A note to Dave Winer and Fred Wilson

Hi Dave and Fred,

Dave, I’ve been away from your RSS for a while now. Heck, I’ve been away from blogging. But I’ve been thinking about what you told me when I visited you in New York. You weren’t going to read me on Google+, Twitter, or Facebook. Why? You like reading RSS (you should, you helped bring it to the world).

Fred, you told me that I was nuts to give up my blog (I told you I had left it for the better engagement of Google+). You told me that it is dangerous to not own a place with your own name on it, on servers that you — at least in theory — control. Didn’t think it was gonna work out for me to post my content solely on Facebook or Google+ (both of which now have blog-like features and feeds).

I pushed back, noting that the ability to gather engagement is way off the charts on Google+ and, even, on the revamped Facebook (about a month ago Facebook added a new feature, called subscribe, so people can subscribe to my feed there without being my friend and they also gave us the ability to post long posts).

I also told you about Flipboard and how it’s changed my reading behavior. No longer do I use RSS-only news readers. Today I can see Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, RSS, Facebook and much more aggregated together in Flipboard.

Now Dave doesn’t like the paginated world of Flipboard. I imagine he won’t like Google’s Propeller (a tablet-based competitor to Flipboard), that’s rumored to be coming this week, or whatever Yahoo is doing, or whatever Feedly, AOL, Pulse, Flud, CNN, is doing.

I still remember the day when Dave first showed me how he likes reading blogs. He likes a simple feed where new stuff shows up at the top of the page, or, even better, in his outliner (for those who don’t know, Dave invented a lot of outlining technology that most of the industry has long forgotten about, but Dave still likes reading, and blogging, in an outliner where most of us just read Facebook or Twitter).

But something happened over the past few weeks that’s gotten me reenergized about RSS. What is it?

Well, Google, in its new “focus on Google+” strategy, has announced that it’s dropping some features from Google Reader. Mostly the social stuff.

Now THAT is interesting! One reason why I left Google Reader (and RSS) is because Twitter and Facebook just became dominant in the world of news. For instance, look at my Twitter news feed of news articles from major news brands around the world. Stick that into Flipboard and you have a world-class newspaper that NOTHING can match.

This change in Google Reader is going to be very interesting to watch. Yes, I see that lots of people are up in arms about this change (funny enough, I read that on your own blog at Scripting.com).

Lately Dave you have come into a number of different conversations. The famous Silicon Valley investor, John Doerr, yesterday, told me he found your writings to be as interesting, and smart, as ever. He’s not the only one who’s said that lately.

So why this note. I’ve decided to live most of my life “inside Mark Zuckerberg’s and Larry Page’s trunk.” It’s a damn nice trunk, too.

Acutally, I see it more of a dark force. It sucks all data toward it. Both Facebook and Google are like black holes.

I’ve decided to live on the dark side of the force, inside the black hole.

Why? For a few reasons:

1. I don’t have a business model to protect. I just need to be where Rackspace’s customers, and potential customers, are. Increasingly that’s inside Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ (yesterday at Y Combinator’s Startup School person after person came up to me and talked about a post or two I’ve made on Google+ or Facebook).

2. I don’t care whether my words, or videos, survive into history. Heck, the first few years of my blog, from 2000 to about 2003 aren’t available anywhere anymore and that hasn’t really caused me too much pain.

3. Everyone knows multiple places to find me, so I don’t care that one company could delete me anymore, either. Remember when Facebook deleted me for about a day? Well, now, if they tried that it would just help out Google+ (and vice versa). And if both of those got together, I still have my blog. Heck, even if the entire social media system decided to try to block my words I’d find a way to communicate. Now my rolodex is good enough that I’d be able to get airtime even on old-school pro media.

But I keep coming back to what the value of RSS is. Dave, you nailed it when you said it travels through firewalls (in other words, those put up by governments, like in Iran and China).

And, there ARE some things I want you both to read, even if you decide never ever to set foot into the black holes of Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

So, I’m going to start participating in the RSS world again. Maybe just as letters to you two. See, one reason that my blog has gone dormant is I just was having more fun inside the dark force of publishing. RSS isn’t as addictive, nor as social, nor as conversational anymore and that’s where I’ve chosen to live my life.

This is why the new Google Reader strategy intriques me. Sometimes I want to write a long ass piece where I don’t need to interact so much. Heck, I might even turn off comments here. Might even become, hate to say it, anti-social here, since there are so many better places to have a quick, real-time, low-friction, conversation amongst friends (both Google+ and Facebook are serving that for me, far more than here).

To Fred Wilson: I’d love to unpack where you think the investment opportunities are in the new modern publishing world.

My own feeling? Developers really like the new Facebook “verbs” platform, but they see the value flowing only one way: toward Facebook. They are waiting for Mark Zuckerberg to make his verbs platform two way: their data goes into Facebook and Facebook writes checks, or pushes advertising back out through those verb interfaces.

If that happens I can see lots of startups getting on Facebook’s bandwagon and it might even justify some of the valuations we’re seeing for companies like Color, Path, etc.

I’d also love to hear if you think there’ll be an investment opportunity around companies that focus on RSS again (or, better yet, decentralized identity technologies). I’m starting to think that there might be and if I’m thinking that, it’d be interesting to hear if you are thinking the same thing.

I’m thinking that way because I’m meeting more and more people who don’t have a social graph, don’t care to have one, and, even, are actively not participating in Facebook or Google+ because they are scared of what those companies are doing with the data. They have no such fears around RSS and that’s why getting rid of the social features over on Google Reader might actually be a good thing!

Anyway, thanks for listening. This was mostly a way to get my blog’s pipes unclogged, so sorry for running on a bit.

Your friend, Robert.