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The End of Digg Reader Is a Blow to the Chronological Internet

A requiem for a haven from algorithms and trending topics

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On Wednesday, Digg announced that it will be shutting down Digg Reader on March 26. The RSS reader, for me and likely many others, was a godsend after the 2013 shuttering of Google Reader. The rest of Digg is safe, rest assured, and the site gave no reason for discontinuing Digg Reader, but it’s likely as simple as “that’s not how people consume the internet anymore.”

Digg Reader was an especially barebones RSS feed. It allowed users to choose the publications from which they wanted content and would display those stories chronologically, in a listed text format. No images, no social element, just rows of headlines.

Digg Reader’s notice to users that it’s shutting down March 26

The end of Digg Reader is another blow to chronological consumption of the internet. Users are curators of their internet experiences, from who they follow on Instagram to what news sources they see on Facebook, but no one is entirely responsible for what content is put in front of them. User input is selected and fed into these machines, which then decide what is laid out in feeds and when; often, that tends to be viral, salacious content. It could be incorrect. It could be entirely made up, even. That doesn’t necessarily matter to platforms. (But the reverse-chron feed won’t go away quietly. The call to take it back and stop subjecting feeds to mysterious algorithms is building.)

RSS readers are not social applications, and they certainly are not flashy—which is probably why they are a dying breed. Headlines aren’t altered for maximum shareability by the platform, and the simplest among them eschew images altogether. Readers are nothing more than a timestamped list of stories from places the user trusts. And yes, should someone want to create an RSS feed full of nothing but conspiracy and hoax sites, they could—RSS feeds won’t filter out what’s wrong or bad, but they also won’t reward it, slap the meaningless “trending” label on it, and cause it to “rise” to the top of the list and spread across its platform.

Digg Reader felt like a haven from the rest of the internet mediascape, where news placement wasn’t as infected by unknown and untrusted sources, as has become common on Facebook and Twitter. There is no argument as to whether RSS readers are better than Twitter or Facebook for news gathering; they are. But there is no currency in a self-contained internet experience; how far something can move across the web is its value. We built a system that both desperately needs something like Digg Reader but also can’t and won’t support it.

There are still RSS readers available; Digg wasn’t the last dinosaur. But what was once a crowded market is getting smaller and smaller, as there is no reason to innovate on the product. Those that remain, though, are happy to fill the void Digg Reader is leaving.