Monday, March 18, 2013

The end of Reader: what does it say about Google?

The blogosphere is full of people who are livid at the end of Google Reader. I am angry too - and would move many of my Google services if there were better alternatives. [I no longer feel secure in the Google promise to continue providing services that are critical to my life...]

Google has not budged. Reader - by far the best RSS feed for people who get their information by reading - is going dark.

Nobody I know however has indicated what this says about Google. So I am going to try.

(a). Reader is a service that not many people use - except that it seems inordinately popular with a bunch of thought-leaders including many of the most widely read bloggers. It amazes me that Google can't take a service that popular with thought leaders and turn it into a mass-market product. This is a management failure - Google is clearly not immune to them.

(b). The mass-market RSS alternative is Twitter. However among the more wordy-and-literate-and-older RSS is still important. My readers are older, better read, and better educated than the average internet user and I have about four times as many RSS followers as I do Twitter followers. Still as a blogger I needed to face the new reality and get a Twitter feed. In abandoning RSS Google is showing the sort of petulance that a mega-company has when it missed a mass-market trend. It seems pretty obvious now that Google is going to want to buy Twitter.

(c). Google is in the process of abandoning its mission. Google's stated mission is to organize all the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. RSS is a way that a small number of us organize our information. Google no longer cares. It seems what they care about is mass-markets - see the Twitter comments above.

(d). Twenty percent time is dead at Google. Reader was a great product produced by twenty percent time but it was never shown any love - and no serious attempt has ever been made to monetize it. Even if you manage between 8PM on Saturday and 10AM on Sunday (your twenty percent time) to develop a modestly successful product Larry Page will not care. If you want to be entrepreneurial work elsewhere.

(e). Obvious steps to use the RSS feed to extend or expand other Google products have not been made. The idea of shifting your RSS feed into your Google+ account was seemingly not tried. Rather than abandoning Reader Google could have directed all the thought-leader eyeballs to Google+ - and offered more product. I guess Google has also given up trying to make Plus a serious alternative to Facebook. If it is not a mass-market Google is not interested in it.

(f). Google's slogan is "Don't be evil". But the only agenda now is to go after mass markets and make lots of money. Larry Page's self-image is benevolent dictator but really this guy is demoniacally going after big prizes. Larry Page is as evil as Larry Page perceives necessary.

(g). This obsession is going to lead competitors to openings. Yahoo for instance could immediately get all those thought leaders by offering a clone of Google Reader and offering a seamless transition. Feedly might get there (but Yahoo! will then buy them). Ignoring people around the fringes of your market is dangerous.

Bronte owns Google stock and has done so for some time. The new - and evil - Larry Page is going to make lots and lots of money. Short term the stock will probably continue to go up. Long term I am not so sure. Google is annoying its more entrepreneurial staff by killing any pretense of twenty-percent time. Further, Google is leaving openings for competitors. Finally Google has snubbed people around the fringes of their market and deeply pissed off users are clearly negative for Google. Google relies critically on the trust of their users.

I - along with many others - feel betrayed.



Sam said...

Isn't this just a symptom of listed company syndrome?

Your generic, old school investment/MBA-grad manager doesn't value concepts like 20% time, they see it as fat that can be trimmed.

Same with reader, I feel they could have developed it and used it for a filter of quality information to drip into Google+ (that's how I used it anyway, since they axed the sharing and discussion features on reader). Instead, they're looking at the costs, the fact that it's not as profitable as other segments so cut it out.

Feels like when Australian wine producers pulled up a lot of old vines for the production of some of the best fortified wines in the world and replaced them with Sauv Blanc. volume ^ revenue ^

Druce Vertes said...

It’s just lame if they can’t find a way to make money from something this useful.

Kind of weird that Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn are building news aggregators, and Google is shutting down Reader.

Google controls the RSS ecosystem with Feedburner and Reader, they could have evolved it to make it something that integrated with G+ and was more revenue-friendly.

And it’s evil to take control of an open ecosystem, and then dismantle it.

And there's a huge amount of data exhaust in knowing what the tech savvy early adopters are reading.

It does seem petulant, eg, we can't figure out how to make this profitable, so we refuse to be a channel people use to pipe content into Flipboard, Twitter, Facebook.

FWIW there is this petition to keep it going...

And of course the inevitable Untergang video

Anonymous said...

Nice post. I also felt betrayed and had a different perspective. See: Google Reader's Death & The Monetization Creep:

Google's monetization push may unlock a lot of value for the company, but it is sad that it is coming at the expense of products like Reader.

Anonymous said...

I also felt betrayed and wrote about it here: Google Reader's Death & The Monetization Creep:

Google's monetization push may unlock a lot of value for the company, but it is sad that it is coming at the expense of products like Reader.

David said...

Seems as much a lack of demographic analysis as just killing of a service. Has always interested me how ldrger companies in tech space are so fast to write off the valuw of baby boomer age customers in return for tweens etc. Especially given the capacity of both to invest in listed.companies. good point abouy yahoo, hopefully Marissa Mayer is listening John.

Anonymous said...

RSS readers are horrendously expensive to operate, and cannibalise Google's business - search. And Google is a business, not a charity.

Chris said...

This is similar to the demise of free google apps hosting in December for small customers (up to 10 accounts) - now they are charging $5 AUD per month or $50 per year per user for the same service.

A cheap domain hosting plan is about $50 per year for unlimited email accounts... I think they have pegged this well above their price point.

Microsoft on the other hand is offering up to 500 accounts for free on their web-outlook service.

Ben said...

Seems like a smart business decision to me. Product wasn't going anywhere and was not worth further investment so shut it down. You are letting your emotions about a product you like going away get in the way of your judgment.

Anonymous said...

I don't see why Google thinks it's NPV positive to add "Street View" of the the ocean floor to Google Maps but can't tolerate subsidizing Google Reader while trying to figure out a better monetization strategy.

Anonymous said...

Autonomous vehicles. Google is the leader in the field. Who cares about reader its nothing compared to the potential of other products in the works.

Strangelove said...

Consistency and trust are key for cloud offerings.
It takes time to personalize the service on offer, be it Reader or Google Docs. But if the service can be taken away at a whim or doesn't function reliably (why are some GoogleFinance functions today not working AGAIN?), it forces me as a user to be more selective in the future when I pick a service.
Google is now as risky as any service from a small start-up. I don't think this is the message they want to convey.

Peter said...

Woah...that was a heated post. I was upset too when I heard of Reader shutting down, but I was placated when I found Feedly and it does what I want.

The reality at the end of the day is that Reader is a dying product that uses an old protocol that itself is dying. RSS is ten years old, and it is considered second rate to all content producing websites. In my feed I have about 120 feeds that I read religiously, and only a handful actually reproduce the entire article content in the feed. Facebook used to have an RSS feed, but canned that for obvious reasons.

Google I/O is coming up soon and they may announce new RSS function in Google+ which would be sort of cool, but I wouldn't hold your breath. Most people are casual users that don't need to see EVERY post a website produces. For this, the social networks work great. No casual user I know uses Reader and most professional don't either.

I disagree with most of your points on Google that you have inferred from the closing of Reader, and put it down to mostly being upset. However I think the more important point to derive from this is that the internet, in an attempt to monetise users, is moving from being open to being full of segregated walled gardens. Facebook started this trend. FB content can't even be searched by Google. Next you have Twitter, limiting its API to an unusable level by outsiders. G+ is hoping to buck the trend, but if pushed, Google will gladly wall that garden too.

Then you have upstarts like, a social network dedicated to the tech industry that you have to pay to participate in. Is this what the Financial industry needs? If RSS isn't able to be monetised, will you see more 'clubs' like where we can get our fix of information?

Yes, Google did shut down Reader because it wasn't mass market. It supported a lot of other RSS readers, so maybe was expensive to run, we don't know. The Alexa website rankings seem to suggest it wasn't that popular but we'll never know. It's awful they took away our toy, but don't lose your mind thinking about what it means to Google....we want businesses to run as businesses after all.


Anonymous said...

The thing about moving to Feedly (or any other service I've found so far) is that I loose all the categories/tags I've assigned to articles over the years.

Thus, having relied on Reader as a way to organize a sort of "library of interesting ideas", I loose the investment in indexing.

So yes, count me as another user who feels betrayed.

Martin Barry said...

Those who have moved to Feedly should note that it is still using the Google Reader API. They have a project to clone the backend functionality that Google Reader provides but they basically have 3 months to reinvent the wheel

Other sites like already have their own backend, hence why they didn't cope so well with the influx of new users.

jmw said...

FYI, Digg said they are going to work on a Reader to replace Google (akin to your Yahoo idea).

Anonymous said...

Also shutting iGoogle which allows all your RSS feeds on one customised page. Sad indeed

Remnant said...

Speaking of monetization, why did Google not do the obvious thing and simply charge to use the service?

As all of the "cry of despair" posts following the annnouncement of Reader's impending demise make clear, the users of Reader are fenaticallly devoted to it (I know I am).

I would gladly pay a high two-figure or low three-figure number annually to continue using it.

Or they could have done an Andrew Sullivan-type approach: pay $20 per year, or as much as you want to give.

Peter said...

Remant: Apparently according to Alexa rankings, Google Reader only had 500k unique visitors per month. This seems low, but is the only data we have. At $20 a year it means chump change for Google I guess....

Anonymous said...

How on earth did you managed to go from "Google Reader is dead" to "Google is dead longer term"?

And this is not some kind of new behaviour...

John Hempton said...

I got from Google reader is dead to Google is looking like a mature business rather than an innovative power house.

Or at least it is on the way to that.

I hardly think is dead... I own it.

Anonymous said...


Not your best post. I think you are being, understandably, emotional rather than your customary analytical self.

Anonymous said...

this is another beta alternative:

i cant see how this is good news for google or google investors, It just points to the fact that their growth is slowing and they are down to making insignificant cuts like this one - just to temporarily boost eps and try to please shareholders next Q.

Tom said...

I'm an RSS devotee too, but you have to realize that markets move on. Sometimes they move on in ways that destroy our well-worn routines. Sometimes there *never* is an adequate replacement.

I've encountered micro-communities of people who are still running their lives on PIM software from 1995 -- because no program or website written since then has matched the features. Old Wordperfect users *still* complain about the lack of Reveal Codes in modern word processors.

Google Reader *does* have adequate replacements. So in the grand scheme of things, this is a very mild setback. The tech sector has seen ten times worse.

P.S. I wouldn't be too surprised if Google Finance goes away at some point. It can't be cheap to offer live market quotes, rather than 15-minutes delayed. I've also noticed a lot of bugs in *core* functionality. It took them three *months* to fix the bug in split adjustment.

However, I also wouldn't be surprised if Google Finance keeps going. Financial advertising tends to be quite expensive. The CPC on those ads might be incredible.

Scumola said...

I think that the original post is right on the money. I'm much more distrustful of Google with my data now that I know that the big G will shut down things that are unpopular but useful tools that don't generate any revenue. What about other products that we rely on that Google controls that don't generate much traffic and no revenue. Is Google Drive next? Google Calendar? Google Talk? Google Voice?

Peter said...

@Scumola: I don't think you can make that point. Google offer "Google Takeout" for all their services, allowing you download all your data in one zip file. Download your Google Reader data and you get everything back. This is all I expect.

Do you expect Google to provide these services forever? That just isn't realistic. All we can expect is to get our data back. Even if it was a paid service you couldn't expect it to run forever, it isn't feasible. If you really believe that it should be run, then you should be petitioning government to run an RSS aggregator if it is that vital.

And if you aren't going to trust Google with your data more generally who would you trust? Dropbox? Evernote? They are small companies more liekly to go under. Microsoft? Apple? Apple has changed its cloud offering 4 times in the last few years before they settled on iCloud.

Sounds like you shouldn't use the cloud at all!

Ian J said...

I may be the exception, but I think that Yahoos 'My Yahoo' RSS reader is the best in the desktop environment; it provides the ability to spatially organize RSS feeds to efficiently peruse content. Just sayin'.

Unknown said...

If the aging, creaky old RSS protocol continues to carry so much value, where is the 'subscribe to feed' link on this blog?

I can see you are using Feedburner for your email distribution, so I can find a feed to subscribe to if I want, but it was easier to just find and follow you on Twitter!

I have over 800 followers on Twitter (which is the single largest source of traffic to my blog after organic search). Over 400 people subscribe to my weekly email bulletin (which is a purpose written summary of the previous week's articles). Fewer than 300 people subscribe to my RSS feed. LinkedIn is a pretty good dissemination channel for me, which generates reasonable traffic. I am starting to build on Google+.

When my posts have gone viral, it has almost invariably been via Reddit or Twitter. RSS is non-social, and just cannot do this.

Everything I see happening tells me Google has made a rational decision here. I understand it is painful for Reader aficionados, but Google needs run a properly-managed business on behalf of its shareholders.


Brian McGlynn said...

I am similarly displeased with the demise of reader, but even more so with the loss of iGoogle. Google's stated intention of having people sign in to an account to use Google products should support both Reader and iGoogle, because without them, I certainly will not sign in, not even in response to the "cool" injunctions to do so every time I visit their search page.

Josh said...

20% time is dead? Does anyone have any evidence for that. That's quite a serious claim.

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