Monday, June 10, 2013

The End Of Reader And What That Means For Blogging

Now that Google Reader's shut-down date is alarmingly near, I'm starting to wonder what it means for blogging in general. 

Blogging on the Wane

Blogging has been on the wane for a long time now, of course. It started with Twitter. The ability to spout out short thoughts and get instant feedback and a larger readership - there was no way that the more old-fashioned plodding blog format could compete with that. 

At the same time, Twitter also gave blogs a spurt. It provided readers an easier way to find and share great content. Rather than using RSS feeders (so old-fashioned!), more and more people are using Twitter, Facebook and other 'curating' sources to find stuff to read online. Online reading 'fashion' has changed to finding and reading the most interesting content from a wide range of sources, rather than following a few sources in the hope of finding great content - breadth rather than depth, if you want to look at it that way.

Reader Readership

Needless to say, Google probably realized this from its own usage data. When the shut-down announcement happened, many blogs posted data about how their Reader subscriber base has been increasing. But for Google, that number probably matters less than the amount of time these subscribers are actually spending on Reader. And Twitter has gobbled up a large share of that Time pie.

So how do I account for the collective howl of rage that reverberated across the internet when Google announced that it was phasing out Reader? Denial. 

Don't get me wrong - it was less a disinclination to deal with change and more an inability to accept that they had already made the change. All of these people still continued using their Reader accounts out of habit. But I'm willing to bet that a fair amount of the time they used to spend on Reader was now being spent on Twitter, hunting for the elusive Fairy of Great Content. 

The Tipping Point

For these 'comfort zone' people who continued to use Reader, the shut-down of Reader may be the ultimate tipping point. 

The thing is, there is no easy replacement for Reader. Sure, many people have created lists upon lists of Reader alternatives. But none of them quite hit the sweet spot. The best looking one is Feedly, and that's the one that most people seem to be switching to / thinking about switching to. But as Shrik explains here, Feedly is NOT a Reader substitute. It doesn't let the reader decide what to read. It tries to figure out what people WANT to read, and that doesn't quite work. I tried a couple of the others, but none are simple / attractive enough to meet the standards that Reader set.

So a large number of Reader users are simply not going to make the switch to Feedly or NewsBlur or any other reader. They're going to switch all their attention to Twitter or Facebook or the next phenomenon to come along. (Google+? Nah.)

The End of Blogging?

So what does this mean for blogging? Is blogging as a phenomenon ending? No, not really. After all, you need a place for thoughts that are too detailed for Twitter to handle. 

But since people will no longer be following your blog per se, you will have to drive traffic to your blog through Twitter, Facebook, and so on. You will no longer be able to depend on a loyal group of readers who will read your content, and share it if it's great. Your content will be read only if you ensure that links reach Twitter and Facebook. If it goes viral there - great. If not, too bad. Better luck next time.


On the other hand, it's also interesting to see how Medium fits very snugly into this new gap in the market - though not in the way the creators of the 'Reader Alternatives' lists would have thought. It's again about great content, on a single site. No more trawling through your entire Twitter stream to find a few great links. And there's the added bonus that it even tells you how long it'll take you to read the article. Just the thing for the attention-deprived world of today.

So is Medium the new blogging? Too early to predict. It all depends on the vision the founders have for the site. As of now, it has great UI and good-to-great content. Considering that these are the same guys who founded Blogger and Twitter, let's wait and watch.
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Unknown said...

Ah, I was wondering where that little squirt of traffic to that post came from :)

I took a long hard look at my RSS consumption, and realised it wasn't really 'cloud'y. Consequently, I will be ditching Reader for an offline reader -- most likely Liferea in Ubuntu.

DR said...

@Shrik: Considering the readership of my blog, that must have been a teeny-tiny squirt of traffic. :)