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We Are In The RSS Cambrian Explosion

I don’t think the revival of readers will happen because one person made it happen. This was hard for me to fathom, because I wrote an article about how there would only be room for one player, but we are in the middle of a Cambrian explosion. The people making the new readers are mostly going it alone, so far. But, on more than one occasion I thought to myself, what if they were all on the same team? We are seeing 5 or 6 individuals, and countless hobbyists, go up against a couple of VC-backed teams to replace a tight market. A market created because a very large player decided to vacate a market they don’t think is worthwhile.

We can’t escape the power law — not everyone will win — except if you think about it like this: someone needs to go for the platform play. I know I am biased, but hear me out.

If RSS readers need to be impossibly athletic to account for all the tastes in reading styles, how can we ever imagine one perspective will capture them all? Plus, we aren’t all looking at a complete separation of concerns. Just because I like to read in list view doesn’t mean I want my reader to also have a social component, and vice-versa. Furthermore, just because you can create a good visual reader doesn’t mean you are also going to be the best at handling the backend operations.

This all leads me to believe that these silos shouldn’t be silos. If you are making an RSS reader right now, you should look at the market. Look for that feature you hate or are panicked about creating. Their color scheme sucks, who would ever want a social reader, I can’t believe they don’t have a sync API, blah blah blah, those things you hate, those people should be your next conversation.

Basically, at each level, you should have cooperation. Someone needs to write the backend infrastructure for syncing feeds. On top of that, we should see a bazillion interfaces, one for every type of person. The key here is that each new interface should not be its own backend. That way you can try out many different interfaces and find one that works. On top of the basic interface, we need social aspects. What if you could share interesting things and they were exposed to more than the people on your respective feed reading silo?

Besides the things that you might think of as core to the feed reading experience, this would open the door for hobby projects. It would allow many people to play at the fringes. Many, many experiments wouldn’t make it, but the prerequisite to experimenting wouldn’t be developing a feed reading backend. Allowing for experimentation would be the most important part.

When I was an intern at Yahoo, I had the chance to go to a lunch where Jeff Winer spoke. I don’t remember the specifics of what he was talking about, but I do remember this one idea. He talked about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The point he was trying to make was that if Yahoo was purely trying to keep itself fed, how would it ever self-actualize? I believe he was arguing that we should reduce the number of competing projects internally so that we could instead concentrate on making Yahoo a great company. Like many things I saw at Yahoo, it was a great idea never used, but this is the key. If we want to see innovation, and we want to see the total size of the market expand, we need experimentation. We can’t all do that if we are trying keep ourselves fed.

Thanks again to Jon Mitchell (@ablaze) for editing this post. He just started on amazing new journey at The Daily Portal if you are interested in new ways of publishing online you should check out his site.