Vale The Old Reader, and whither hosted RSS?

The Old Reader has closed its doors to the public, not long after Google threw the gigantic corpse of Google Reader overboard and created the wave that nearly sank TOR. I wish TOR all the best in it’s new life as a more restricted service. It seems timely to ponder the fate of hosted RSS readers as a service class.

Let’s review the data:

  1. Google has decided Reader isn’t worth the effort
  2. TOR not only closed up shop, but more tellingly, couldn’t find a buyer. I don’t know if they tried very hard, but still – the time is not long past when buyers would have trampled each other to get their hands on 420,000 subscribers.
  3. Feedly is fee-free. Maybe there’ll be a paid service “later”. Otherwise, the sum total of what Feedly has to say about their business model is this: “Q: How are you guys funded. A: We are a self-funded company”.
  4. InoReader is fee-free. Even more directly, the founder says: “About the business, honestly I still don’t have business plan”.
  5. People associated with running each of these services have made a point of commenting on how resource-hungry they are
  6. Every one of these services has users who are asking to be allowed to pay so as to assure the future of the service

What are we to make of this rather strange picture? Reading the tea leaves from a long way off, I’d say there’s a yawning gulf between the expense of running this kind of service and the subscription fees that could realistically be charged. I’m not sure what might be the issue with advertising for this class of service – after all, Google pays for just about every other service through ad revenue. I suppose either they think this particular user base won’t tolerate it, or the advertisers won’t pay for it. Let me know if you have any insight into this.

This is also an object lesson in the problems that giant monopolies create. Google is now so big that a user base of close to a million people is not enough to justify its continued involvement. At the same time, that user base is so big that it has swamped or severely stressed the next tier of providers. This is a market segment that has become severely unbalanced, and is suffering as a consequence. Note to self: remember to support the mid-range providers, they might save my business some time.

Anyway, the next few months will be interesting. The wave of ex-Google users has already swept over Feedly to some extent, and they’re about to get another one from TOR. I suspect the InoReader guy is about to go through some version of what the TOR people went through – in fact, if I was him I’d be heading over to The Old Reader’s latest blog post and reading every word carefully, including the comments. Especially the comments.

For myself: I might sign up with one or another of the remaining services, but I’m not going to get attached. Maybe something will shake out over the next year and we can all relax. In the meantime, life is a little less convenient.

3 thoughts on “Vale The Old Reader, and whither hosted RSS?

  1. I don’t have any insight, but my sense is that Reader was dropped not because of a lack of use or advertising opportunities (you’re logged in so they’re capturing valuable behaviour data), but because it detracted from Google+. Remember they had previously removed the “social/sharing” features not long after G+ appeared, which is what gave rise to the Old Reader in the first place (as an alternative that kept those features).

  2. @Julian,

    Good point, I remember that being said – was it by Google themselves? But certainly the users didn’t seem to consider G+ at all equivalent to Reader (judging by the mass influx into non-G+ services) so you’d wonder how it could be competing with it. I wonder – did Google just get it wrong, or was that not the reason at all?

  3. I think, in this case, Google is truly getting it all wrong. Blogs NEQ text-and-picture-studded cards. Blogs are a collection of writings and pictures by one person, usually, housed in one “package”. G+ is a collection of cards with scribblings by several people. In other words, apples and oranges.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think what they came up with in terms of Google+ is great and a testimony to talented folks. Just try to stop marketing it as other than what it really is.

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