In the wake of Google Reader, Feedly wants to surf the big waves

By Matthew Lang Sottile, March 17, 2013.

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Imagine you run a startup where at least thirty percent of your user base is syncing through an existing third-party platform. Then imagine what happens when it is revealed that the third party platform will be shut down forever in just a few months. This scenario became a reality for web-content aggregator Feedly this week, but fortunately they saw the writing on the wall.

On Wednesday Google announced that it will shutter its RSS platform Google Reader as of July, due to declined usage. We had a chance to talk with Cyril Moutran, the head of product and strategy at Feedly, about how they prepared for the end of Google Reader and what moves they will be making next.

After the post from Google detailing their annual “spring cleaning,” Feedly took to their own blog where they revealed a project called Normandy, which is described as a clone of the Google Reader API. Cyril tells me this is not an idea that came up suddenly, but rather something that has been in the works for a while.

“The base for Normandy is something that we have been building for a long time now. It first came as we wanted to add features related to search and discovery of feeds. We expanded the scope of the project, knowing we needed to have a backup plan for Feedly in case Google decided to shutdown Reader.”

When I asked what lead them to see this shutdown in the forecast, Cyril put it bluntly that it was clear to them that Google’s focus had changed and that improvements on the Reader platform had come to a halt. There are dozens of other well known services and apps that are plugging into Google’s self-condemned platform, and Feedly saw that as an opportunity for them to step in.

“About 6 months ago, we started on an ambitious project of building a whole backend that could replace Google Reader as a platform for content centric applications.
We see a clear separation between the Normandy API and the feedly experience. Think of feedly as one content centric application built on top of the Normandy platform. We are going to continue to innovate around feedly focusing on the verticals where we are strong...”

Since the announcement, other companies have been coming out of the woodwork to try to seize the same opportunity and fill the space that Google Reader will leave. They range widely in  approach as well as stage of completion and refinement. Social content website Digg posted that they hope to rebuild the best parts of Reader including the API. Wordpress is urging users to import their feeds to the Wordpress.com Reader. The developers of the iPad magazine Zite even claim to have rebuilt the basic functions of Reader in six hours. I asked Cyril what he thought about Digg’s claims specifically, and his response shows that they are confident in what they have built.

“Their statement was that they 'hope to identify and rebuild the best of Google Reader’s features (including its API)'. Which sounds more like a statement of good intention from someone who just thought about the idea.

Building this API is not an easy task, we've been working with Google on the Google Reader API since 2008. We have a solution that today, if the user signs up with Feedly, will guarantee they will be able to keep their information going. We are committed to build an API that other developers will be able to use.”

It’s as if Feedly wrote itself into a prominent spot on the Google Reader will, well before its death, and now other companies are coming in and trying to make last minute claims on the house and the money. Feedly put in the work to develop their API ahead of time, and that puts them well beyond others who are jumping on board now. In the past four days over five hundred-thousand users have migrated from Google Reader to Feedly, and there has been a tremendous amount of positive energy coming from users and developers alike. Cyril told me as of Friday that over 100 developers had contacted them about API access, which is a clear sign that their head start is serving them well.

Feedly had been planning in advance for this transition, and still the time leading up to the announcement, and the reaction that followed created an intense yet affirming moment for the people that work there.

“It is like surfing a monster wave we were seeing coming for some time; the team is super excited right now! The uproar from all the Google Reader users about the shutdown, and the exciting feedback we're getting from the new users shifting to feedly, really confirmed our vision.”

For some the experience could have been tumultuous, but when asked how the team handled everything, Cyril assured me that they are a seasoned startup team.

“It can feel a little overwhelming at times, as everyone wants to get your attention in these moments. We're trying to keep grounded, keep users successful, get the developers that believe in the Normandy vision successful, and help people understand why open feed technology is still very much relevant”

“We believe there is a need for content centric applications, based on open feeds. A space that was partially filled by Google Reader, and not covered by new social media tools like Twitter or Facebook.”

While the outcome remains to be seen, I get the impression overall that the Feedly team has all of the pieces in place to take over where the search behemoth left off. It will be interesting to see how the next few months play out once Google Reader is actually laid to rest.

Sources: Google Offical Blog, Feedly Blog

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