Two years ago, Google shut down Google Reader and it was a major blow to my on-line "workflow": Google Reader was my primary way of subscribing to interesting people (their blogs and their shared links) and sharing and discovering interesting stuff.
I tried other feed readers, but the overall experience was not the same, as most of them lacked the social features of Google Reader, and even if they didn't I could only find few of my old "friends" there. Even worst, most of my old friends coming from a time that publishing on the web was synonym to having one or more blogs, moved their activity to twitter or Facebook.
After a while, so did I.
To be honest, it wasn't just Google Reader. Almost every service I relied on to publish, share, curate and discover content was either shut down, abandoned or in decline —like del.icio.us (I started using it when it was written like this), Friendfeed, Feedburner and Flickr to name a few.
These services —most of them were born in the Web 2.0 era (some of them even defined it)— were built to work together, they formed an ecosystem. For example, del.icio.us had an RSS feed of a user's shared items, so I got more value out of Google Reader which allowed me to follow other users' shared items, along with their Flickr RSS feed and their blog posts. Feedburner would add "share to del.icio.us" buttons under blog posts to make it easy to bookmark them. And of course, the major publishing platform of the time, blogs, provided an RSS feed one could consume and integrate with other services with very few limitations.
This ecosystem increased the value of each one of the services, but it was also brought out of balance when some of the services (especially the most popular ones) declined or closed: As people started leaving Flickr for Facebook and later Instagram, I got less value from... Google Reader. The same when new users and old bloggers started publishing their content on Facebook. And as content moved behind walled gardens with proprietary and complex APIs, del.icio.us was less useful. When Google Reader shut down, it became harder to follow blogs. And so on.
So, where am I now, after using for some years (closed) social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram to share my content, to write casual thoughts (luckily, I've still kept my blog as the primary place where I post longer articles), to hold discussions and to curate and discover new content?
I have no control over the flow of information I'm subscribed to.
When I used RSS, I had my subscriptions organised in ways that allowed me to have variable speeds in the way I consume and discover information. I had lists of feeds I would constantly check, and others I would browse only when I had more time. If I were on vacations for a few days, I could browse through my feeds when I got back to see if I missed something.
Now, practically, I can only see things in real time. Twitter is very bad at letting you go back a few days, Facebook is even worst. In addition to this, Facebook presents me with an automatically curated feed missing things I would have liked to see from people I follow.
In a way, my social feeds are to my "old" RSS ecosystem what live TV is to on-demand content. Which is weird, because I can't go back to live TV now that I'm used to on-demand video.
I get almost no value from the accumulated work I've done.
My del.icio.us bookmarks used to be a valuable library of curated content I had hand-picked over the years. For every link I added, I got more value, because I had a richer library. The same happened when I starred or shared items in Google Reader or Flickr.
On the contrary, I have no way (at least no easy way) to find something I posted or shared on Facebook or Twitter a year ago.
I've lost faith to third party services.
As you are reading this, you may have said multiple times that "you keep talking about del.icio.us as if it's dead, but it's there, and has most of the features it used to have, what's wrong with you"?
Well, I've lost faith in third party services. I've seen so many services I used to rely on, like Google Reader, Google Buzz, Yahoo Pipes, Posterous and Friendfeed shutting down or becoming irrelevant that I don't want to trust my content to a third-party service. Yes, I do have an export of my Google Buzz feed, so what? It's of no use to me. So, you are right, del.icio.us is still there, working more or less as it used to, but it's been more than once in the last 10 years that its users had reasonable doubts it would close.
So what now?
I've gradually started moving my on-line activity to places I have more control.
For example, in addition to my blog, I've set up notes.vrypan.net where I share links and short thoughts. This is a GitHub-hosted Jekyll blog, which means it's easy to have a local copy of my data or move it to an other hosting service if GitHub does not support the functionality in the future. It also has an RSS feed you can subscribe to, and I've set up an RSS-driven Mailchimp campaign for anyone who prefers getting my updates via email.
Updating a Jekyll blog is usually not trivial, but I'm posting using my bookmarklet, which makes it very easy to share links and quotes from any page I'm browsing.
Sure, it doesn't get the attention a tweet to my followers would get, but at least I have control, I don't depend on some service that may change tomorrow, and with each link I share the value I get from it goes up.
I've also started using feedly to subscribe RSS feeds. (Got an interesting suggestion on who to follow? Email email@example.com, or tweet to @vrypan!). I'm not 100% happy with feedly, but it does the job for now.
I'm still missing a good feedback mechanism. I'm trying to make webmentions work for me but I haven't nailed it yet.
I'm not abandoning social sharing. I'll still share a link to Facebook or twitter if I think it's interesting, but that's a secondary channel now. I may be doing more to automate this (in a POSSE way) and to close the loop by bringing back to my sites interactions from third party services.
Like I said, my setup is not perfect. But at least it's a solid base I can build on top of. :-)