Pocket, WordPress, and what comes after social media

In March, I wrote a draft of a post but never published it (I don’t recall why) about how WordPress should get into the next-gen-RSS-reader game. I’m reminded of that by two recent headlines.

First:

How Firefox is using Pocket to try to build a better news feed than Facebook

And, second:

After years of growth, the use of social media for news is falling across the world

If social media is in fact fading — or at least stagnating — then there’s a tremendous opportunity to figure out what’s next. Pocket, like WordPress, is one of the companies that can make a real difference here. (I wrote about Pocket about a year ago as an example of the “good internet”, and I subsequently wrote about how we need more ways to learn, not just more ways to communicate.)

Here’s the draft that I wrote in March but for some reason never published, headline and all:

What WordPress (or Pocket) Could Be

Kinsey Wilson’s move from The New York Times to Automattic, the company behind WordPress, has me thinking about how they might save the internet. Right now, the internet suffers from, among other things, two problems: social media has turned out to be somewhere between problematic and toxic; and a few companies control too much of the experience. Together, they’ve made many of us nostalgic for the era of blogging, which is where WordPress comes in.

Right now if you go to wordpress.com and you aren’t signed in, you see website hosting offers, which makes sense — that’s Automattic’s business model. But if you’re signed in, you see basically an RSS reader — a way to follow websites that you like.

Right now is a great moment for someone to offer something like the RSS reader of the future, framed explicitly as an alternative to social media. But few companies are in a position to do it.

Candidates to do this include the makers of actual RSS readers like Feedly (Digg is apparently shutting its reader down), as well as Pocket/Mozilla, Flipboard, and others operating in related spaces.

Closed platforms like Medium or even — stretching here — Twitter might conceivably get in the game, but likely in a closed way, which wouldn’t solve one of the let problems.

But WordPress a) already has a reader, b) has an incentive to help the people running WordPress and WordPress.com-hosted sites get discovered, and c) has a history of supporting open source projects.

Why can’t they invent the RSS reader of the future? It’d have to offer the ability to follow websites, of course, but might also involve more advanced filtering options along the lines of MIT’s Gobo. It might also offer recommendations, which are hard to do well, and which is an area where Pocket already seems to have an advantage.

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