Less than a week for Doomsday1, and two things continue to surprise me.
First, the number of Google Reader2 devotees (including me) who are yet to find a replacement. With other dead products walking, finding a replacement is top priority. With GR, bedside vigil and mourning have taken precedence3.
The second is how everyone - even GR devotees - seem all too willing to perpetuate Google’s preferred script explaining away the summary execution of a much beloved product. RSS usage has been declining, only geeks use it, on the litany goes4.
It’s almost as if one is trapped between the covers of a detective novel in which, as expected, an unnatural death has occurred - but the detective du jour is conspicuously absent. Everyone you encounter has no alternative but to trust and repeat hearsay, even the perpetrators’ own mea-not-culpas.
So, what’s this alternate vision of the future in whose service GR was sacrificed? Google’s lullaby is a klutzy mashup of how much things have already changed and what the benevolent future has in store for us.
“As a culture we have moved into a realm where the consumption of news is a near-constant process. Users with smartphones and tablets are consuming news in bits and bites throughout the course of the day — replacing the old standard behaviors of news consumption over breakfast along with a leisurely read at the end of the day.”5
And of course, Google is working on “pervasive means to surface news across [Google's] products to address each user’s interest with the right information at the right time via the most appropriate means.”5
To me that sounds an awful lot like being constantly, and involuntarily, drip-fed the information equivalent of burgers, fries and supersize colas every waking hour - with matching nutritional value and info-calories.
It turns out, quite a few of us still believe in the opposite6 - in the benefits of a sumptuous and healthy breakfast of quality, hand-picked and slow-published reading material, each morsel chewed and ruminated upon and, occasionally, unsubscribed if found wanting - and new discoveries cheerily subscribed, if found nourishing.
* * *
Anyone who has ever visited an Ikea store - or a shopping mall - will know this feeling: You walk in on an errand, knowing exactly what that errand is. But before long, you’ve lost track of where you are in the store and where you were supposed to be.
Not everyone realises what inevitably ensues: they end up buying much more than they set out to. They have become the victims of a ploy in shopping mall design called the Gruen Transfer7.
The Gruen Transfer refers to that critical moment when shoppers get overwhelmed and disorientated by the deliberately confusing layout and cues of the store (presumably while excoriating themselves for not being up to the task.) Controlled ambient factors and store displays wear out their focus and decision making faculties. Literally, their eyes glaze and their jaws slacken. And in a snap, they become impulse buyers, sacrificial offerings to the highest bidders for shelfspace.
In those futuristic visions of how we will consume content online, there’s ample room for every crafty trick discovered and perfected by retailers8. But, primarily, there will be no escape from the online equivalent of the Gruen Transfer. You head online to read the news and before you know it, you are clicking palpably on “22 more reasons why Neo (eventually) regretted taking the red pill (Now in Slideshow Mode).”
Far from being a product with no future, GR I suspect was a cannibalising thorn in this vision. A thorn that in traitorous alliance with the social web’s bees and pollinators9 would leak much of the transfer out of Gruen.
It represented a stand by a cohort of content pro-sumers - the supposed minority of supposed power users who conscientiously wanted to tick their list of to-reads every day. God, how 20th century is that annoying habit?
Putting the deathwish on RSS10 is Google’s deliberate ploy to tip us collectively into a world of bluish reality, a world where we harbour no hopes of hanging on to our errand lists when we check in online. Instead, we submit to being passive and impulsive consumers. And those recurring pangs of anxiety? Just chew on some algorithmic manna and you’ll be eventually cured of them.11
While it’s unclear if RSS will thrive in the future, all indications suggest it will fight another day12. An outcome hardly to Google’s liking, whose concerted actions13 seemed to have hinged on making RSS the first technology in history to plunge into permanent disuse14.