16 March 2013

The saddest news of the year: Google Reader is no more

So the moment is finally coming: Google is shutting down Reader in July. It’s not like we didn’t expect this from the lack of attention over the last couple of years and from several disclosures from former developers, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Reader is one of my most used Google services, along with search and YouTube; compared by the time spent Gmail is pretty far behind, and Calendar even further. I’ll freely admit I use it less frequently lately, as I am discovering more stuff on Twitter and on other interest-based news reading apps like Wavii and Prismatic; but somehow I always come back to Reader, either on the desktop or in the awesome iOS app Newsify.

It’s not that hard to understand why: Reader and the RSS protocols behind it offered the right mix of efficiency, control and flexibility in a minimalistic interface. Efficiency because you could skim hundreds of headlines in a matter of minutes; control because you could choose what articles to read, when and where; flexibility because Reader could accommodate anything from high-volume feeds like TechMeme to obscure blogs, comments and notifications in a single place. And if you want more reasons, you can find hundreds in this thread started by a Googler. All this makes it challenging at best to find a good replacement. Social networks, be it , or Google+, are accessible pretty much anywhere, but the feeds are flooded with random updates and setting up a sensible system for tracking specific sources would be time-consuming. Specialized news apps are usually confined to a mobile OS or specific browsers limiting their reach. They’re too interested in boasting their shiny new interfaces to care about the actual content that should be front and center. Also you would be relinquishing much of the control over what you see: in most cases – and depending on how good the algorithms are – less frequent updates from specialized blogs will be lost in a sea of posts from big publishers and slowly, but surely, lose their audience.

Some have expressed hope that, with the effective monopoly of gone, there will be a new wave of competition and innovation in the RSS space. Call me pessimistic, but I’m very skeptical about that. RSS simply isn’t a ‘hot’, ‘rising’, ‘disruptive’ technology and probably never was. Most developers are focused on mobile, location and every possible social gimmick and I just don’t see any of them diverting resources from their short-term plans to target some uncertain future gain in a niche market. There are already many opportunists trying to take advantage of the public outcry to get people to sign up for their inferior products and some big promises – from digg for example – but I’ll wait until somebody actually ships a working RSS reader before becoming all excited again.

What saddens me in this whole affair the most is the sheer hypocrisy of the decision: first of all removing key features that many were regularly using, then a year and a half later closing the service because the usage has declined! This isn’t about ‘focus’ or ‘costs’ - because Google never even tried to monetize the service and I hardly think anyone would have objected to an ad-supported Reader in the same manner Gmail (even now!) is showing ads. This is about Google following some arcane corporate plans and putting all their efforts in that – likely misguided – direction. I for one I’m not going along with them.

Google Reader trends
So I guess I won’t be reaching the 300,000 mark...

And some reactions from the Internet:

Let's be clear that this has nothing to do with revenue vs operating costs. Reader never made money directly (though you could maybe attribute some of Feedburner and AdSense for Feeds usage to it), and it wasn't the goal of the product. […]

[3] Reader redesign: Terrible decision, or worst decision? I was a lot angrier then than I am now -- now I'm just sad. Brian Shih, Former Google Reader Product Manager

Ihr altruistisches Gehabe können sie sich fortan jedenfalls sparen. Wenn sie eines der wichtigsten Tools zur offenen (und unabhängigen, und personalisierten, und etc.) Informationsrezeption und -prozession einfach so schliessen, ein Tool, das fast paradigmatisch ihre Mission ‘organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful’ personalisiert, ein Tool, das vl. nicht mehr zig Millionen, aber sicherlich Hunderttausende wirklich lieben, während sie an anderer Baustelle mit der Übernahme von DailyDeal mal schnell 100 Mio Dollar versenken, was mit ihrer Mission nichts zu tun hat, dann sieht man, wo sie stehen. Markus Spath

There was so much data we had and so much information about the affinity readers had with certain content that we always felt there was monetization opportunity, he said. Dick Costolo (currently CEO of Twitter), who worked for Google at the time (having sold Google his company, Feedburner), came up with many monetization ideas but they fell on deaf ears. Costolo, of course is working hard to mine those affinity-and-context connections for Twitter, and is succeeding. […]

It wasn’t — and it still isn’t — a cheap exercise, said Wetherell, rationalizing why he somewhat understands Google’s predicament. This is and will always be a Google-level problem, especially if you are building a service for more than a few people, he said. Om Malik

Profit is derived from control. RSS interferes with controlling not just access to content, but the content itself. A content-sharing protocol not in their direct control is incongruous with their business model in the same way a true democracy hampers megalomaniac politicians. The web’s open API cannot be throttled, manipulated and mediated like a proprietary API. Kevin Potts

Google exists, it says, to encourage everyone to use the internet. It isn't in the business of supporting small groups of specialists, except through general purpose tools. But by angering and disenfranchising the very people who keep the internet fruitful and productive, it is poisoning its own fields - and those of others. It betrays itself as not understanding that "social" isn't just about numbers, it's about people - people who might be hard to sell advertising to, but who create the conditions in which advertising can work.

That level of ignorance is very dangerous to Google. It looks as if the company has stopped seeing the internet as something it should serve and enhance, choosing instead to treat it as something Google itself ties to its own internal reality. Google said it was shutting down Reader to "make a better user experience". Such hubris is, in the end, the death of companies. Rupert Goodwins

Post a Comment