Open Letter To Google Reader Team On The Future Of RSS

RSS Awareness DayToday is RSS Awareness Day, and as a solid 40% of my RSS subscribers use Google Reader, I thought I would take this opportunity to reach out to the Google Reader team.

I am someone who loves using RSS, but at the same time as a business owner I find RSS is not living up to its current billing.

Whilst I haven’t mentioned RSS day before on this blog, I have known about Daniel’s plans for a month, and I might have been the first one to suggest using a dedicated site to promote RSS Day. This avoids what might be looked on as purely an attempt at linkbait.

Premium RSS Content

  • I want to be able to provide premium content delivered by RSS
  • I also want to consume premium content delivered by RSS.
  • I am honestly sick of paying for access to content, but having to visit each site in turn to actually read it.

The premium content is currently served behind pay walls, as web content, PDFs, sometimes even video. All of this content could easily be delivered by RSS.
It is even often the case that Google is allowed to index this content, and serve advertising on it, but if I want to read it, I have to actually visit the site.

Against Google Business Model

Google makes money serving advertising along side or within content, thus in many ways it serves Google’s long term goals if “all information is free”

Unfortunately some content isn’t “mass market” and takes a huge amount of time in preparation – CPC, CPA & CPM monetization solutions are not sufficient compensation.

In addition, using authentication, it is possible to deliver different content to different users. For Google that would mean that the open rate of individual RSS feeds would be less valuable within their search algorithms.

But That Is What Email Is For

I know people will argue that if you want private delivery of information, email is the perfect choice. There are huge drawbacks.

  • Spam filters block content we want to receive – sometimes I even get my contact form messages arriving in Gmail’s spam bin
  • Opt-In Mechanisms are confusing for many readers – only 60% of the people who initially requested to receive my blog content by Feedburner’s RSS to Email service actually confirmed their subscription
  • CAN SPAM – there are lots of hoops to jump through for commercial email, and these are increasing
  • Multimedia – why can’t I watch a YouTube video in Gmail yet?
  • Privacy – some people are scared to give out their primary email address

Reading email seems to be a very selective process with significant restraints for security

  • You can’t read a “river of email” even though that would be a huge time saver
  • I don’t know of an email client that allows you to quickly share emails using a single hotkey combination – it is possible to apply filters for forwarding, but that is less liable to human error when tired, drunk, or when you have a 1 year old on your lap

Suggestions For Google Reader

  • Google Reader needs to support some kind of HTTP Authentication for access to secure personal content
  • Support for controls that restrict sharing of content to shared public accessible feeds – not just the primary shared feeds, but also label shared feeds

This isn’t the first time I have written about this, in many ways this is a pet topic as it is very much a core feature I want to be able to use for my business both as a provider of premium content, and a consumer.

Corporate Solutions

I know there are corporate solutions available which feature quite extensive control, after all for internal adoption of RSS for company intranets, this level of control is essential.

Many existing consumer RSS Readers support authentication – it isn’t a major programming hurdle, though might consume additional storage resources – I can’t beleive Google lack the resources to make this possible.

Premium content is something that needs to be accessible by consumers, thus I hope that any future solution provided by Google isn’t planned for their premium business solutions.

The Future Of RSS (at least on this blog)

In the near future I plan to deliver premium content by RSS – much of it will still be free of charge – if at that time Google Reader doesn’t support various access controls, I will restrict access and block Google Reader

This might be looked on as extreme, but I first discussed these problems in October 2006

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  1. says

    Let’s turn Google Reader into a reader – let me see a list of items, not just RSS feeds. Give me my emails there, too.

    What kind of item is this? RSS. Hit my J key. Next item is an email. What do I want to do? Respond. Hit my J key. Ooh, look – calendar invitation.

    Oh – and it would be nice if you used the ID tag inside every RSS item to identify duplicate content and eliminate it. Shared feeds tend to get me five copies of some articles.

    How about competing with FriendFeed before it’s too late? Get on it, Google. You’re being slow.

    • says

      Eric yeah there are a whole load of additional features that are needed, but they don’t necessarily prevent specific business models.

      Incidentally I would prevent Friendfeed access to premium content as well.

  2. kimmy says

    Premium rss content. Cool. I have never thought about that.

    You may block the G reader? That would suck. It’s the only rss reader I use.


  3. says

    Like Kimmy I would be a bit disappointed if you had to block Google Reader from RSS feeds because I am a faithful reader of this blog, but I would definitely sign-up for the email if it came to that. If it has been since 2006 since you first mentioned it, I don’t expect this update any time soon.

    Andy why do you think it is that Google hasn’t implemented it? They just don’t want to put the resources behind it to add these features or you think they want to discourage any premium content? If google can index it and serve ads to it like you mentioned, I don’t see why they would want to discourage it.

  4. says

    As a Google RSS Reader user I have to agree with you Andy. It has a few features it’s lacking and at same time few too many. I like when things are targeted and designated to do one thing but do it well.

    I don’t subscribe enough to premium content to make it deliverable via RSS an absolute need but since I’m one of your subscribers – I would agree that loosing option to read the content at my convenience would suck :D


    • says

      Alex I know you are doing membership sites. Wouldn’t it be great for your users if you could deliver that content by RSS?

  5. says

    Andy, yeah I thank you for the initial feedback, you were the first one suggestion a separated website indeed, and it turned out to be the best solution for it.

    Good ideas with RSS and authentication also, it sure would create a wide range of opportunities for content producers and website owners.

  6. Innocent Bystander says

    Dude. your site is ugly as SIN. Seriously, if you are getting linked by sites like techmeme and have 5k subscribers, the least you could do is sink some cash into the appearance of this site.


    • says

      I left this even though they used a fake email address and it is highly critical.

      It highlights another reason to use RSS

      My design or lack of is deliberately minimalistic with a fair amount of white space. Ultimately it is the content that is important.

      White space is extremely important

      On the front page I highlight a lot of blog social network widgets, but as that is a core topic I cover in my content, that is highly appropriate.

  7. says


    I agree. White space is extremely important.. and it is the content that really matters. Thanks for the post about RSS. Great info!


  8. says

    Some people put a lot of emphasize on the look of a website, but have nothing worth while as far as content goes.

    Your post on RSS was a very good one.. thanks

  9. says

    I hope you don’t block access from Google Reader as it is all I use. That being said you do have a valid point concerning authentication for secure content.