Saturday, May 14, 2016

Feedly vs. Inoreader, Part 5: Google News is a pro feature?

Here is an addition to my series (which even I thought was finished) on Feedly vs Inoreader as the RSS reader of choice. I look for areas in which one objectively excels over the other. This time I get all high and mighty about what RSS means, and why I see one reader moving in a direction I don't like. This is Part 5. For more, see this series Part 1Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 if you're interested. 

Google News: a pro feature? 

I thought I was done with the whole Feedly vs. Inoreader thing, because honestly I made the switch to being a paid Inoreader user and have never looked back. But something I saw today made me cringe.

If you have a feedly Pro or feedly Team account, you can use the premium Power Search function to create a Google News feed within feedly.
[Feedly Blog | Follow a Google News Keyword Alert in Feedly]

Seriously guys? You're offering a completely free public Google service as a "Pro" feature? 

Google News: use its RSS feeds for free, anywhere

Google offers those RSS news feeds free, and you can add them to any feed reader, whether you're a pro or free user, using Google's own instructions here. It's literally as easy as searching on Google News and clicking the RSS feed link at the bottom.

You can use and subscribe to both Google News section feeds and search results feeds. You can find Google News Feeds by searching for the orange RSS icon at the bottom of any Google News page.
By clicking this RSS icon, you can get a feed for any Google News section. For instance, while you're on the Business page, clicking the RSS icon at the bottom of the page will give you a feed of business news.
You can also get a feed for searches you do on Google News. First perform a search on Google News, then simply use the RSS icon at the bottom of the search results page to generate the feed.
[Google News Help | Using Google News RSS Feeds]

And yes, I've tried, you can use search operators to get insanely customized feeds, even feeds from sites that don't even provide actual RSS feeds (I'm looking at you, AllKpop). These feeds are indeed handy, whatever industry you're in. Inoreader already supports (and has done so for a while now) a very convenient way to add Google News feeds from right inside its main search bar, for free, for everyone. As it should be. Google provides this service, not the Feedly cloud. It seems obscene to limit it to "pro" users. 

Why this matters 

I get that Feedly did and does a lot for RSS, and that they need paying customers to survive. But the whole foundation of their product is freely, openly distributed RSS content. Making Google News a "pro" feature essentially is a charge for that free, open content. Imagine if following certain people on Twitter required a Twitter Pro account. Or tweets linking to certain sites required a Pro account to see. That's crazy. The content is open and free, and charging for it (by suggesting users need a pro upgrade to see/use it) seems deceptive to me. 

What's next, following RSS feeds from Reddit is a pro feature? From NYT? From my blog? From any blog not in a publishing partnership with Feedly? 

I feel petty for writing this post. If you like Feedly, use and pay for Feedly by all means. But on a personal note I am extremely passionate about what RSS is all about: a simple, free, organized way of following the websites you love. I hate to see any site drop RSS support, and honestly Feedly has done a lot to keep the idea of RSS going after Google Reader's death. 

But this feels like a step in the wrong direction, and honestly I'm nervous about the future of Feedly and its publisher SDK. Even adding a "Feedly button" makes me nervous (note that I have no problem with their suggestions for open-standard feed optimizations). RSS is inherently open and usable by any feed reader, anytime, anywhere. Consolidating control over the platform, as in encouraging publishers to add Feedly-specific content or features, even adding "Subscribe in Feedly" buttons (presuming they are placed in-lieu of normal RSS feed subscription links) is dangerous. It may allow Feedly to give a better experience to their customers, but only to their customers. The rest of us, who use other readers? My ultimate fear is that publishers will follow suit, drop standard RSS support (as some have done in favor of Twitter or E-mail newsletters), and RSS will finally truly die. 

It's worthwhile to remember that when Google Reader died, we all so easily moved over to Feedly... why? Because RSS as a service was open, transferable, free, public, cross-compatible. That's likely why Google mostly dropped it. If RSS becomes FSS (Feedly Subscription Service), or any other specific company's domain, then what we love about RSS will be gone. Dead. Just another Twitter-like service. Keep that in mind when you decide which RSS reader you want to support by becoming a paid user. 

On the flip side, I could be totally wrong, and Feedly's efforts turn out to revitalize the moribund RSS arena, and the rising tide will raise all ships. That's the ideal, but as the open web becomes less open everyday, I wonder how much longer we'll be able to enjoy the humble RSS feed. 

Thanks for reading, and for more of my comparisons, see this series Part 1Part 2Part 3, and Part 4 if you're interested. 

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