Developing Perspective

#114: Google Reader and Feed Wrangler.


00:00:00   Hello and welcome to Developing Perspective.

00:00:05   Developing Perspective is a podcast discussing news of note in iOS development, Apple, and the like.

00:00:07   I'm your host, David Smith. I'm an independent iOS and Mac developer based in Herne, Virginia.

00:00:12   This is show number 114, and today is Thursday, March 14th.

00:00:16   Developing Perspective is never longer than 15 minutes, so let's get started.

00:00:20   All right, so yesterday was a rather exciting evening for me, and I'm going to unpack why.

00:00:23   So if you are someone who follows me on Twitter, or is in general in any way interested in tech news,

00:00:29   interested in tech news, you probably heard that yesterday, Google announced that they're

00:00:33   doing what they call spring cleaning. And as part of that spring cleaning, they're killing

00:00:37   off a bunch of products and sort of restructuring some things. And one of the more significant

00:00:42   parts is that they are killing the Google Reader RSS aggregator. They're just taking

00:00:47   it out back and never seeing it again. And so that was interesting to me because I think

00:00:53   I mentioned it in in vague and general terms before on the show. But for the last couple

00:00:58   of months, I've been working on a alternative RSS reader aggregator service slash app. And

00:01:05   so that rather, you know, their announcement, while not unexpected, I think it's something

00:01:10   that a lot of people have been thinking about was going to happen and sort of knew was going

00:01:13   to be coming at some point, that kind of changed my timeline a little bit. I'd always been

00:01:17   hoping to launch it sometime probably early June around WWDC. And I've been hoping that,

00:01:22   you know, Google would, you know, Sunset Reader, or announced that, you know, so sometime thereafter,

00:01:26   Well, it turns out I wasn't quite fast enough, and Google went ahead and announced that they're

00:01:31   killing it before I was quite ready to launch.

00:01:34   But so far, I think things will go okay, and I just kind of wanted to talk through a little

00:01:38   bit of the backstory, a little bit of an overview of it, and kind of explain where it's coming

00:01:42   from.

00:01:43   And it seemed like a good venue to do that and kind of unpack that a little bit.

00:01:48   So basically, I've been very frustrated with Google Reader for a while.

00:01:53   And I think the thing that frustrates me about it is that it doesn't seem like a great metaphor

00:01:56   for handling RSS, for the way that it does it,

00:02:00   isn't, it feels very, I don't know,

00:02:05   it feels very old or dated or kind of just

00:02:08   overly stuck in the past.

00:02:11   It feels a bit like, you know, it's like they treat RSS

00:02:13   as a way, almost like it's an email or something

00:02:15   that I'm getting, it's like, rather than I'm subscribing

00:02:18   to a feed, it's kind of like I'm subscribing

00:02:21   to a listserv and just sort of getting push notifications

00:02:23   all the time into an inbox.

00:02:24   And it never really sat well with me.

00:02:26   It doesn't work with the way that I use RSS.

00:02:30   I probably check RSS probably more than I should,

00:02:34   and probably maybe 10, 15 times a day

00:02:37   I'll check my RSS reader.

00:02:39   I'm not the kind of person who does,

00:02:41   I'm not a tech journalist or blogger in that kind of way,

00:02:44   or somebody who needs to constantly be on the front of it.

00:02:47   It's just that's part of how I like to get news.

00:02:50   I like having a sense of awareness of what's going on.

00:02:53   And so it's something that I use a lot,

00:02:55   Whenever I hit something that I use a lot,

00:02:57   but I find really frustrating,

00:02:59   I always try and think of,

00:03:00   well, what could I do to replace that?

00:03:01   What could I do to do that better?

00:03:03   And I think I've come up with some pretty interesting ways

00:03:05   of structuring RSS and processing it and managing it

00:03:09   that I think will make it a lot more straightforward to use

00:03:13   if you're someone like me who follows a lot of feeds,

00:03:16   someone who has a lot of things

00:03:17   that they're trying to manage and work through.

00:03:20   And not in a sense of, like,

00:03:22   I want to be able to subscribe to more feeds,

00:03:24   But I want to have my interaction with those be more meaningful and more straightforward.

00:03:28   And so that's essentially where I've been heading.

00:03:30   I'm not going to get into too much of the actual details of that.

00:03:32   I'll kind of unpack that as I go over the next couple of weeks as I get ready to launch

00:03:37   probably, I don't exactly know when yet, but soonish is really where I'm heading.

00:03:43   And then I want to kind of get us the without getting into too many of sort of the neat

00:03:47   tale, the nitty gritty details of exactly how I'm doing that.

00:03:51   I want to talk a little bit about what it will be

00:03:53   and what that is.

00:03:54   And I've forgotten a lot of questions about it,

00:03:55   so I kind of want to unpack what it is I'm building

00:03:58   and what it is, why I'm doing it,

00:04:00   and the approach I'm taking.

00:04:02   So first, I should probably say the name of the service

00:04:04   is Feed Wrangler.

00:04:05   This is one of those funny things with naming where--

00:04:08   I think a lot of people can get stuck on naming something

00:04:11   that you kind of can spend hours and hours going

00:04:13   around and around.

00:04:14   Feed Wrangler was just, in many ways,

00:04:16   just a working title that I had come up with for it.

00:04:19   And it was somewhat of a descriptive title and something

00:04:22   that I just had been throwing around and using.

00:04:26   And then yesterday when this happens, it's like, well,

00:04:28   I guess that's going to be the name, because I

00:04:30   don't have anything better.

00:04:31   And you have to put a name on something

00:04:33   if you're going to put it out.

00:04:34   So it's Feed Wrangler.

00:04:38   And so basically what Feed Wrangler is,

00:04:40   is it's going to be a service where there's

00:04:42   a couple of different components.

00:04:44   There'll be obviously the back end sync part of it,

00:04:48   which is an aggregator that goes around and you

00:04:50   have a variety of your feeds.

00:04:51   And you put it in there, and then it does all of its magic.

00:04:53   But it's handling that for you on the back end.

00:04:56   And that will be sort of then wrapped around

00:04:59   with a variety of different interfaces and ways

00:05:02   to get at that.

00:05:03   There will be a web interface, though I

00:05:06   expect the web interface is not the primary way

00:05:08   that I want or expect people to interact with it.

00:05:10   There will be a web interface, mostly just so

00:05:11   that it works for everybody.

00:05:13   And a lot of things are just easier

00:05:14   to do on the web in terms of managing subscriptions.

00:05:17   and a lot of those kinds of things are easier to do

00:05:22   on a website in an app.

00:05:25   And then there'll be a variety of first-party applications

00:05:28   that I'll be developing for it.

00:05:32   And then initially these are going to be on platforms

00:05:33   that are the ones that I care about,

00:05:35   or the ones that I know how to develop good apps for.

00:05:37   So initially iOS, going onto the Mac,

00:05:43   and potentially going somewhere else,

00:05:42   but my expectation is at least for the next forever,

00:05:45   probably, honestly, probably forever,

00:05:47   that'll be the ones that I work on as first party apps.

00:05:50   And then there'll be an open API that any app developer

00:05:54   on any platform can use to interact with it.

00:05:57   And the reason I can do that is that the app,

00:05:59   and the way that I'm gonna be structuring it

00:06:01   is on a subscription basis.

00:06:03   It's something that I feel pretty strongly about,

00:06:07   that a lot of people, you can kind of take it

00:06:09   to a variety of different business models with this,

00:06:11   But the kind of one that I want to do

00:06:13   is I want to build something with a sustainable, long-term

00:06:19   horizon on it.

00:06:20   That it's something that I can build and invest into and grow

00:06:23   and grow and really spend a lot of time making it really,

00:06:26   really good and really, really stable.

00:06:28   So I'm not the kind of person who's

00:06:29   then going to be making it something

00:06:31   that available for free.

00:06:32   There's a lot of services.

00:06:33   There's a lot of VC-funded companies.

00:06:35   There's a lot of people who would take that approach.

00:06:37   Whose goal it is to see how many people they can sort of snipe

00:06:39   off of Google Reader and put onto their platform.

00:06:42   It's a volume game.

00:06:43   And that's really not what I want to do with this.

00:06:45   What I want to do is I'm going to make it a paid subscription.

00:06:48   You know, exactly the pricing.

00:06:49   I'm not-- I haven't quite worked out--

00:06:50   or I'm not ready to announce yet,

00:06:52   but it'll be something that you pay per month

00:06:54   or you pay per year for an account.

00:06:56   And coming with that are a lot of great benefits

00:06:59   that I think will make that interaction much better.

00:07:02   There's a lot of economics in being an app developer that

00:07:04   are kind of awkward, that are kind of tricky.

00:07:06   And we've talked about this before on the show many times.

00:07:08   but things like not having paid upgrades makes some things kind of complicated, that it's

00:07:13   very hard to, the only way that you can make money is to get a new user, get a new download,

00:07:18   get a new sale, which means that you kind of have to skew a little bit how you work

00:07:22   on things and the way you work on things in kind of an odd way.

00:07:26   That it's hard to, at least conceptually, to be investing into that first person who

00:07:31   bought your app because you've probably gotten a lot of the, all of the money that you'll

00:07:36   you'll ever get from them.

00:07:37   And then you can do things to mitigate this.

00:07:39   You can do in-app purchases.

00:07:40   You can do kind of these, a fake paid upgrade

00:07:43   where you introduce a new app.

00:07:44   There's those kinds of things.

00:07:45   But what I would really want to do

00:07:47   is I would rather have a much smaller group of people

00:07:51   who really liked what I did, who liked my take on it,

00:07:54   who liked the way that I did it,

00:07:56   and who are set up on a recurring basis

00:08:00   to pay for that service.

00:08:01   If they're getting value from it every day,

00:08:03   then that's awesome.

00:08:05   And what I want to be able to do is to really focus in on that.

00:08:10   And so my service probably won't be for everybody.

00:08:12   But I don't really care in that I would far prefer to have

00:08:15   whatever, maybe a few thousand people who liked what I did

00:08:19   and who really used it than to have a million people

00:08:25   or a hundred thousand people or whatever it is

00:08:27   that only were using it because it was free

00:08:30   or because there was no barrier to getting into it.

00:08:34   What I want is people who really care about this,

00:08:36   and are who, you know, are, it's like I'm kind of

00:08:38   choosing my customers, rather than saying,

00:08:40   I want the world, I want a narrow group of people.

00:08:42   And obviously, you know, if that, if it turns out

00:08:44   a lot of people like it, and it grows and grows,

00:08:46   that's awesome, and you know, it's like scaling becomes

00:08:49   very easy if every person who's using your service

00:08:52   has given you money.

00:08:54   And so that's kind of the approach I'm taking.

00:08:56   And the secondary benefit of that is that it really

00:08:58   helps me with my ability to provide something like

00:09:02   an open API for other developers to use.

00:09:07   So what I want to do is I want to create a platform

00:09:09   that anybody who wants to write an app,

00:09:12   who wants to go in a different direction,

00:09:15   who wants to do something, can build an app for.

00:09:16   And it avoids this weird problem that if I made my money

00:09:18   selling an app or having a one-time fee

00:09:24   or those types of things, especially if I was making

00:09:26   my money selling apps, it gets really complicated

00:09:28   if other people start making apps that compete with them.

00:09:28   If other people start doing things that are alternatives

00:09:32   to what I'm doing, then they can kind of use the backend

00:09:35   without paying for the frontend.

00:09:36   And so to sort of flip that around, I'm just saying,

00:09:38   well, if you're going to have an account,

00:09:40   you're going to have paid for it.

00:09:42   And if that's the case, then I want to encourage and grow

00:09:45   and nurture as much as I can third party developers

00:09:48   on any platform, on competing platforms, whatever it is,

00:09:51   to be using-- for using that platform as their backend.

00:09:54   And I think that ultimately makes the user's life much

00:09:57   much better because they can get an app that is tailored

00:10:02   to their choices or is something that they're familiar with

00:10:06   or ready that just adds support.

00:10:08   And I can do that in a way that is very, very sustainable.

00:10:10   And so that's the approach that I'm going to be taking.

00:10:16   And so at launch, whenever that happens,

00:10:18   there'll be a web application, there'll be a couple

00:10:21   of native first-party applications which will be free

00:10:23   in the store because you would have already have paid

00:10:25   or the subscription, and then in many ways, those are,

00:10:29   I wouldn't say reference implementations.

00:10:31   They're not, it's not like they're going to be fully

00:10:33   featured clients and fully featured things that you could

00:10:37   use and be happy with all the time.

00:10:39   There are apps that I've been using actually for a while,

00:10:43   but they're going to be in the store as a starting point

00:10:47   for where you can go, and then you can explore out

00:10:50   from there.

00:10:52   Something that obviously, it's maybe a bit of a stretch,

00:10:54   something that I would love to see is to have something

00:10:59   like this be a new playground for UI concepts,

00:11:02   be a new playground for innovative ways

00:11:04   to display this data.

00:11:05   I remember that sort of in some ways,

00:11:07   there was this sort of this golden age of Twitter apps

00:11:11   where everybody kept trying to find different ways

00:11:13   of displaying a very similar basic set of data.

00:11:16   And that was really, really awesome in that you could,

00:11:20   you know, you can find something that fits you exactly.

00:11:23   And obviously it's a little complicated because,

00:11:25   and this is something that I've written about

00:11:26   a little bit with app.net, is depending on how many users

00:11:29   I have will dictate exactly how attractive that is

00:11:33   to third-party developers.

00:11:34   But hopefully the way that I'm structuring it

00:11:37   and the ways that I can invest in that

00:11:39   will make that at least somewhat compelling.

00:11:41   And hopefully the user base will be large enough

00:11:42   that it'll be an interesting prospect as well.

00:11:46   But what I would love to see is to have that be an area

00:11:48   that we get into.

00:11:49   And that by creating something that's an open and public API

00:11:51   that anybody can write an app towards.

00:11:54   And making that as easy as possible,

00:11:55   it's like I'm an iOS developer.

00:11:57   I can make a nice iOS SDK.

00:11:58   I can make integrating with my service as easy as possible,

00:12:02   because that's something that I'm very familiar with.

00:12:06   And that's a focus of what I'll be doing.

00:12:08   And I'll be sort of dog fooding my own API.

00:12:10   It's like my client will be using the same API

00:12:13   that everyone else will.

00:12:14   And so I think there's a lot of opportunity there.

00:12:17   And then I'll just have to see where that goes,

00:12:19   and see where that ends up.

00:12:22   But that's kind of what I'm doing,

00:12:23   and that's what I've been working on.

00:12:24   So I had a few other plans, I had a couple other things

00:12:27   that I was probably going to be doing,

00:12:28   but as they say, you just kind of got to roll with it,

00:12:32   or maybe another way, another adage would be that

00:12:37   luck favors the prepared in the sense that

00:12:40   I'm kind of happy in terms of the way

00:12:42   that this is playing out, and that I'm well positioned

00:12:45   to take advantage of Google letting go of its users

00:12:49   and kind of turning their back on them in a way

00:12:51   that I'll be able to hopefully provide

00:12:52   an interesting alternative fairly quickly,

00:12:54   and certainly before July 1 when Google Reader gets a sunset.

00:12:59   So basically, that's the overview.

00:13:00   If you have questions about this, please let me know.

00:13:03   I'm happy to talk about it at a high level,

00:13:05   and then I'll be talking about exactly what it's like about

00:13:07   some of the specifics over time.

00:13:09   So I'm obviously not going to get

00:13:10   into exactly the nuances of how I'm

00:13:12   going to be approaching the problem and those types

00:13:14   of things until it's ready to be made more public.

00:13:16   But if you're kind of curious about conceptually

00:13:18   what's going to be going on and how I'm doing it.

00:13:22   Certainly stay tuned to the show.

00:13:23   I'm going to probably, this is probably,

00:13:25   in some ways like I used to, when I talked about

00:13:27   Check the Weather, I'll kind of be talking about it.

00:13:29   This is something I'll be talking about on the show,

00:13:31   about kind of how I'm going about this

00:13:33   and some of the technical things

00:13:34   as well as the marketing and logistical side of things.

00:13:36   But always, you can let me know on Twitter.

00:13:38   I'm underscore David Smith there.

00:13:40   David Smith on AppNet.

00:13:41   David@developingperspective.com is a great way to reach me

00:13:44   if you have questions or thoughts.

00:13:45   And I'm going to have a link in the show notes.

00:13:47   I put up a sign up form on feedrangler.net,

00:13:52   just one word, feedrangler.net,

00:13:54   and I'll have a link in the show notes.

00:13:55   And basically, if you're interested in the service,

00:13:58   or interested in hearing news or updates about it,

00:14:00   kind of when it's ready for public consumption,

00:14:02   or if I have any updates,

00:14:03   I'm just kind of putting together a mailing list

00:14:05   so I can send out communications to that.

00:14:07   So go ahead and sign up there if you're interested.

00:14:09   But otherwise, yeah, that's it.

00:14:11   It'll be an interesting couple of weeks,

00:14:13   couple of months, I think.

00:14:15   But it should be pretty exciting,

00:14:16   and hopefully you'll enjoy hearing about it on the show.

00:14:19   But yeah, I'm a little overwhelmed,

00:14:20   a little glad I just,

00:14:22   glad I have a lot of coffee in my house

00:14:25   that I can work my way through.

00:14:27   But it's like, speaking of shows,

00:14:29   too bad 'cause I was talking about burnout.

00:14:30   I'm not the kind of person who will go nuts about this.

00:14:33   It's like, I never want to work to a point that

00:14:37   I'm going to be sort of be unsustainable,

00:14:39   so but I'll just be, I think my wife said it well,

00:14:41   it's like, you're probably going to work

00:14:42   about the same number of hours,

00:14:44   you're just going to be working twice as fast.

00:14:46   to kind of really be motivated and really be engaged.

00:14:48   So I'm kind of looking forward to that,

00:14:50   and I hope you join me for the ride.

00:14:51   Thanks, bye.