Ownership

What I neglected to tell people, whenever the subject of RSS came up and "RSS is dead" got casually thrown around, was that I rely pretty heavily on RSS for all of my daily news and casual reading. I mean it: I read everything Ben Brooks writes on his blog, and I don't think I could tell you what his homepage even looks like. I don't know why I was particularly reticent to mention that - when someone's looking for a chair to sit in and they start eyeing mine, I don't sit quietly while they start testing it out. It's my chair, I'm using it.

But I didn't this time. The tech community, of which I've always wanted to be a part, doesn't look kindly on stragglers, on hangers-on. Supporting old operating systems, old browsers, and old languages has traditionally been tossed aside in favor of supporting new features, features that can't be implemented otherwise. I remember a story of Steve Jobs rationalizing one particular interface change by answering a call for backwards compatibility with "well, those people are all going to die soon anyway."

So I don't think I said anything because if the community decided that the RSS horse was dead, I wasn't going to be caught trying to ride it. Now, with this whole Google Reader mess, it seems like I'm not alone in my sudden desire to scream, "Hey, asshole, that's my chair! I was using that!"

Well, it is and it isn't. When I say I rely on RSS, what I really mean is that I rely on Google Reader to give me my RSS feeds, which I read entirely through the iOS/OS X client Reeder (which is awesome). I could go read each website individually, and most of them would probably thank me - i'd be contributing more to their individual page views and their front page advertisers. I could self-host a Fever server (for a $30 fee) and run that through my local RSS client, if I really wanted to.

But, of course, I don't. I don't want to host my own server, or maintain 57 separate RSS accounts myself, much like I don't want to host my own email account or manage my phone's operating system. I don't have the time or energy for that sort of stuff, and it's not worth it to me in these cases to have the kind of control that self-management provides.

So, I let someone else do a lot of this stuff. My personal email is managed by Apple, after years of having it be managed by Google, and for now it seems to be working fine. iOS does most of the management work on my phone, of course, and I trust Apple to make the UI/UX choices I might otherwise have to make if I chose to use Android or Firefox OS or something along those lines.

But what I gain in convenience I lose in ownership. I use these services at the provider's discretion, and only as long as they deem it worthwhile to offer. The fact is, iCloud mail could shut down tomorrow and I wouldn't really have a say in it. OS management is much more complicated, but anyone who owns a WebOS device knows what living with an orphaned product feels like. And, in this case, Google Reader is going away, and there's not a damn thing I can do about it.

This is all pretty much common sense. So, why do people get up in arms when Google does things like this?

The upside to the web is that it's all mine, if I want it. If I work hard enough at it, if it's connected to the public web I can get at it. It's the world's most powerful democratizing agent.

The downside is, that even if I put it there, if it's on the web, I can't own it. I'm taking an implicit risk using it, building products off of it, and relying on it for my business, because it could all go away tomorrow if someone gets bored.


That conflict is partially why I started this site, coming from having my sole "social" outlet being Ol' Zuck's Blue Discount Ad Emporium. I'm skeptical of the "public, but open, but proprietary, but secure" nature of Facebook, and I wanted more curatorial control over what I posted. I went from "free, public, but proprietary" to a service I control and manage, for a fee.

(Even still, if Squarespace decided to shut down tomorrow, they'd make my life more complicated, but I have creative and contextual ownership of both my content and my domain. I think.)


The way Google went about its business with Reader is par for the course for them, which means it was pretty reprehensible, shortsighted and dishonest. That doesn't change the fact that it's now my responsibility to manage my RSS feed subscriptions, and I have to decide whether I'm interested in doing so, or whether I'll find a different service to do what Reader did, or whether i'll switch to a different content consumption method entirely. I have a feeling that in the next few weeks there will be plenty of options to choose from, but I'm just going to be switching from one product I don't own to another.

Now it's still just technology - its not the end of the world. Google still can't eat me. But if I do end up picking a different RSS client, not taking it for granted in the same way I treated Google Reader is going to be difficult, and working against heavily instituted sense memory.

It doesn't matter if I do, though: it's not my chair. They can take it back whenever they want.