Here’s what greeted me over the weekend when I fired it up in a web browser:
As far as I can tell there haven’t been any formal announcements or explanations from Digg. There’s a little copy of this notice on their Zendesk, for what it’s worth (“It’s been fun y’all”: seriously?). I’ve tweeted at them and sent email; no response yet.
Five years ago we went through this when Google unceremoniously killed their RSS reader. Well, I say “we”. Back in 2013 I suspect there were more of us relying on Google Reader. Possibly the number of us using RSS aggregators has declined since. Even more likely is that fewer people use Digg Reader now than GR back in the day. Gizmodo snarked, “Were you even using it?”
Well, I was. Personally, I rely on an RSS reader to organize a hefty amount of feeds for my research. It lets me arrange and rearrange a wide range of feeds into streams that make sense for my work. RSS saves me a heck of a lot of time, and also lets me more easily track patterns across inputs.
Visually, a good RSS trawl makes me feel like this supervillain:
Politically, I’ve always supported RSS. It’s a free and open standard. It empowers us to explore and connect with the open web. It offers an alternative to, or different ways into and around, the commercial web. It ties in well with the call some of us issue and/or heed to return to blogging.
RSS lets us return to what Molly McHugh calls “the chronological internet“. That’s an experience we control, without the dubious benefits of some company’s blackboxed AI (hello, Facebook). McHugh again: “Users are curators of their internet experiences”.
The end of Digg Reader reminds us of what Alan Levine eloquently observed back in 2013:
This is a bit of a reminder that the web we inhabit is made by others. Can be taken away. The web is a fabric, and I thought of that yesterday while using a broom to knock some spider webs off the side of my house. The web with holes, empty spots, becomes a tattered fabric. Holes might merge to gaping voids, and then giant swaths of dead space.
We should be making the web, not breaking it. And we make in our own spaces.
So, what to do now?
First now, I’m going to keep on with RSS, somehow, picking a new reader to try. I believe in the politics, and I know the personal benefits are solid.
(Even though I’m starting to feel like a crank. “Back in the day,” he wheezed, “we used a dag blamed RSS reader!” He pounded the porch with his cracked cane. “And it was good for us! Not like the fancy, stupid Facebook and Snapflat you kids use these days!” He coughed again. Not so much blood this time. Nobody else saw, because nobody else was listening.)
Second, choices choices await.
I tweeted about this stupid Digg mess, and one project, Inoreader, swiftly pounced:
Bryan, we've been through this 5 years ago, so we built Inoreader. A lot of people found home here after that. It won't hurt if you try it out. We'll be glad to help if you have questions. https://t.co/iWbUMGzm0X
— Inoreader (@Inoreader) March 18, 2018
I appreciate that.
Then another site, the better known Feedly, tweeted me as well:
Sorry for the sad news, Bryan, if you want to keep your reading habit going on, please let us know, we’ll be happy to help.
— Feedly (@feedly) March 19, 2018
That 100 feeds limitation looks pretty stark for me, though, since I have cough cough more.
What are the other options?
On LinkedIn one contact recommended BazQux. I know nothing more about this delightfully named thing.
Still on deck from last time: FeedWrangler, NetVibes, Newsblur, The Old Reader. I’m not sure if PressForward can work as an RSS reader. BlogTrottr works by email, which doesn’t appeal to me right now. Some old ones look dead or in hospice, like Fever and Prismatic. Bloglines isn’t loading.
Should I pick up an established, hosted service, or try carving out time to host my own?
And third – let’s look ahead a bit.
A giant company (Google) exited the RSS space. One smaller company (Digg) jumped in, then exited. Are all of the other RSS readers provided by start-ups and tiny firms? Has RSS reading become that marginalized? Are we this bound up with the “helpful”, AI-driven feeds so many experience through Facebook and the like? For another science fiction reference, we might collectively accustom ourselves to benevolent AI oversight, as with Iain Banks’ Culture universe (thanks to Crainist for the idea). This is one future path.
One would think that the rising disgust at giant social media and other tech firms might drive people back to RSS, as an open, easy to use standard. Perhaps we’ll see the RSS reader equivalent of Mastodon. There will be a reactionary movement growing in strength. RSS could ride alongside people seeking social media detoxes and setting up their own, tiny social networks. Call it the Butlerian Jihad for RSS and the open web. That’s another way forward.
Or maybe a small number of us will tend the open flame, huddled around a shrinking number of oddball RSS reader, stolidly blogging away. We’ll be like the Amish in Pennsylvania, plodding along while the others whiz past. Or we’ll become something like a minority religion, somewhat tolerated, sometimes disdained, often sidestepped.
Over to you, dear readers. Which way forward for RSS, both in the big picture and in the practical sense of which reader to try?