Google Groups kills RSS support without notice

Chocolate Factory mum as remaining feed fans search for alternatives


Google has either turned off RSS support in Google Groups without telling anyone, or has failed to notice that RSS in Groups no longer functions.

RSS, which stands for either RDF Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication, is an open content syndication protocol. It allows people to subscribe to feeds from websites and receive syndicated content from them through an app capable of reading XML-based data.

Debuting in 1999, RSS evolved into different versions and variants, like Atom, and for a time about 15 years ago was quite popular as a way to receive updates about newly published content. When Google in 2013 decided to discontinue its RSS app Google Reader, it was a controversial decision. Mozilla distanced itself from RSS in 2018.

Lately, RSS has been a low priority for tech companies focused on content distribution schemes that are easier to control and monetize, though it's still appreciated by those who need to follow updates across a wide range of websites.

Google never made Groups RSS feeds obvious. RSS links were previously tucked away on the About page of any public Google Group. But now they've vanished entirely.

Earlier this year, questions about the disappearance of RSS support in Google Groups began to appear on the Google Groups support website. The response provided by one of the non-Google moderators is that RSS feed support went away with the Google Groups desktop client redesign that debuted in May 2020 and rolled out thereafter. A mobile client design refresh followed in August 2020.

While the Groups redesign may have removed references to RSS links on Groups' About pages, the RSS backend remained in place – Groups users could still subscribe to feeds if they knew how to form the URL and those feeds were still accessible until late last month.

That was when netizens began to notice that their Google Groups RSS subscriptions no longer functioned. Mozilla's dev-security-policy mailing list, for example, relied on Google Groups RSS to distribute updates, and earlier this month switched to an alternative RSS service.

Work around the problem

Those affected by the disappearance of RSS have suggested several workarounds, like using RSS.app to generate a feed from a specific Google Group. That approach however isn't ideal because generated feeds are not formatted the same way, so details like message timestamps don't carry over.

In an email to The Register, Feross Aboukhadijeh, an open-source developer who runs Socket, expressed dismay that RSS has stopped working in Groups.

"I'm disappointed that the RSS feeds feature was removed," said Aboukhadijeh. "It was working perfectly fine and probably only a minimal maintenance burden to the Groups team."

While many internet users today may not interact with RSS, the technology is nonetheless critical infrastructure for journalists, technologists, and researchers, he contends.

"RSS is an open protocol for websites to share their information with other websites, apps, and services," he said. "It's used everywhere – it powers every podcast feed, and shares articles from almost every major news website."

Aboukhadijeh also observed that many programming communities, like Node.js, use Google Groups to announce critical security issues. "Anyone relying on the Google Group RSS feed to consume these security notices will stop getting critical security notices until they directly subscribe by email to the group," he said.

"Another casualty of this change is the @IntentToShip Twitter account which posts when browser makers announce their intent to ship, change, or remove features in their web engines," Aboukhadijeh added.

Another casualty of this change is the Twitter account ... which posts when browser makers announce their intent to ship, change, or remove features in their web engines

"The account is popular in the web standards community since it consolidates posts from many disparate Google Groups into a single feed. The removal of RSS in Google Groups broke their integration."

With the redesign announcement last year, Google said it would be deprecating – phasing out – 16 features, including Canned responses, Pinning topics, and Topic types, among others.

RSS support, however, is not among the doomed features. If Google mentioned its plan to drop RSS from Groups at the time, it did so very quietly.

The disappearance of RSS in Groups is all the more perplexing for Google's recent affirmation of RSS, or something like it, in Chrome for Android and its attempt to address its reputation for abruptly discontinuing services through the adoption of an enterprise API policy.

The Register asked Google to comment and we've not heard back. ®

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