Google announced on Wednesday that as part of its annual spring cleaning initiative it will be shutting down Google Reader. This saddens me, because now I have no idea how I will get my daily dose of news. My go-to Google Reader client on the Mac, iPhone, and iPad is Reeder. I love Reeder for its simple, intuitive and functional interface. Fortunately, following the announcement, the devs of Reeder tweeted the following. So it looks like I don't have to worry.

The real purpose of this post, however, is to inform people what Google Reader is was, because a surprising number of people I have talked to have told me they had no idea.

Google Reader is an RSS client, so in order to understand what Google Reader is, you must first understand what RSS is. RSS stands for "Rich Site Summary", or "Really Simple Syndication". Most news sites or blogs publish what is called an RSS feed. This feed is a file that can be accessed over the internet that represents a list of all of the content that has been published to the site. For example, Twitter publishes RSS feeds for each of its user's tweets. An RSS reader could subscribe to this feed, and use it to display a user's recent tweets to a subscriber of the feed.

Google Reader had the added bonus of living 'in the cloud', which means it could act as a central hub for my client, "Reeder". This enabled my read and starred status of articles to keep in sync across all three of my devices, so reading an article on my iPhone would mark it read on my Mac and my iPad when those clients synced with Google Reader.

On the technical side of things, this RSS feed is represented as an XML document, you can view the feed for The Verge by visiting the following URL: You should view the RSS feed so that the next paragraph makes sense to you.

An RSS reader maintains a list of all of the feeds that a user has subscribed to, and displays to them a list of posts for each feed. As you saw, the XML document is not pretty. To a human, it is almost unreadable, but it is in the exact format a computer needs in order to be able to understand it as a list of articles. You might have noticed a bunch of similar looking blocks in the RSS feed, such as this one:

    <title> ... </title>
    <content type="html"> ... </content>
    <link rel="alternate" type="text/html" href="..."/>
        <name> ... </name>

Notice how this item is surrounded by an opening <entry> and a closing </entry> tag. Each article is represented as an entry, and within each item there is information such as the title, a link, and the date the article was published. This opening and closing tag convention comes in handy for the computer to make sense of the XML document. The opening and closing tags help the reader separate the document into a list of items, and learn important information about each item. The RSS reader does so through a process called parsing.

Once the RSS reader has parsed the document, it can use the parsed data to display articles in a way that is meaningful to you, the user.

The loss of Google Reader creates a big hole for many people that needs to be filled. I am eager to see who fills it in, hopefully breathing new life into RSS along the way.