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So you may have heard that doomsday has arrived in the RSS world with Google shutting down its Reader service. But for many of you who don’t use RSS, you might be wondering what all the fuss is about.

But before I explain, let me apologize. Because the whole thing is my fault, as I’ll get to shortly. So sorry about bringing about RSS Armageddon.

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication (well, it does mostly these days). It’s a way for automated programs to check out new items on the web. There’s actually a few different standards involved, but the bottom line is the RSS allows a web site to build a formal, structured portion of the site that can be easily read and parsed by a program rather than a person. So where does this come in handy?

It’s a great way to keep tabs on your favorite web sites if they support it (and quite a few do, including this one). Just look for the orange symbol with the dot and 2 lines.

But you don’t go to the feed URL directly  – you can, but it looks like this:

RSS2

 

Not exactly human-freindly. But that’s the point – you read this with an application.The handy part is that your application can go out every 30 minutes or so and visit all the web sites you’ve subscribed to. It then looks at the RSS feeds and, if there’s something new alerts you. It beats spending all day trolling through web sites to see if anything is new.

So what’s all the hullabaloo about Google Reader closing down? Well, when RSS started out, people wrote clients that went to each web site in your list of feeds to look for news items. This worked great – until you wanted to see your feeds on your desktop and your laptop. Most readers let you export your list of feeds, so you could set up another client on your laptop, but it would have no knowledge of what you’d already read on your desktop. So you’d have to wade through the same articles on both machines (granted, on the second one you were just marking them read, but if you have a lot of feeds that gets old fast).

So some of the clients came up with the idea of syncing your feeds to a single place. As long as you were using Company X’s reader in both places you were golden. Of course, that wasn’t always practical if your laptop was a Mac and your desktop Windows – or if your other device was a phone.

Google at one point came out with Google Reader – a web-based way to read your RSS feeds. Google would go to all the web sites and present the feeds to you in a browser. Even better, Google Reader had an API (Application Programming Interface) – that allowed 3rd party clients to get the feeds any sync them up. So now you could use Brand X on your work computer, Brand Y’s reader on your laptop, and Brand Z’s reader on your phone. As long as they all supported Google Reader’s API, you could mix and match to your heart’s content and still have your items synced between all devices and platforms.

Because Google Reader was free, it pretty much captured the market. You’d be hard-pressed to find readers that didn’t support syncing via Google. In fact, many of the readers available today don’t even get RSS feeds – they just talk to Google, and let Google go to the web sites. These are the clients that are now in trouble.

My favorite reader until recently was NetNewsWire Lite. It’s free (ad supported, but the ads are in the lower-left corner of the app and are very unobtrusive). NNW, while supporting Google for syncing, still goes out to the web sites directly. So it will continue to work even after RSSageddon. But it won’t be able to sync, which means users are back to running a separate client on each system and manually marking read the stuff they’ve already seen.

So how is this all my fault? A couple of hours before the announcement I decided to switch to Reeder for Mac. it has a great interface and is very easy to use. So after spending my $4.99 and switching over, Google decided it needed to kill off Google Reader. They were just waiting for me to switch to a client that requires Google to work, as Reeder is one of those that doesn’t read RSS feeds directly. So, blame me.

So what now? Well, over 500,000 former Google Reader users have switched to Feedly. They have their own sync service. So as long as you use Feedly for everything, everywhere, you are all set. It’s available for Safari, iOS and Android.  While there is a version of Safari on Windows, it’s all but dead (Apple hasn’t updated it to version 6 like the Mac version). So that’s not a good long-term solution for someone like me who needs to be able to use it on Windows as well.

Feedly has announced that they are going to set up a Google Reader API server. This would allow other clients to use it like they did Google, so a fairly painless update could fix programs like Reeder. That’s of course if a) they pull it off and b) don’t charge too much (they might even do it for free). But what happens if/when Feedly decides they don’t want to do it any more? There are others, including Digg, planning to duplicate the API as well.

Still, the clients that only can function through Google either have to do something or go away. Reeder has said it “won’t die” with Google Reader, but that’s all we’ve heard so far. So you should probably start exploring clients that can do RSS natively, if for nothing else that as a hedge against a sync service successfully starting up. Look for readers that don’t require Google Reader (most have it, but the ones that can do RSS directly have it as optional; those that can’t have it as mandatory).

So, again, sorry, about that.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w_cYrx1TxMY

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