You Don't Miss Google Reader, You Miss College

The Golden Age of Blogging is gone and is never to return

Every few months on Twitter, the elder-Millennials who work in journalism have a ritualistic moaning session about how much they miss Google Reader. This months round of moaning that was kicked off by Substack’s new inbox feature that looks to me more like a dedicated email inbox for subscriptions than Google Reader, but apparently everything that approaches an RSS reader looks like one to some people. Here are some tweets from this months round of moaning:

For everyone below the age of 30 that wasn’t horrifically online in middle school, Google Reader was an RSS¹ feed aggregator that acted similar to a Twitter or Facebook news feed. Unlike a social media news feed, each person you were “following” was on their own website and you only saw content from their feeds. RSS feeds could come from blogs, news organizations, web comics, etc.

While I am sure that the nostalgia is genuine, there is something in common with a majority of the people who go to the mat for Google Reader each time it comes up on twitter. The golden age of blogging (which was the golden age of Google Reader) lines up pretty perfectly with when most Google Reader’s hardcore fans were in college.

Feedly exists and, according to my friends that use it, it pretty much has replicated all of the features of Google Reader. If one wanted to, they could start following blogs today on their RSS feed reader.

The problem is that what people fondly remember about Google Reader is gone and is never to return. The top bloggers of the Golden Age of Blogging (2003-2010) have mostly moved to more traditional media organizations or are here on Substack. Silicon Valley companies abandoned widespread support for open web formats, such as RSS and IRC, more than 5 years ago. The internet has mostly changed since 2008 and no amount of rose colored glasses will bring back the fun of hearing about Matthew Yglesias’s blog at a party, finding new content through a blog roll, or reading Ctrl+Alt+Del before it became cringe bait.

¹ Yes, I know that Google Reader accepted both RSS and Atom feeds, but in 2020 only the most pedantic of open web formats nerds can tell me what was different between the two.