Investing in RSS

Exactly a year ago, on the 13th March 2013, Google announced it was withdrawing its Reader service.

I’d been using Reader to monitor feeds about design, technology and my social circle, since at least 2007. Even after we’d all moved onto Facebook and Twitter, RSS was still the most convenient way to follow people I respected and to make sure I never missed a thing they said.

When Reader eventually shut down in July, I diligently downloaded my Google Takeout archive—more as a memorial than for migration—and spent the next few months living without RSS.

I can’t say I particularly missed it at first. Twitter goes a long way towards keeping you abreast of industry news, and what I didn’t hear off Twitter, I heard through office banter at ScraperWiki.

By October, however, the novelty was wearing off. Something was missing, and even now I can’t quite describe it. It’s not that I felt out of touch, but more that I felt out of control. Every few weeks I’d come across a new site or a new blog, and I’d instinctively reach for Chrome’s RSS subscription button, only to find I’d disabled it along with my Reader account.

I figured it was time to get back into RSS. I knew people who’d switched to Feedly, but I was sceptical of being let down by yet another big free service. Moreover, after a few months cold turkey, I realised how much RSS meant to me, and how little I could argue against paying someone a few dollars a month to build and maintain a feed reader that did what I wanted.

In comes Feedbin: Open source and unassuming, Feedbin had missed out on much of the post-Google-Reader hype because its hosted version was a paid-for product. But that’s precisely what attracted me. The developer seemed active and responsive to issues and pull requests. And at $30 for a year’s subscription, I figured I could take a punt.

I’m so glad I did. In the first month’s trial, I ripped out half my old feed subscriptions and replaced them with all the stuff I’d been missing since June. By the time my trial expired in November, I was invested. Not just financially, but emotionally. It felt good paying for a little underdog product which did one thing and did it well.

And clearly, I wasn’t the only one. Ben Ubois, Feedbin’s creator, recently blogged after a year of running the service:

The goal was to be able to cover costs in one year. Instead it took three weeks. It cost about $170/month to run Feedbin when it launched and with $1.62/user/month in profit after credit card fees it looked like I would need just over 100 customers who were also looking for a Google Reader alternative.

Feedbin has one of those boring business models that actually works. Charging money for a good or service. Feedbin will never have millions of customers but that’s OK. It just needs you.

I liked it so much, I ended up building my own Chrome extension to make subscribing to feeds a total breeze. Check it out on Github – I haven’t submitted it to the Chrome store yet, but maybe one day…

In the meantime, if you’re looking for a feed reader, or you’ve already got a free one but fancy investing in an indie developer and an awesome little product, I can’t recommend Feedbin enough. Sign up for a free 1 month trial here.