The sad, surprising story of Google Reader.

Google Reader LogoIt was later that year when a Google colleague challenged Wetherell to construct an Atom parser in Javascript. Atom was yet another XML language, and the dare called on Wetherell to expand on his old passion project. If successful, he would have “something that turns something into something else which could be used to represent data that was basically about cat photos,” as he transliterated for the layman. The parser worked. One night, while testing and debugging, Wetherell had a Frankenstein moment. “A little wheel reinvention occurred,” he recalled, “as a square. The parser became a reader by accident.” Most of the time, software developers write additional code to describe complex data. By a stroke of luck, Wetherell’s reader actually bypassed a layer of complexity. Wetherell designated the creation as his 20% project. In a pitch meeting, he drew a circle on a whiteboard, and wrote below it: “Feed reading is inherently polymorphic.” The kind of RSS reader Wetherell envisioned would be “athletically flexible to match a wide variety of reading styles.” He drew spokes out from the circle to delineate the different use cases he imagined. Finally, his colleagues said, “OK, then.” Work on “Fusion” — the prototype for what became Google Reader — would begin.

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