Last year Google introduced Feed, a personalized feed of news and updates appearing below the main search bar within the Google mobile app. I took issue with that at the time, specifically calling out how it was another example of a company feeling it knew better than the individual what someone might be interested in or *should* see. People could mark stories they did or didn’t feel were actually relevant, but that’s about it.
Since that was added to the app I don’t think I’ve used it as all and suspect that pulling in that feed of updates and stories is why it takes longer than I would expect for the app to load to the point where I can actually use the search functionality. It’s made what should be a lightweight experience that’s optimized for search into a very heavy one that keeps trying to tell me I should be doing more.
Feed has now been rebranded as Discover, because all mobile news/update apps are now required to have a section with that title. A bit of new functionality has been added as well, mostly to better collect information on user preferences and guide them on their search experience. Still there, though, is the presumption that what someone does online, specifically within the app, is the best indication of what someone is interested in.
You can guess where I’m going with this.
I continue to not fully understand why these sorts of algorithmic feeds of updates and news are a better user experience than RSS feeds.
Part of the pitch behind this and every other feed like it on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and similar apps is that users can train the AI that powers what’s displayed by voting stories up or down. Don’t want to see that story about politics? Just say so. Want to see more about music? You can tell the app and it will learn.
The great part of RSS is that it’s the exact same amount of work on the part of the reader, but without the active sending of information to a tech company, information that will likely be used in the near future to display better targeted ads to you. You opt in to the feeds of the sites, blogs or keyword news searches you want to read and when something is no longer relevant for you, you can unsubscribe from it.
The problem, as I’ve pointed out in the past, is that RSS is a “dumb” technology. In point of fact it was designed to be just that so it could work across browsers, platforms and so on. It just works, without a lot of corporate interference. That means it’s tough to monetize, though.
Which is surprising since there’s a massive amount of information about me that could be found in or derived from my RSS usage. The sites I subscribe to, the kinds of stories I save for reading later, the ones that generate enough interest to click through to view immediately…it’s all there. But it’s not proprietary, so no one wants to use it.
Discover is Google’s latest attempt to do anything but support the RSS format. Fast Flip, Currents and other now-shuttered apps have all tried in various ways to display the news. And of course there’s the late, lamented Google Reader and the company’s continued sidelining of Feedburner.
The problem is that RSS puts the power in the hands of the reader, not the company, and that’s something the tech industry doesn’t understand and seemingly won’t tolerate.