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by adam mathes
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Run Your Own Feed Reader - Neko

The internet erupted yesterday over the news that Google Reader was shutting down.

Size and Scope

This was not a surprise to anyone with insider knowledge of how Google Reader was viewed internally at Google, nor by smart industry watchers.

The worldwide RSS user base is a rounding error.

This doesn’t mean RSS doesn’t matter or it’s not important – just that its fundamentally a distraction to Google at its current scale.

A Good Thing

While many users are irate – and this shutdown will cause significant disruption to people who relied on the undocumented, unsupported Reader API in their applications – I think overall this is A Good Thing for the web.

Google’s departure from this space leaves the field open to innovators. There will be a flood of RSS users who will all at once be open to new software.

For many publishers and web services, Google Reader’s dominance was concerning and ultimately may have been harming RSS as technology.

Did it make sense to invest in RSS when it was primarily being used as a way to keep users on a Google service? Does it make sense to invest in RSS if a single advertising company you compete with has a near monopoly in RSS reader software? (Hint: Twitter and Facebook said “no.”)

Depending on how things change over the next year, perhaps people may view it differently.

Replacement

While there are alternative services and new ones will emerge, I think it’s a good time to sit back and think critically about how we (the relative few of us) consume RSS content.

For various reasons I began work on a replacement RSS reader last year called neko.

Last night I decided it was “good enough” and open sourced it.

Run Your Own Reader

Neko is not a service. It is a way to have your own personal feed reader that you can share with others.

Right now you can run it on your own server if you are adventurous, or on Heroku.

It’s available at https://github.com/adammathes/neko/ for anyone who wants to use it.

It supports a single user and a public mode by default.

While running server-side software isn’t for everyone, I think that having your own feed reader should be as easy and common as running your own blog software. (Not for everyone, but an important and a valid option for some.)

Sharing, Social Networks, and Transparency

I found Reader’s sharing features to be extremely annoying when they were added.

And when people talk about conversations and social interaction features for RSS, it’s usually in that same paradigm. It’s a centralized service on top of an RSS reader, with the community being those that read via a specific RSS reader, rather than the larger decentralized web community (or community of readers of that site.)

What has actually worked is inverting this – conversation and news feed consumption have moved to where the audience is on social networks like Facebook, and fully integrated read/write/discussion services (Twitter/Tumblr/Pinterest).

What I hope to see are more people sharing their feed consumption in a transparent, decentralized way that doesn’t require accounts and memberships and big companies.

Rather than just explicitly sharing stories to discuss on whatever centralized services succeed Google Reader or on big social networks, make your whole subscription list public. Give your audience a way to access it on your own site. Discussion can then happen on your own site if that’s something you foster, or can hopefully spur conversations across the web.

This doesn’t require complicated protocols or anything else: it’s just a cultural change in running a feed reader alongside your site.

This isn’t a new idea, Dave Winer and others have called on organizations to run their own aggregators in public many times. Perhaps Google’s shutdown of Reader will be a chance for more to think about it as an option.

Other server-side aggregator options that similarly run rivers of news: Fever, feed on feeds, planet.

And while I don’t think this is an idea that has a huge market, I do think for the few who care deeply about the independent web, it may find some backers.

Own Your Destiny

The other reason to consider neko or a similar technology is to have control of your tools.

If information consumption via RSS is critical to how you or your business functions, you may want to use an open technology stack you can modify and deploy how you see fit.

(That was what I decided, after dealing with too many terrible interface and feature changes.)

What It Does

As of today, neko has implemented a bare minimum of features I needed:

  • OPML import
  • Simple RSS crawler
  • Minimal javascript-driven interface
  • Infinite scroll
  • J/K hotkeys
  • Mark as read automatically when scrolling
  • Single user login
  • Public “everything” view
  • Starring articles
  • Add feed by RSS url
  • Delete feed

Not implemented:

  • multi-user
  • tags/folders/organization
  • search
  • easy deployment
  • RSS auto-discovery
  • lots of other things

If you want to see what I subscribe to and read, visit http://neko.adammathes.com

It’s obviously in a rough state and could use lots of improvements, but I’ve been using it every day for nearly a year and find it useful.

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