Google rediscovers RSS: testing a new feature to track sites in Android Chrome

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Google is testing a new feature in its Android browser that allows users to track sites to create an up-to-date list of new content they publish. The feature is based on RSS, an open web standard that has previously been the backbone of many popular web compilation tools. This includes Google ‘s own, beloved (and now stopped) Google Reader.

The test is small-scale: The following sites are an option for some U.S. Chrome Canary users only (the online version of Chrome that allows enthusiasts to access beta features). Users can track sites in the browser menu, and updates are compiled into a card-based feed that appears when users open a new tab. It is not clear whether this feed is entirely dependent on RSS-enabled sites or whether Google is filling in the gaps itself.

While this is only an early test, it is still exciting for a certain type of web user who misses the great days of RSS (and as an extension, the way the Internet faded and distributed years ago). At its core, RSS allows users to maintain a personal feed of new content from favorite sites, blogs, and podcasts. And while the tools that took advantage of these feeds were briefly popular, they blacked out for several reasons.

Why RSS fell out of visibility is complicated. (Here is a shaking Vice and one TechCrunch which helps explain.) But regardless of the ultimate reason, many see its death as a turning point in the web: the moment when distributed, chronological feeds were replaced by engagement-driven algorithms by social media giants.

Google Feed Reader

Halcyon Days 2013: The year of Google Reader’s death.
Photo: Raja

Because the rise of Facebook, Twitter, and the like has had so many obviously bad effects (misinformation! Scams! Nazis!), Many view RSS miserably as a kind of Golden time network which failed out of nobility and lack of cunning. “If only RSS had succeeded!” they say. “All this evil could have been avoided.” Perhaps. Clearly, Google is responding to the demand for new (read: old) network connections.

“We’ve heard it loud and clear: Discovery and distribution are missing from the open web, and RSS hasn’t been ‘mainstream consumer-friendly,’ has tweeted Paul Bakaus, Google Web Developer Relations Manager. “Today we’re announcing an experimental new way to track content producers with a single click via RSS.”

Who guesses what happens next. Does Google plan to track RSS-based features for all Chrome users? Or is it tired of a product that isn’t an integral part of its last line? (As with Google Reader.) At least Bakaus suggests there’s more to come. “This is just the beginning of a larger search, and to achieve this we need your feedback,” he said has tweeted. “Find us through @WebCreators and tell us what we need to build for you. I’m very excited about it!”



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