Good Riddance to Google Reader

Ever since Google announced they’re killing off Reader, the Technosphere has been full of bellyaching. To an extent I understand it. I’ve used Google Reader nearly every day for a very long time. Not so much because Reader is a fantastic product, but because it’s adequate while most of the alternatives suck.

A little known fact, before we started Blue Frog Gaming I had decided I was going to do a software startup of some kind, and the first idea I started working on was to be an alternative to Google Reader. I wanted something with a lot more social functionality. Sort of like what Twitter has morphed into for a lot of its users, sharing articles, etc., but without the inane celebrity drivel and outdated character limits. This was well before the invention of the Facebook platform, or Twitter and to be honest it may have been ahead of its time had I gone through with it.

What’s the point? Not much, other than to say I can understand why people don’t want to lose Reader. Especially since most mobile-based reader clients sync with Reader. I haven’t played around with some of the alternatives yet, but I’m not sure there’s another one that’s free and of acceptable quality.

That said the reactions have been ridiculous. Half of the commenters I’ve seen have said something like “I’ll never trust Google again!” Trust them to do what? Run a free service that they feel isn’t of a higher value than the cost to maintain? If you trusted them (or any other company) to do that in the first place, you’re an idiot. Google has a responsibility to do what’s best for Google.

Also what are you going to do about it? Start searching on Bing? Ditch Gmail for Yahoo? Leave Android for iOS? (That one you might do anyway.) Drop Google Docs for Zoho? All because they shut down an RSS reader?

Then there are the people arguing that Google is being stupid. Maybe, but I doubt it. Google has much more of an idea of what Reader is worth to them than I do. I’m just a guy who has no real information other than I like it, and that’s true of almost everyone complaining. All the crackpot theories about how valuable the “influencers” are that Google is about to lose have me in stitches. If you’re so damned influential, how come you couldn’t get anyone to use the product you’re so pissed is dying? Google should really be terrified of you being upset! And to what end are you going to use that massive influence now? Talk everyone into switching to Apple’s phones where there will also be no Google Reader?

Thinking about it from a business case, I suspect the only reason Google Reader ever got out the door, way back in the dark days of the internet, was to get people to log in. If you remember back in 2005, there really wasn’t much reason to give Google any personally identifiable information. Before Gmail, which pretty much nobody had back then, I don’t even think you could create an account with Google. You just went there and searched and moved onwards.

Google realized early on that having more information about customers let them tailor ads to customers and therefore make more on ads. That’s why they launched AdSense, which not only monetized traffic outside of Google, but gave Google a good idea what their users were doing online to improve ads on Google.

And while cookies and IP addresses are great, there’s no better way to get information about someone than to have them give it to you. A logged in user not only gives you basic demographic data you’d otherwise have to guess at, they give you their name (which there are all sorts of ways to find other data from, including income) and they let you track them easily across browsers and devices.

So in 2005, putting out a product that netted zero revenue but got people to log in was well worth it. Nowadays Google has no shortage of people logged in. Gmail’s one of the bigger email providers. They’ve got YouTube, Wallet, Android, Drive, Docs, etc. A lot of their products are still second rate, but some of them aren’t, and when you add them all together you’ve got enough that most of the net is logged into Google all the time. There’s probably not one Reader user who won’t stay logged in on some other service.

And for someone who uses an RSS reader, this is probably the best thing that could happen. I’ll be surprised if 10 services that are better than reader don’t replace it in a year. Reader has barely been updated in a long time. It’s mobile clients suck. It’s adequate and popular, which is a combination that prevents any real improvement in RSS readers and has for years. It’s Internet Explorer 6 all over again.

So let it go. It’s a little acute pain to alleviate a chronic one for both us and Google. In the end we’ll both be better off.


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