Ashley Harrison is the CEO of RSS advertising firm MediaFed, which just recently acquired the news DJ service Taptu.
The death of Google Reader came as a shock to many in the world of media and publishing. But the reality is Google Reader’s end will push news consumption to the more social and mobile-minded feed readers—exactly where consumers are heading. The name RSS has been dead for a while, but newsreaders are still thriving.
With Google out of the picture, other RSS readers that previously lived in Google’s shadow now have a massive opportunity to capture greater market share. RSS isn’t dead; in fact, it’s about to be bigger than ever. Here’s why.
The RSS community influences the entire web
RSS consumers are the influencers, the curators and synthesizers of news; the initial thinkers who are the first to disseminate information across the web; the ones who stir chatter on social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Thanks to their RSS feeds, this group of news-savvy influencers finds and spreads the news first. Journalists are the ones who supply the news to begin with, and they are possibly one of Google Reader’s biggest source of power users – it is what many journalists rely on to do their jobs.
This dedicated group of users who rely on RSS feeds to sort through this content are who instigate the social flux of news we see on social media every day. Without them, the valuable debate and discussion that the Internet is able to host and foster would be severely limited.
It’s about time RSS gets more social
It’s important that everything in our world today adapts towards being social, mobile and personal. Many believe that RSS is lacking in all these qualities, when really Google Reader was the only one not changing with the times as other RSS readers evolved.
In October 2011, Google Reader decided that, as a way to grow its Google+ platform, it would remove all other social platforms on its reader– which ultimately hurt Reader tremendously in the long run. In an effort to grow internally, Google smashed Google Reader’s chances to ever thrive in the social era. Even Jason Shellen, founding product manager of Google Reader, wasn’t surprised by its death, citing its lack of social integration as one of the key reasons it didn’t stay afloat, with lack of personalization as another factor.
Looking at Mediafed specifically, Google Reader usage has decreased 50 percent in the past year alone among the RSS feeds Mediafed monetizes. Seven percent of Mediafed article visitors are still using Google Reader; two years ago it was 16 percent. In the past few weeks since Google announced Reader was shutting down, Mediafed saw an immediate plummet of two million users leaving Google Reader users, as consumers sought out other solutions.
But as Reader users desert Google, many other alternatives are gaining traction. Feedly added over 3 million new users in the wake of Reader’s termination news, and even had to increase it bandwidth by 10X and add more servers to keep up with the rapid increase in demand. Feedly’s mobile app just hit the #1 news app ranking on both iOS and Android, according to the U.S. App Store and Google Play Store during the week of March 22. It even went into Top Overall section across platforms as well. Other companies are jumping in to take advantage of this golden opportunity in digital publishing.
Digg is building a Google Reader replacement, and Zite claims to have rebuilt Google Reader in six hours. Social newsreader Taptu saw the number of their active feeds increase 40 percent in just two weeks, as ex-Reader users brought their feeds on board.
Twitter can’t replace RSS
Twitter provides a moment in time of news, whereas RSS readers are personalized to your needs and give the ability to save articles to refer back to and read later at your leisure, without missing anything. RSS is used as a curation and discovery tool, not just to see snippets of breaking news, which many use Twitter for. RSS feeds and newsreaders provide a way to see the news first, but also to organize the news, so you aren’t constantly fighting through a stream of tweets to get to what you really want. Twitter lacks the customization options and the ability to organize, save and cache your news for offline use.
RSS will benefit the international landscape
RSS is global, everyone has it and anyone can access it. This creates huge potential for it to continue to grow its global usage. Newsreaders are a key way in which nations with strict firewalls and censorship, such as China and Iran, can still access their news. Without RSS, it makes it literally impossible for some countries across the globe to stay connected with the rest of the world. Restricted access in various countries spurred Change.org to create an online petition to keep Google Reader, which received support from over 47,000 individuals in less than 24 hours. However, the death of Google Reader will open up a larger market for international RSS readers, as has already been seen with Xianguo in China, which gained 100,000 new usersby March 20.
Google Reader may be dying, but RSS sure isn’t dead. Over the next few months we can expect the competition to heat up between companies across the globe who are vying for the millions of ex-Reader users. But the real opportunity here is not to compete, but rather to form a conglomeration of newsreaders under one news discovery tool. What we need is for newsreaders such as Zite, Pulse, Feedly, Taptu and Flipboard to work together to bring RSS mainstream.
Creating this newsreader umbrella will be a win-win-win for consumers, publishers, advertisers and newsreader companies alike. By doing so, it will give consumers the plethora of news they crave, create a larger opportunity for monetization and revenue growth for publishers that will help stir up an industry that many fear to be dying. By opening up the RSS space for all, we can create a solution that will help everyone thrive in the digital age.
Ashley Harrison has commanded a number of successful software companies and founded Mediafed, the global leader in RSS news feed monetization, in 2008. Harrison is now founder and CEO of both Mediafed and its recently launched syndication service Qrius, and is also CEO of recently acquired social newsreader company, Taptu.