Does Google like to tease and sometimes outright torture the most devoted fans of its products? So it may seem.
Tucked away in a recent state-of-the-art Chrome build is a “Following Feed” that some bloggers dream of the return of Google Reader. It’s unlikely, but never say never when it comes to Google product decisions.
Chrome added a sidebar in March for browsing bookmarks and reading list articles. Over the weekend, the Chrome Story blog noticed a new flag in Gerrit, the unstable test version of Chrome’s open source counterpart Chromium. Turn that on
#following-feed-sidepanel flag (now also available in the test version of Chrome, Canary) adds another option to the sidebar: Feed.
Feed? Like RSS feeds, the kind we once had in treasured, departed Google Reader, killed for the sins of Google+?
Kevin Tofel of About Chromebooks thinks so. Tofel writes that the code underlying the function “strongly suggests” an RSS-based feed reader, based on the specific language of “web feeds”. On the other hand, that same section of code, which powers the interaction between browser and sidebar, notes that it “will be the interface that Discover Feed content … will use to interact with the browser.”
There’s some ambiguity, but there’s also evidence that Google is sticking to its long-standing efforts to leverage the open RSS standard in the Google ecosystem of “Follow.”
The “Follow” button was introduced in a Chrome for Android experiment in May 2021. Following a site allowed you to see the latest updates in a tab on your Chrome “new tab” page, similar to the “Discover” home page feature on many Android phones. The feature trickled down to Chromium Gerrit desktop builds earlier this year, and a “Follow” button is now available in Chrome Canary.
Last week, Chrome updated its guidelines for site owners who want readers to “follow” their sites, asking them to make feed titles descriptive and select one feed for readers instead of offering multiple sections.
Chrome-watching blogs like to bring the specter of Google Reader to the headlines when discussing Google’s efforts to turn apps and devices into content hubs. But it’s highly unlikely that Google would invest that much in putting Discover-like feeds in its phones, web-based laptops, browsers, search engine, Nest hubs and more, just to surrender and say, “Actually, we’re showing you your heads again.” Discover feeds are also a space that Google manages so it can imbue them with ads, which RSS can’t.
Fortunately, there is an established market for old-fashioned and redesigned RSS readers – and some very good options. Speaking of which, Ars Technica offers multiple segmented RSS feeds for readers. You can also add
/feed/ at the end of an author page URL for author-specific feeds, like so.