This morning brings news of the imminent demise of Bloglines.
Having started my journey into online via Bloglines, I’m struck with a (small) pang of regret. That said though, I’m one of those who abandoned it over the past couple of years, opting (like so many others) for Google Reader. So how did it come to this?
Well, certainly for every advantage Bloglines had over its competitors, there were always some gremlins in the system. Claiming feeds for your own blogs was a messy business, and their index of feeds was also pretty hit-and-miss. Over the past year or so, Google Reader out-manouvered Bloglines, taking advantage of their wider utilities (and massive subscriber base, which allowed them to offer a slew of share options), and innovating, for example in the provision of bespoke scraped feeds from static content.
But a bigger issue looms – something often lauded as a victory for the crowd, but which nonetheless has consequences for those who need to find news on a more systematic footing.
A few years ago now, I remember Robin Hamman talk at a BBC online conference of how he gets the vast majority of his news from friends and colleagues via social networks. I didn’t imagine then that the consequences of this for the wider surfing public would be with us so soon, but here we are – and so it’s bye-bye to Bloglines.
Today’s news, following the death of Newsgator a little over a year ago, is part of longer term malaise in the feed reader field. Today only FriendFeed and Netvibes stand in the way of a virtual Google monopoly. Google are one of the few companies who are financially strong enough (and technologically innovative enough) to maintain a viable feed reader service. But will there be adequate incentive for Google to continue innovating this service if there are fewer alternatives to compete with? Classical economic theory might suggest not…
While its great that people are more engaged online today, there are serious consequences for journalists in the death of Bloglines. Its all well and good sharing content with friends online, but when it comes to newsgathering in a systematic way, there is still no substitute for a feed reader.
You can develop an online army of Tweepz, Facebook contacts, and all the rest, but ultimately you risk missing out on important information in your beat unless you take the elements of newsgathering into your own hands, and proactively set up feeds on topics which people aren’t talking about, or sharing. Lets not forget, online engagement is still far from being universal in the UK – the net is still effectively an echo-chamber of thoughts and opinions driven by the more engaged, and the more vocal.
Informational pluralism is at risk if we rely too much on likes, shares and comment.