My friend Brent Simmons created NetNewsWire over 10 years ago. The app, a Mac-based RSS aggregator, has been a constant companion to me for what feels like an eternity: I check it daily to keep up with the most important blogs, Google searches, and referral notices that I want to keep on top of. Most important of all to me, NetNewsWire spawned MarsEdit, the blogging app that I now develop and which supports me and my family.
Today Google announced they are shuttering Google Reader, the web service that has brought RSS aggregation to what I would guess is the largest number of people to ever enjoy the benefits of “news feeds” on the web. The termination of Google Reader is a disappointment to its loyal users, but it will also have a huge impact on the number of client apps, including NetNewsWire, that have built their syncing functionality on top of the service. When Google Reader goes away, all those apps will lose their syncing capability, or outright stop working.
Some folks will claim that nobody cares about RSS anymore. But the loud outcry on Twitter and through other channels indicates there is still a significant number of people who rely on the technology.
Which brings me back to NetNewsWire. My guess is that after Google Reader, and possibly after Newsvine, NetNewsWire is the most recognized brand in the world for the admittedly niche market for “RSS Readers.” When the top brand in the market drops out, it puts a huge amount of focus on the remainders. Black Pixel, the current developers of NetNewsWire, have to be taking notice.
At this point Black Pixel need to ask themselves one question: are we interested in RSS, or aren’t we? They acquired NetNewsWire because they no doubt loved it and had become reliant on using it themselves. They wanted to see it live on and prosper. But did they expect to be put in a position where they are faced with the challenge/opportunity of becoming the world’s leading RSS services company? Probably not.
My understanding is that the slowness in developing and releasing a successor to NetNewsWire 3 is largely in coming to terms with the challenges of working around Google Reader issues. With Google Reader out of the picture, not just for NetNewsWire, but for everybody, a new future for RSS syncing arises: NetNewsWire Cloud.
By implementing a suitable syncing API for RSS, and implementing a reasonably useful web interface, Black Pixel could establish NetNewsWire Cloud as the de facto replacement for Google Reader. Charging a reasonable fee for this service would likely inoculate it from the risk of sudden termination, and it would doubly serve to provide the very service that NetNewsWire needs to thrive on the desktop and on iOS.
Don’t get me wrong: this is no small order. I would not fault Black Pixel one iota for looking at the challenge and deciding to take a pass. But if they are truly passionate about RSS, this is their moment. This is the time when accepting the impossible challenge will reap the greatest reward.