A note to Dave Winer and Fred Wilson

Hi Dave and Fred,

Dave, I’ve been away from your RSS for a while now. Heck, I’ve been away from blogging. But I’ve been thinking about what you told me when I visited you in New York. You weren’t going to read me on Google+, Twitter, or Facebook. Why? You like reading RSS (you should, you helped bring it to the world).

Fred, you told me that I was nuts to give up my blog (I told you I had left it for the better engagement of Google+). You told me that it is dangerous to not own a place with your own name on it, on servers that you — at least in theory — control. Didn’t think it was gonna work out for me to post my content solely on Facebook or Google+ (both of which now have blog-like features and feeds).

I pushed back, noting that the ability to gather engagement is way off the charts on Google+ and, even, on the revamped Facebook (about a month ago Facebook added a new feature, called subscribe, so people can subscribe to my feed there without being my friend and they also gave us the ability to post long posts).

I also told you about Flipboard and how it’s changed my reading behavior. No longer do I use RSS-only news readers. Today I can see Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, RSS, Facebook and much more aggregated together in Flipboard.

Now Dave doesn’t like the paginated world of Flipboard. I imagine he won’t like Google’s Propeller (a tablet-based competitor to Flipboard), that’s rumored to be coming this week, or whatever Yahoo is doing, or whatever Feedly, AOL, Pulse, Flud, CNN, is doing.

I still remember the day when Dave first showed me how he likes reading blogs. He likes a simple feed where new stuff shows up at the top of the page, or, even better, in his outliner (for those who don’t know, Dave invented a lot of outlining technology that most of the industry has long forgotten about, but Dave still likes reading, and blogging, in an outliner where most of us just read Facebook or Twitter).

But something happened over the past few weeks that’s gotten me reenergized about RSS. What is it?

Well, Google, in its new “focus on Google+” strategy, has announced that it’s dropping some features from Google Reader. Mostly the social stuff.

Now THAT is interesting! One reason why I left Google Reader (and RSS) is because Twitter and Facebook just became dominant in the world of news. For instance, look at my Twitter news feed of news articles from major news brands around the world. Stick that into Flipboard and you have a world-class newspaper that NOTHING can match.

This change in Google Reader is going to be very interesting to watch. Yes, I see that lots of people are up in arms about this change (funny enough, I read that on your own blog at Scripting.com).

Lately Dave you have come into a number of different conversations. The famous Silicon Valley investor, John Doerr, yesterday, told me he found your writings to be as interesting, and smart, as ever. He’s not the only one who’s said that lately.

So why this note. I’ve decided to live most of my life “inside Mark Zuckerberg’s and Larry Page’s trunk.” It’s a damn nice trunk, too.

Acutally, I see it more of a dark force. It sucks all data toward it. Both Facebook and Google are like black holes.

I’ve decided to live on the dark side of the force, inside the black hole.

Why? For a few reasons:

1. I don’t have a business model to protect. I just need to be where Rackspace’s customers, and potential customers, are. Increasingly that’s inside Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ (yesterday at Y Combinator’s Startup School person after person came up to me and talked about a post or two I’ve made on Google+ or Facebook).

2. I don’t care whether my words, or videos, survive into history. Heck, the first few years of my blog, from 2000 to about 2003 aren’t available anywhere anymore and that hasn’t really caused me too much pain.

3. Everyone knows multiple places to find me, so I don’t care that one company could delete me anymore, either. Remember when Facebook deleted me for about a day? Well, now, if they tried that it would just help out Google+ (and vice versa). And if both of those got together, I still have my blog. Heck, even if the entire social media system decided to try to block my words I’d find a way to communicate. Now my rolodex is good enough that I’d be able to get airtime even on old-school pro media.

But I keep coming back to what the value of RSS is. Dave, you nailed it when you said it travels through firewalls (in other words, those put up by governments, like in Iran and China).

And, there ARE some things I want you both to read, even if you decide never ever to set foot into the black holes of Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

So, I’m going to start participating in the RSS world again. Maybe just as letters to you two. See, one reason that my blog has gone dormant is I just was having more fun inside the dark force of publishing. RSS isn’t as addictive, nor as social, nor as conversational anymore and that’s where I’ve chosen to live my life.

This is why the new Google Reader strategy intriques me. Sometimes I want to write a long ass piece where I don’t need to interact so much. Heck, I might even turn off comments here. Might even become, hate to say it, anti-social here, since there are so many better places to have a quick, real-time, low-friction, conversation amongst friends (both Google+ and Facebook are serving that for me, far more than here).

To Fred Wilson: I’d love to unpack where you think the investment opportunities are in the new modern publishing world.

My own feeling? Developers really like the new Facebook “verbs” platform, but they see the value flowing only one way: toward Facebook. They are waiting for Mark Zuckerberg to make his verbs platform two way: their data goes into Facebook and Facebook writes checks, or pushes advertising back out through those verb interfaces.

If that happens I can see lots of startups getting on Facebook’s bandwagon and it might even justify some of the valuations we’re seeing for companies like Color, Path, etc.

I’d also love to hear if you think there’ll be an investment opportunity around companies that focus on RSS again (or, better yet, decentralized identity technologies). I’m starting to think that there might be and if I’m thinking that, it’d be interesting to hear if you are thinking the same thing.

I’m thinking that way because I’m meeting more and more people who don’t have a social graph, don’t care to have one, and, even, are actively not participating in Facebook or Google+ because they are scared of what those companies are doing with the data. They have no such fears around RSS and that’s why getting rid of the social features over on Google Reader might actually be a good thing!

Anyway, thanks for listening. This was mostly a way to get my blog’s pipes unclogged, so sorry for running on a bit.

Your friend, Robert.


43 thoughts on “A note to Dave Winer and Fred Wilson

  1. Heh. Check it out. I thought you’d quit interacting with the world, Robert. Turns out you were somewhere else on the internet all the time. 

    Anything we missed? 


    1. You missed a LOT. The biggest corporate fight of the decade is happening between Google and Facebook. It’s fun to be inside the black holes of those two companies. But every now and again I should pop out for a fresh view! 


      1. I agree that this is the biggest corporate fight of the post-Internet world. And Google is running scared. So I’m predicting the winner will not be Google+ despite your positive take on it. When Google first came along, it brought true innovation to the world of search. Today Google+ is just an aggregator of functionalities from FB and Twitter. Got something good? Hey, I can do it too. That’s not what I expect from Google who made me think that they invented Paid Search, Google Earth and StreetView, and many others. 

        I force myself to go to Google+ and whom do I find no matter when I show up? You Robert. It turns out that I love what you have to say but that’s not reason enough for me to become a + fan. Leave Google+ and what will they do?


      2. It’s interesting to hear you describe the competition between Facebook and Google this way Robert.  I love G+ but I have been hearing lots of complaints from people who are concerned about the tactics the Google is using to bring Gmail users onto G+.  As I look around, I am seeing a lot of parallels with the Microsoft/Netscape struggle for web browser supremacy.  What are your thoughts? 


    1. twitter in action. real time conversations about what you wrote. and they are not just in G+. they are all over the web. here in disqus. on hacker news. on FB. on twitter. and on blogs that are riffing on this meme. no one service will capture all of this. the web will.


  2. Google+ has got me back in to a blogging-frame-of-mind after years of tweeted one-liners. This is a good thing, I think. Twitter’s been great over the years, but it’s feeling like it’s had its heyday now and was causing a kind of ADHD in my brain. 

    I’m really looking forward to seeing how Blogger and Propellor shape up. 

    Time to actually get back to creating content and deeper conversations, while also sharing the cool stuff I trip over online.

    (I’m also very pleased to see that Dave has embraced JSON to deliver and present content 🙂 )

    Oh, and.. OPML FTW! 🙂


  3. I don’t use RSS a ton although I do some for keeping up
    with more blogs than I honestly have time for. However, its postings
    like yours that are the reason some of us have looked at varying ways to
    pull the G+ public stream of an individual into Reader. Currently
    everything still feels very segregated. Perhaps that’s only due to my
    lack of ipad. However I’d really love to have my wordpress blog be able
    to get comments that someone made on a post while they were right inside
    reader… or inside G+ etc. something that unifies yet lets people
    “live” wherever the heck they want to.Crossposted here even though I HATE disqus.


  4. It is a mess. I found your blog post on Facebook. I follow the comments on Google+ and I comment it on your blog. For sure, your content is shared and seen by many, but to follow everything everywhere this is not simple!


    1. “to follow everything everywhere this is not simple” – if you can permit a little crass self-publicity, this is just the reason why I’ve written http://www.mysparebrain.com/ – to let you actively aggregate content from all sorts of sources including your own arbitrary annotations. It’s in private beta at the moment, but if you register an interest and drop me a note via twitter or similar I’ll send you an invitation code


  5. Robert, I still read thousands of feeds through multiple interfaces, but my favorite use case remains this: RSS to IM and mobile push notifications remains a handy way to act first on newly available information.  For instance, I’ve got a couple Twitter lists (like geotechnologists and data journalists) that I grab the RSS from in Yahoo Pipes, then filter for items with 2 or more RTs, then take that feed and push it to myself on my phone.  That means when hot stuff comes up in niches, I almost never miss it.  It’s awesome.  I love RSS.


  6. Also:  I am bummed that you don’t care if what you write and video lasts into history, but I do.  I want to be able to reference that information later.  I’ve read 3 blog posts that were > 18 months old today on other blogs and I’m sure thankful they were still online and easy to find.


  7. I don’t know why one has to be used to exclusion of others.  I still far prefer RSS to the social networks for consuming information from sources I care about, but I like the social networks for providing random things I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.  I also like the engagement of the social networks, but frankly I think the world would be a much sadder place without RSS.  Facebook and G+ could probably leave and I wouldn’t miss them nearly as much as RSS.


  8. I dont read your G+ stuff but i do keep up with your work here through RSS. If it doesnt come through the RSS feed, i dont see it.

    If G+ does an RSS feed then i guess i would get more involved.


  9. Robert,

     I “met” the Scobleizer on Twitter in 2008 when it hadn’t quite taken off.  There you said you loved FriendFeed.  Iy was amazing to me that as a Rackspace employee (hosting and cloud computing) you spent your days writing and talking about technology (and got paid for it, LOL)

    Your Scobleizer handle stuck because it reminded me of the energizer bunny (although there is no resemblence).  It is good branding.

    When someone makes blog entries or has a website for that matter you choose your topics and may even have a strategy.  People decide how they want to represent themselves and their company. Rackspace has lots of Rackers but the About section of the site does not show the TOP LEVEL STAFF even thought it touts transparency “At Rackspace, we believe in the power of transparency. In that spirit, we hope Racker Talent gives you valuable insight into what it’s like to be a part of our team.” It has a true corporate feel with no access to key execs.

    But that’s not what this is blog post is about. It was your choice to go full on with G+ and Facebook. (pretty much a full time job for the last few months)

    You choose to use the subscribe feature in Facebook which means even if you had privacy setting they are now gone. Google really has no privacy so when you post you are aware of this. Facebook changed the game mid-stream. Many people scared of what FB and G+ are doing with are doing with the data.

    You are representing technology and your voice reflects it. Social media runs the full gambit of choice with photos of cute puppies, tech stats, politics, sports and tomorrow so many photos of Halloween costumes.

    There is no privacy in this world really but we do have a choice in what we post. Your children were not consulted to whether they wanted their faces posted digitally. As a parent, you just did it. The kids at the college dorm party are more aware when they post pictures.

    Early adopters engage a lot in a brainstorming manner. You have made a name for yourself and your blog reflects that in its stats.

    Your blog logo has a green stylized RSS for the letter C. RSS will continue whether you pump the digital airwaves on Facebook, G+ or other social mediums.

    Social media is messy. The interfaces are distracting. I have the PLEASURE of reading your note to Dave and Fred with only the slightest scrolling of your G+ updates. Flipboard or Propellor is more snapshot reading.

    If you did not have this very blog post (with some valuable insights), it would get lost in social media. It is not just news that is important. Some opinions are worth mulling over.

    Because you don’t have a business model that is based on continuity (you don’t care if your words are lost) it is the “topic of the moment” that is what Scobleizer is associated with today.

    When you think of new publishing phenomena that is unfolding it cant honors words and content that people feel they have some possibility of controlling it is not whizzed by in the rush of a news feed.

    Sherrie Rose
    The Love Linguist &
    Liking Authority


  10. Sherrie, you don’t seem to know anything about the privacy settings of either Facebook or G+.
    By subscriing to fb profiles you will still only see what people CHOOSE to post for those that subscribe, and as for G+ privacy, I think you have paid very little attention to the infinite levels of privacy that circles amongst other things on G+ allow.


  11. Seems to me that the right way to do this is for blog posts to automatically become google+ posts AND facbook posts. We don’t have that yet. What we have is the ability to make a new google+/facebook post that links to the blog article. That isn’t a great solution.

    But even we can get our blog posts to automatically become google+/facbook posts that is still only part of the solution. Next up we need a way for comments to sync between all platforms (blogs/google+/facebook), thus preventing a fragmented conversation (which can be a big deal for people who don’t have a large audience)

    But we are a long way from that.


    1. I’d like to second this thought. I find that RSS is the best way so far to pull tons of disparate sources into 1 place. RSS serves as a sort of lowest-common denominator. Unfortunately, Facebook has been less than kind to RSS feeds and so I’ve learned not to rely on RSS feeds from social networks that expect their users to live their entire lives there.


  12. Robert, do you use Pinboard.in, Trunk.ly, or similar tools?  Thomas Vander Wal (thought leader on individuals’ processing, retrieval, use of information; see http://bit.ly/sEAOB2) just briefly reviewed in KM World (see http://bit.ly/w2nJdx).


  13. To me, most of social networking is about navigating noise and shutting people out. When I want to know about new tech news, I gotta ignore everything else and just look for tech news. That’s why I prefer RSS. I know that when I subscribe to you, I’ll be getting tech news and ONLY tech news in your feed. I’m not suddenly going to see something about a cat, or pictures of a new car. Just tech.

    Social media mushes all that together, and it’s great when you want to catch up on general interesting things. But not so great when you want specific news. For that I always end up going back to RSS. 


  14. Scoble: I had shifted to Twitter/G+/FB for content discovery and consumption (in that order). For whatever reason, I logged back into Feedly for the first time in months and caught up on better content because of its persistent nature – it has been too difficult to see the right content on social networks right now – the ease of sharing means much more content in stream and results in content moving out of sight too quickly (like for like I see more content I like in RSS than in circles). Saying all that – it isnt difficult for Google to add this to G+ (filter out shares, show author only content for a circle) and I suspect that is what they are starting on with the removal of the social features in Google Reader.


  15. Everything will feed into the major social networks (now and for a long time to come), but real-time streams will also evolve beyond the social context, organized by “what” is being said, not just by “who” said it.  Unlike RSS, those streams will be dynamic, interactive (i.e. “alive) and will be sourced from aggregate contributors.  My new startup (I won’t plug it by name here) is a platform designed to make stream processing and data sharing easy for developers and brands, while taking content curation to a new place for consumers.  Search and other natural language processing approaches can’t get us there when the “what” is equally important to the “who”.  Vanilla RSS is kinda-sorta useful at times, but what if Yahoo Pipes was developed in 2011 and went beyond RSS to include any data type?


  16. So, you’re building your audience around the idea that you’ll work for Rackspace forever and on platforms owned by other people, and you want us to think that’s smart. Who exactly do you work for?


  17. Robert:  it’s fortunate for those of us who are getting too old to chase ‘real-time’ all across the Internet like people scurrying from nightclub to nightclub looking for the best DJs/party/dance, that you have chosen to check in on us here once in a while.
    Twitter killed my RSS feed. Twitter + Facebook + Google+(irony) brought it back.  Because I’m just one person. 


  18. Methinks too few understand _just_ how ubiquitous RSS is… and its big brother, XML. Mr. Winer could probably give a fair estimate of the how of the net would stop being dynamic if it went away. My guess: more than 20%


  19. So after Robert chastised me for my intelligent banter about RSS, he comes crawling back. And you know Robert, it’s funny because I didn’t pick up on this blog post of yours hanging out on Scobleizer.com, oh no! It was your RSS feed that was stuck in my Google Reader that pushed this hot little baby out to me. You make me feel like a woman giving birth everytime. God! I love you Robert.  8D


  20. so now that I’m allowed on twitter you ass hats are abandoning it? these companies all suck. I have no loyalty to you, but you are right. facebook is the winner. it is hard to get excited about anything. I know you don’t like me, but as someone who actually had problems with the law regarding social media… I learned this: If they want to censor you… the government will find a way. It doesn’t matter even if you are posting on your own server. I’m not afraid of facebook. Don’t start cheering. none of us won this battle.  very good writing btw. troll you later


  21. I’ve picked up netvibes again lately as a replcement to my beloved Microsoft Live RSS reader.

    something about tabs/same content in same physical location i love.


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