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The Google Reader Shut Down and the Truth About RSS

April 2, 2013

Since Google never tried to monetize Reader, the shutdown is not a surprise. What is interesting is the tremendous backlash. How can the cancellation of a product based on a “dead” technology be the biggest tech story of this year to date? It is a little like when people are dying – they start telling the truth.

There are millions of passionate RSS users in 2013 and that is not changing

In Forrester’s reaction, they noted that 9.6 million U.S. adults use RSS at least weekly and 24 million at least monthly.  That is a small number compared to social networking, but the number is only part of the story. 500,000 people signed up for Feedly, one of the many Google Reader competitors, hours after the announcement. [Update: on April 1, Feedly announced 3 million new sign-ups.] Google Reader is 11% of subscribership to our customer’s feeds. This implies there are over 5 million people who are really, really serious about RSS. These are people who need RSS to do their job and live their lives. Are there 5 million people who are deeply passionate about a social network? Certainly there are for Facebook, but the rest? With or without Google, RSS is here to stay.

RSS is critical to marketing

Bob Warfield says it very well. RSS is unique. Customers use feed readers to get information, not to view their friend’s pictures or catch up on celebrities. So if you sell a commodity product, RSS is probably not for you. However, if your customers need your information for your company to generate revenue, the loss of Google Reader is scary. Media companies are an easy example.

TechCrunch noted that RSS is their second largest traffic source and is fretting about the viability of their business. Let that sink in a bit. RSS is second only to Google Search. That means it is above direct, email, Twitter, Facebook, etc. And since TechCrunch publishes full text feeds, vs. summaries in those other channels, the only reason to click through is to see the comments. So as a media consumption point, RSS may be more important than their web site. Further RSS is where they reach the info junkies who republish the content to followers on social networks.

Google Reader is the IE 4.0 of the RSS Reading Market

Users were satisfied with Google Reader, and their content and customizations locked them in. So they did not evaluate new RSS applications. Now that they are being evicted, they will find greatly superior RSS readers, particularly in the mobile/tablet experience. As the economic opportunity rises from the demise of Reader, innovation is blooming.

At SimpleFeed we do RSS, Facebook and Twitter publishing and analytics. We see the numbers and the truth is RSS has been thriving for years. The user numbers did not grow like Facebook, RSS is just not as much fun.  But for reads and clicks, RSS is almost always number one. If you need to connect with an intelligent customers who need your information to make a decision, you need to use RSS.

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