Google’s latest Chrome release introduces a new feature that’s actually kind of ancient, by internet standards: an RSS feed. Right now the feature is only available for the latest Chrome app for Android phones, but an iOS version is on its way, too.
The new Following feature is essentially an RSS feed that appears on Chrome’s new tab page. Users can curate their feeds by adding websites to their Following list; the new tab page will then auto-populate with the latest stories posted to those sites. According to Adrienne Porter Felt, Chrome’s director of engineering, the experimental feature has been rolled out to a percentage of Android users. If you’re on the latest version of the app, it can also be enabled manually by heading to “chrome://flags” (h/t TechRadar).
RSS feeds are a dying breed, and Google had no small part in the technology’s demise. Nonetheless, we’re excited to see that the company has decided it’s time to make RSS feeds great again.
RIP Google Reader — In the internet’s earlier days, an RSS feed aggregator was the easiest and most trustworthy method by which to follow news from around the web. The ability to automatically update headlines or stories from chosen sites in one central location was nothing short of a game-changer for internet users.
Google was, for about a decade, one of the most important names in RSS aggregation. Google Reader launched in 2005 and, thanks to Google’s internet prowess, it grew in popularity quite quickly.
And then, in early 2013, Google suddenly announced it would be discontinuing Reader. Google said at the time that, while Reader certainly had a “loyal following,” its usage numbers had declined in recent years.
On social media fatigue — While plenty of sites still exist for RSS aggregation, the medium is a shadow of what it once was. Apple News held out on killing its own RSS support until late 2019, leaving RSS fans with no Big Tech curators remaining.
The RSS aggregator’s cause of death is overwhelmingly mundane. The exponential rise of social media changed how we find news to read; Facebook and Twitter feeds quickly pushed away what little interest remained in RSS aggregators. People found they no longer needed specialized sites for finding news around the web — their friends and peers would do so for them.
But the internet is still constantly evolving in ways we can’t possibly imagine. We’re only now really coming to terms with how scrolling through our social media feeds can be toxic. In this strange still-pandemic twilight we’re living through, we’re finding that, in many cases, social media is just exhausting.
An RSS feed, in this context, is a refreshingly neutral way to curate your news feed without ever opening Facebook or Twitter. And building such a feed into the new tab page all but assures users will see and try the new experience. Google says the feature will launch on iOS soon, with a desktop version further down the pipeline.