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Google's incomplete support of reading lists

Sunday, May 24, 2009 by Dave Winer.

Kevin Marks, who works at Google, tells anyone who will listen that Google Reader has a new feature that's exactly like reading lists, and that's a good thing -- because they are powerful and useful, and likely a key to making news reading work for more people.  Permalink to this paragraph

A picture named love.gifReading lists allow you to delegate subscription to feeds to experts. So for example, I could let Lance Knobel, an economist who I trust, choose the feeds I follow in his area of expertise. That way, when a new feed comes along, instead of sending me an email saying "Hey Dave you might want to subscribe to this feed" he can do it for me simply by adding it to his reading list.  Permalink to this paragraph

Similarly, if a feed is no longer being updated, when Lance unsubs from it, so will I, automatically. Permalink to this paragraph

You can think of reading lists as a mutual fund of feeds. Busy people don't have time to research which feeds to follow and unfollow, so they delegate that to experts. Permalink to this paragraph

Another application -- the BBC has a large number of feeds, some for special events like the Olympics or elections. They could have a reading list for all their feeds, and when one falls off, they'd remove it, and when a new one comes on, they could add it.  Permalink to this paragraph

It's an obvious extension to RSS, and to the ability to import and export OPML subscription lists. You can subscribe to a list of feeds in addition to individual feeds. Permalink to this paragraph

Now I'd love to provide reading lists for users of Google Reader, but I can't because they're using an incompatible format. This is absolutely the wrong thing to do. When asked to explain why, Marks gives a nonsense answer about the OPML Editor, which this has nothing to do with. It's always a shame when technologists, who have to answer precisely to the computer, use political spin when talking to users. Permalink to this paragraph

Further, if Google plans to challenge Twitter, as I've said I hope they do -- they will not get my support if they respond to Twitter's locked trunk with their own locked trunk. They must use RSS, OPML, Atom, everything they can find that there is even a bit of consensus for, including Twitter's API. They must achieve a remarkable level of compatibility to make the barrier to entry as low as it possibly can be and to send a signal that they just want to be a player in the market, not the dominator of the market. Permalink to this paragraph

Google's attitude in this area has been very unfortunate -- they've tended to be incompatible with existing formats whenever they can get away with it.  Permalink to this paragraph

If Google had not invented a new format for reading lists, this would be a very different post. I'd be offering some reading lists of my own for their users to subscribe to, and encouraging my colleagues to do the same. I'd have written a howto that shows people what they need to do to create a reading list for Google Reader if they don't use Google Reader. Permalink to this paragraph

It's bad strategy to be gratuitously incompatible. It's also bad manners. Google was given a market for their reader built on open formats. They ought not consume that open-ness, they ought to at least preserve it, if not enhance it.  Permalink to this paragraph

However, I will sing their praises if they fix their implementation to use the same format we use for their implementation of reading lists. If not, we'll wait to see what their efforts to compete with Twitter look like.  Permalink to this paragraph

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A picture named dave.jpgDave Winer, 54, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.

"The protoblogger." - NY Times.

"The father of modern-day content distribution." - PC World.

One of BusinessWeek's 25 Most Influential People on the Web.

"Helped popularize blogging, podcasting and RSS." - Time.

"The father of blogging and RSS." - BBC.

"RSS was born in 1997 out of the confluence of Dave Winer's 'Really Simple Syndication' technology, used to push out blog updates, and Netscape's 'Rich Site Summary', which allowed users to create custom Netscape home pages with regularly updated data flows." - Tim O'Reilly.


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