days flipping between a few core web applications — a CRM like Salesforce, maybe Github, team collaboration tools like Basecamp, a chat service like Hipchat, social networks — an over-crowded email inbox, a music player (iTunes, Rdio, Spotify) and generally some profession-specific software — the Adobe Creative Suite, a source code editor or IDE, Word, Excel, Powerpoint, the list goes on and on.

My current open apps

The battle for making it into this coveted group of always-open apps is fierce. If you’re in the web product game, it’s much, much worse. You’re not even fighting for front row, you’re competing for the computer nosebleeds — a browser tab:

35 open tabs

At least from the people that I spend time with, this is not atypical. I’m not a browser tab glutton, the world has simply changed.

We constantly juggle a myriad of different applications, both web and native, each and every day.

And a page full of dozens or hundreds of RSS feeds to keep track of is a lot of work. Skip a few days, and that unread count would just stare your guilty conscience down. In a staring contest, my money’s on the unread count, every time. Declaring inbox bankruptcy is hard enough, please don’t make me do it twice.

So here’s the rub: the RSS reader is a broken product concept because it requires far too much of it’s users. Too much dedication, too much maintenance, too much energy, too much focus, too much time. Too much.

The product I wish existed is a hybrid between a traditional RSS reader and something like Prismatic.

In this (hypothetical) product, I would be able to specify the websites whose content I enjoy reading, just as in an RSS reader.

And I would be able to go read content, also just like an RSS reader.

But the product would really be focused around two core ideas: passive content consumption, and curation. To make the abstract concrete: I want an email in my inbox once per day that tells me the five best things from my feed to read today.

I want that product. I would pay for it. If it exists, I want to know about it. If it doesn’t, I hope someone will build it.

I’m building Octocall, a tool to manage meetings and conference calls, and Zaarly, the place to discover and book the best local services.

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Alex Sharp
I. M. H. O.

🛠 building https://followreset.com. https://sharesecret.co. platform @upfrontvc. prev consultant, founding team @zaarly. long ago: health care tech, economics.