“Google Reader is dying! Save Google Reader!,” came the cry from the Internet as word of the RSS reader’s cancellation spread. Competitors like Feedly started getting knocked offline as their servers gave up in the face of a tsunami of traffic as people like me began moving the data. Social media, particularly Google+, began to trumpet an array of “Save Google Reader” petitions.
As content creators, why should we care? Google Wave came and went. iGoogle, Google Desktop, Picnik, and numerous other experiments by the Big G also lived a short span and were then decommissioned. It’s the nature of the Internet — many of these things are transitory, and you should always be ready to move your information.
Breach of User Trust?
There is a wide swath of Internet users who have never even heard of Reader, much less the other experiments littering Google’s graveyard. To them, the flood of social media commentary requires a bit more explanation. For power users and early adopters, who are essential to Google both for feedback and to evangelize Google products, it is creating more trust issues by the day.
Ezra Klein puts it well in his recent piece for The Washington Post:
But I’m not sure I want to be a Google early adopter anymore. I love Google Reader. And I used to use Picnik all the time. I’m tired of losing my services.
In fact, I’m starting to worry a bit about Gmail, which is at the core of pretty much my entire life. I know, I know — Gmail is safe. The data it feeds into the Google mainframe is extremely valuable to the search giant. They won’t let anything happen to it.
But I’m a heavy user of Gmail. And so I’ve been buying more space on Google’s servers. Recently, I hit 30 gigs — and learned Google won’t let me purchase any more room. The service which once swore I’d never have to delete a message now tells me my only option is to delete gigabyte after gigabyte of past e-mails.
That’s their right, of course. But it was a reminder that Google’s core business isn’t running an e-mail system or selling data storage. The thing I wanted to pay them to do wasn’t something they make much money off. So now I’m a bit nervous: I freed up a good number of gigabytes, but now I’ve run through much of the low-hanging fruit, and the bar measuring how far I am from my storage unit is beginning to tick up again.
If this sort of thought pattern becomes widespread among Google early adopters it could pose some significant problems for the data giant down the line.
Punishing the Curators
When you look at social media, one word sums up a lot of the action: sharing. The people who share content are a relatively small percentage of Web surfers, and many of them rely on RSS readers. Take it from a pro blogger — you have to constantly research in order to curate solid content. Google Reader was not only the choice of the majority, but also allowed seamless access to the rest of the Google ecosystem for sharing.
Many of us have spent years handcrafting the feeds we subscribe to, building a resource that we were not even given an opportunity to pay for (and many of us, including myself, would have). Yes, we can transition to other readers — and perhaps this will spawn a much needed innovation in the RSS reader arena — but it is quite a workload, and functionality will be lost.
While all the furor has been erupting over Reader’s demise, Google introduced its new Evernote competitor, called “Keep,” a storage app for anything you see that’s interesting. James Fallows at The Atlantic is only one of the voices I have heard whose view of the new app is colored by the Reader’s demise (Hint: It’s a trust issue again!):
Here’s the problem: Google now has a clear enough track record of trying out, and then canceling, ‘interesting’ new software that I have no idea how long Keep will be around. When Google launched its Google Health service five years ago, it had an allure like Keep’s: here was the one place you could store your prescription info, test results, immunization records, and so on and know that you could get at them as time went on. That’s how I used it — until Google cancelled this ‘experiment’ last year. Same with Google Reader, and all the other products in the Google Graveyard that Slate produced last week.
Until I know a reason that it’s in Google’s long-term interest to keep Keep going, I’m not going to invest time in it or lodge info there. The info could of course be extracted or ported somewhere else — Google has been very good about helping people rescue data from products it has killed — but why bother getting used to a system that might go away? And I don’t understand how Google can get anyone to rely on its experimental products unless it has a convincing answer for the ‘how do we know you won’t kill this?’ question.
It might have been wiser to let the community blowback from Reader being cancelled to die down before introducing another new “experiment.” On the flip side, if Google sees a connection between the two it might influence the company’s approach in the future.
Requiem for Reader
I have always been a booster of the Google ecosystem. It has provided me with many tools I use to earn a living. By the same token, I have also always been a proponent of diversification of platforms and paid services. For example, while I have a lot of photos on Google, the majority of my 30,000+ images live on Flickr, where I have a paid account.
Always have a backup and a backup plan — this is true of all your data across all platforms. Feedburner users, I’m looking at you. If Google is stepping back from RSS, you are probaly next.
At least Google gives us a bit of notice: Reader ceases to exist on July 1.
Image by Daniel Hughes.
George "Loki" Williams is the community and brand manager for award wining game company Savage Mojo, Ltd. and the owner of SocialGumbo, LLC, an online consultancy specializing in Web content and online communications. Loki has produced content for clients including the Open Society Institute, National Association of Broadcasters, Kobold Press, and Kaiser Permanente. His work has been seen or written about in The New York Times, The BBC, Air America, The Gambit Weekly, and NOLA.com, among others.