When we find a publisher of a webpage or video and desire to be made aware when new things are published, we typically hit a subscribe or like button. It is quick and easy, but there is a real cost in your privacy. It is not for your convenience, but you are being used as a tool by the subscription service provider. You are not the user, you are the product.
You need to know what is happening, and what are the alternatives.
What is subscribing?
While Google is dominate, Facebook and Twitter are similar. The speed and convenience they offer is essentially paid for by you in their control of what you see or what is hidden from you, and most importantly how you are tracked. What is seen as tools for your benefit, are in reality tools to mold you into the image of a minion.
Remember that clicking that oh so easy subscribe button only works if you are already identified or signed in. It appears that you are simply placing another site to follow into your subscription list. In reality your subscription list is for Google’s benefit. They traded you a bit of convenience for the ability to track you around the web, promote or discourage you from seeing particular things, and getting to know you personally in your relationships, and desires.
Pressure on publisher to get subscribers
A publisher is motivated to solicit subscribers as there are various minimums to reach before Google will offer their additional services or monetary rewards. This turns publishers into an advertising arm of Google, and submissive to Google’s terms, which change over time.
Knowing the users and publishers
Publishers embed links to Google’s services in their web pages which allows Google to know when, from where, and often who is viewing each page. The publisher’s site is acting as a data gathering service for Google.
Using cookies, IP address, and other subtleties, Google also tracks the user, even on different computers, and builds a massive knowledge base of who is doing what, when, and where.
Putting power into the hands of Google.
Using big data techniques, reasonable guesses can be made about the publisher and viewers.
A simple example to consider is if several sites offer or promote a particular persuasion. Google can correlate the users and viewers to have an educated guess of beliefs or views. With that knowledge comes significant power.
What is Syndication?
To address the desire to know when new things are published, in the late 1990s RSS, or Really Simple Syndication, was developed. It was further refined in the early 2000s.
This is where a publisher would have a page on his site that returned data in XML, easily readable by humans and computers, that would give a description of the site, suggest how often new things should be checked for, and then a list of new things.
A news aggregator or feed reader program would then collect from the sites what is new for the user to then view at his discretion. This program could be run by a service provider on the web, or on the user’s computer alone.
But this gave independence to the user. In the eyes of Google, this should not be. Therefore the saga of Google Reader and Feed Burner. This is an example of engulf and devour, or assimilation.
The Google Reader program was a client for the RSS world that started in 2005. With the might of Google behind it, other news aggregators did not have the huge developer teams or marketing clout and faded away. Over time, Google assimilated the Reader customers into Google+. In 2013 Google shut down the Reader project.
There has been a rebirth of independent news aggregators, but how many know they exist?
To capture the other side of the market, Google bought FeedBurner in 2007 for $100 million to allow sites to use their software and services for free. This made additional sites dependent on the Google empire. The purchase price was quickly recovered by knowing more of the users.
In 2011 Google started the process of shutting down those services to assimilate clients to the Google+ world of subscription and not syndication.
If you look at Google’s product list today, FeedBurner is no longer listed, but the service remains if you know it is there.
Syndication rather than subscription
For the minion, you have listened to too much already. Continue to allow Google to know the most minute details of your life. May your chains rest lightly on you.
For the person desiring to be free and not tracked, consider syndication. It will be a bit more work, but it opens the door to privacy, and the possibility of being less known by Google.
Using an RSS link
The process of adding a link to a news aggregator varies, but is typically simple, but not one click.
For example, for many aggregators you simply enter the host name of a site, such as ShofarNexus.com and it automatically queries the site for expected information in the page’s header, and the process is complete.
Other options include using a full URL, such as http://ShofarNexus.com/_Feed and otherwise the process is similar. The advantage with this process is that a site can have multiple feeds and you are selecting the one you want.
Give it a try. Add the ShofarNexus feed to your news aggregator. Hopefully you will be glad you did.
Then consider other sites or publishers that you want to follow on your terms.
Remember also that many publishers make their living off of the articles and videos they produce. If you are appreciative of what they produce, support them. Don’t wait for them to ask, do it today, so they can provide content for you tomorrow.