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Summary:

With speculation that Facebook might be launching an RSS reader at its press event next week, it’s important to think about why users loved the Google Reader experience. Hint: it wasn’t because Google Reader was social.

Facebook invitation event photo June 20

Google Reader is meeting its end in just a few weeks, and there’s no doubt it’ll be traumatic for users of the beloved service. There are a variety of replacement options already on the market, with more expected to launch in the next couple of weeks, and I’m curious to see what rises to the top.

But one replacement product that I wouldn’t use? An RSS news reader from Facebook.

In one sense, it wouldn’t be surprising for Facebook to launch an RSS reader at its press event next Thursday in Menlo Park, as some people have speculated. Anyone using Google Reader has to find a replacement by July 1, and it’s still a pretty wide-open market. Products like Feedly seem to have a head start, but there’s still time for someone to roll out a new product and win over users.

We’ve seen that Facebook has no problem quickly launching products to try to disrupt a growing market, even if it’s not a sure thing they’ll succeed. (Just look at Poke, the company’s challenge to Snapchat.) And between the company’s launch of hashtags last week to improve the real-time nature of the news feed (even if I think hashtags are better saved for ironic conversation), and the addition of new tabs for following people on the new News Feed, Facebook clearly has ambitions to be more of a resource for news. (After all, brands and advertisers love the real-time nature of constantly updated live events and news.)

But as a hardcore Google Reader user, I have no interest in using an RSS reader replacement from Facebook, and there are several reasons why it seems like an ill-suited product for the social platform.

The appeal of Google Reader was that it was a reliable tool for importing and consuming news — one that wasn’t influenced by trends. When I subscribe to a feed, I want to read everything in that feed. With Twitter and Facebook at my disposal, I don’t need another site to see articles that my friends are sharing. I rely on my RSS feeds for work to catch every item of technology news flowing across the internet every day — I need to see everything, not just what’s popular, to do my job. And I follow probably 20-30 blogs about topics like fashion or cooking, where the writers post infrequently but where want to read every one of their posts.

So why wouldn’t I look to Facebook to re-create this experience? Probably because I don’t want my RSS reader to be social — I have Twitter and the existing Facebook for social news. I don’t want all my friends to know that I read fashion blogs on a daily basis. I don’t want the news I read to influence the ads I see on Facebook, or the stories that show up in my news feed. As the Washington Post’s auto-sharing from its social reader experiment showed, people don’t want everyone to know what they’re reading.

Of course, we don’t know if Facebook is launching an RSS reader at all, let alone what it would look like. The company did not have any comment on the matter when we asked. But social sharing is embedded in Facebook’s DNA, so it’s a reasonable assumption that any RSS reader put out by Facebook would have serious social attributes, with a heavy emphasis on sharing.

Sure, there’s room for social news on Facebook. On my account, I “like” a lot of news outlets, as well as journalists and celebrities and business figures. In fact, a quick glance at my news feed would show mostly news stories, and very few posts from my friends. It’s a great way to see what’s popular right now in the news, or to catch an older story I might have missed on Twitter. But social news is a distinctly different experience from what people knew and loved about Google Reader — and that’s a distinction that a company like Digg seems to understand.

As I wrote previously, Digg’s new RSS news reader will likely incorporate some social features but will also serve as a separate product from the popular stories posted on Digg.com. And while Google Reader used to have much-beloved social features, these were complements, not a replacement, for the feeds themselves.

Would it make perfect sense for Facebook to create a dedicated spot on its site for news? Sure. But that likely wouldn’t keep me from searching for my next RSS relationship.

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  1. Eliza, these are my sentiments exactly! I’m still holding out on Google Reader biting my nails until July that an acceptable (and like you said reliable) news service surfaces. I’ve tried Feedly and NetVibes and I’m just not confident either are truly picking up “everything”. And the last thing anyone needs is another connection to Facebook!

    Would love for you to post your new experiences with RSS options.

    Thanks!

    Rusty Winter

    1. Thanks Rusty! I’m using Feedly right now, and I’m pretty happy with it (we’ll be writing about the different options you have before July). But I agree it takes some getting used to the switch, and I’m still open to trying out other products like Digg’s reader.

      1. I’m also using Feedly and am pretty happy with it. However, I’m still lamenting the loss of Google Reader.

  2. I would expect that any Reader-like service that Facebook might launch would be less about social and more about advertising. I can easily imagine Facebook attaching ads to posts in my RSS feed list. Given that some RSS feeds carry their own advertising, I foresee some friction if Facebook went down that route…

  3. Wouldn’t it make more sense for you to use a desktop application? There are several free&open source ones that are quite good (and with open source you normally don’t have to worry about malware).

    You just leave it minimized in the system tray and it does it’s job — no need to have a webpage open all the time.

    They can export your feed tree to a format called OPML so that you can copy all your feeds to another computer, or even another application if you change your mind about which one you use.

    Why would you do something as simple as RSS reading with the cloud? Do it on your machine and get back control.

    1. The downside to having all of your feeds inside a desktop app is that you can then ONLY read them on that app, at that computer. Actually, you can have the best of both worlds – I currently use Reeder on both my Mac and my iPad, with the same feeds synched between devices. I’m just waiting for Reeder to put in place alternative feed synching, then I can export my feeds from Google Reader and be done with it.

  4. Eric Schwartzman Saturday, June 15, 2013

    I agree that the rumor of Facebook launching a Google Reader alternative is pretty ridiculous, bit I disagree with you on why Google Reader was valuable, and on what would constitute a comparable alternative.

    You wrote…

    “The appeal of Google Reader was that it was a reliable tool for importing and consuming news — one that wasn’t influenced by trends. When I subscribe to a feed, I want to read everything in that feed. With Twitter and Facebook at my disposal, I don’t need another site to see articles that my friends are sharing. I rely on my RSS feeds for work to catch every item of technology news flowing across the internet every day — I need to see everything, not just what’s popular, to do my job.”

    How can anyone possibly see everything today? #TMI

    What was great about Google Reader was:

    1. Delivery Speed: Results populated when Google’s spiders indexed the page, so you got it when it was available in search. No one else has the processing power to deliver those kind of instantaneous results. I’m still waiting for FB to give me Graph Search.

    2. In Feed Search: Google Reader allowed you to comb through your feeds quickly with in feed search, Feedly shut it down to cope with the demand from the onslaught of new users after the Google Reader announcement. Try searching Facebook for anything other than a user or a page. They can’t deliver.

    3. Analytics: Google Reader had the “Trends” option which let you see which of your feeds delivered the most results and which ones you clicked most. Feedly has no analytics.

    The only ones that can afford to offer in-feed search, tagging and analytics in a reader product are premium providers like salesforce.com and Netvibes.

  5. This is a valid statement every-time: But one product that I wouldn’t use? A [fill in anything] from Facebook.

  6. charleschuckberry Saturday, June 15, 2013

    I agree with you. I loved Google Reader too. Have you tried Google+. I tried it, and you can subscribe to whatever you want.

  7. charleschuckberry Saturday, June 15, 2013

    I agree with you. I loved Google Reader too. I have you tried Google+? You can subscribe to any type of news feed just by using the search bar.

  8. Lets see where you stand in 6 months, after their release!

  9. I switched to Feedly in minutes and never looked back – no difference

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