RSS isn’t rocket science. While Google Reader is gasping its last breaths — after this weekend, it’s gone forever — there’s already a veritable army of newcomers vying to replace it. There’s even a good chance one of them will be better than the dead-end Google Reader ever could have been. That’s great and all, but even the perfect RSS reader can’t fill the void. Google Reader wasn’t just a service; it was a place, and I’ll miss being there.
The internet — and computers in general — create a very weird sense of location. A website is not a place you can physically be, and neither is your desktop, but we talk about them like they are because that’s how it feels. It’s why your desktop is called a “desktop”, and why there’s that icon of a little computer sitting on it. It’s why you have folders, and why people have actually uttered terrible phrases like “information superhighway” out loud. Say it with me: cyberspace.
And with a place like Google Reader, that illusion is stronger than ever. Do you remember where you were during the SOPA blackouts? Or when MegaUpload got taken down? Or when the Apple vs Samsung verdict came in? I do; I was in Google Reader. It’s where I relearned how to use the internet. It’s the reason the “J” key has worn off my keyboard.
Every day I bounce between dozens of sites, each with its own purpose, its own content, its own look and feel. But inside Google Reader, the internet — the carefully curated internet I built, pruned and tweaked — comes to me. And, more often than not, I don’t even have to leave its comfortingly familiar little interface to ingest what my little intranet has to offer. At its best, it’s my virtual study, a private reading room. At its worst, it’s a closet with a slop bucket on the floor. But it’s still my slop bucket close. Or it was.
It’s equally strange and accurate to say Googs and I were intimately familiar. I’ve barely been a working blogger for two years, and yet hastily scrawled napkin maths suggests that I’ve spent upwards of 1000 hours at www.google.com/reader. I’ve spent more time with Google Reader than I have with some humans I consider to be friends. In a weird sort of way, it feels like I grew up there.
Maybe someday Google Reader will wind up sitting alongside other long-lost places of the past, like the backseat of the garish red Subaru hatchback my parents got rid of right before I turned 16, or my dingy bedroom where I learned the basics of spending entire hungover Sundays in bed. You know, the places you forget until you’re taking stock of memories, but think of fondly on that rare occasion that you think of them at all.
It’s a strange sort of nostalgia you start to feel for a place — even digital ones — for the sole reason that you’ll never be back there again, one that it makes it all the tougher to say goodbye. For now, there’s a hole in my heart, and it feels 1000+ unread items wide.