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The Death Of Google Reader And The Rise Of Silos

from the the-changing-web dept

I've been talking a lot lately about the unfortunate shift of the web from being more decentralized to being about a few giant silos and I expect to have plenty more to say on the topic in the near future. But I'm thinking about this again after Andy Baio reminded me that this past weekend was five years since Google turned off Google Reader. Though, as he notes, Google's own awful decision making created the diminished use that allowed Google to justify shutting it down. Here's Andy's tweeted thread, and then I'll tie it back to my thinking on the silo'd state of the web today:

Many people have pointed to the death of Google Reader as a point at which news reading online shifted from things like RSS feeds to proprietary platforms like Facebook and Twitter. It might seem odd (or ironic) to bemoan a move by one of the companies now considered one of the major silos for killing off a product, but it does seem to indicate a fundamental shift in the way that Google viewed the open web. A quick Google search (yeah, yeah, I know...) is not helping me find the quote, but I pretty clearly remember, in the early days of Google, one of Larry Page or Sergey Brin saying something to the effect of how the most important thing for Google was to get you off its site as quickly as possible. The whole point of Google was to take you somewhere else on the amazing web. Update It has been pointed out to me that the quote in question most likely is part of Larry Page's interview with Playboy in which he responded to the fact that in the early days all of their competitors were "portals" that tried to keep you in with the following:

We built a business on the opposite message. We want you to come to Google and quickly find what you want. Then we’re happy to send you to the other sites. In fact, that’s the point. The portal strategy tries to own all of the information.

Somewhere along the way, that changed. It seems that much of the change was really an overreaction by Google leadership to the "threat" of Facebook. So many of Google's efforts from the late 2000s until now seemed to have been designed to ward off Facebook. This includes not just Google's multiple (often weird) attempts at building a social network, but also Google's infatuation with getting users to sign in just to use its core search engine. Over the past decade or so, Google went very strongly from a company trying to get you off its site quickly to one that tried to keep you in. And it feels like the death of Reader was a clear indication of that shift. Reader started in the good old days, when the whole point of an RSS reader was to help you keep track of new stuff all over the web on individual sites.

But, as Andy noted above, part of what killed Reader was Google attempting desperately to use it as a tool to boost Google+, the exact opposite of what Google Reader stood for in helping people go elsewhere. I don't think Google Reader alone would have kept RSS or the open web more thriving than it is today, but it certainly does feel like a landmark shift in the way Google itself viewed its mission: away from helping you get somewhere else, and much more towards keeping you connected to Google's big data machine.


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  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 5 Jul 2018 @ 12:19pm

    Good ol’ Alphabet Masnick, shillin’ for Google by [checks notes] lambasting Google over its decision to shut down Google Reader.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Jul 2018 @ 6:40pm

      Re:

      Isn’t it cute how he posts stuff like this to pretend his paycheck isn’t actually completely dependent on them? I’m so utterly convinced of his impartiality now.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Stephen T. Stone (profile), 5 Jul 2018 @ 6:53pm

        Re: Re:

        Please cite, with proper references, the evidence that Mike Masnick’s paycheck relies specificially and only on money from Google.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 6 Jul 2018 @ 2:23am

          Re: Re: Re:

          If he bothers to respond, he will respond with the same screenshot of Google being among the many sponsors of a non-Techdirt project that Mike is involved in. Along with zero explanation why a) this would have any effect on editorial content here nor b) why only Google are affecting content in this way and not any of the other sponsors in that screenshot.

          But, like most conspiracy theorists, facts don't matter once they believe in something. After all, negative articles about Google are just more evidence that he's paid to write the positive ones, apparently!

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Jul 2018 @ 6:51pm

      Re: @ "lambasting Google"? After FIVE years he muses a bit?

      Your reaction makes it obvious that Masnick intends this to be seen as "anti-Google", thinking it makes up for 20 years of fawning. Sheesh to you both.

      Your stupidest comment ever, and that's compared to this gem:

      https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20180312/06535239401/lucha-underground-wrestling-sends-legal-t hreat-to-journalists-publishing-spoilers.shtml#c131

      "You can stop referring to pro wrestling as "fake". We all know that the match results are fixed. We all know the feuds are (mostly) scripted. We all know the characters portrayed in the ring are not truly representative of the people who portray them. This is common knowledge and acting like it is not just so you can feel a smug sense of superiority over the people who enjoy the performance art of professional wrestling makes you an asshole. You are not smarter than wrestling fans when you say "LOL it's all fake". You are not a better person than a wrestling fan if you have to look down upon them as idiots and fools because they enjoy pro wrestling in the same way some people enjoy Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead. So when you feel another urge to call out pro wrestling as "fake", ignore itas hard as you can."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Jul 2018 @ 12:32pm

    Single point of failure

    There are great feedreaders out there ... But Google Reader was a community and not easily replaced.

    Companies are fickle in general, and Google especially so. Over the long term, any community dependent on a single irreplaceable entity is going to die. Reader's code was maintained entirely by Google, not available outside of Google, and dependent on Google to continue running the infrastructure.

    RSS is inherently decentralized. They found a way to centralize it, and later proved the point of everyone who complains about that. Archive Team has a list of other such occurrences, and there's no reason to believe this will stop happening. We can't avoid silos by relying on the generosity of random companies; only something truly decentralized will work.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Jul 2018 @ 12:49pm

    The death of "don't be evil".

    ...the most important thing for Google was to get you off its site as quickly as possible. The whole point of Google was to take you somewhere else on the amazing web.

    Google's focus went from wanting to be useful to people to wanting to use people. Not that they don't still have a lot of useful stuff, but it's only there as a way of exploiting people. Stuff that doesn't help them with that goal eventually gets killed off with a big middle finger given to complainers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Jul 2018 @ 12:56pm

    It was just so damned perfect. In a world where you go "How do I make a social network but isn't just another facebook or twitter?" and it was google reader.

    Google looked at google reader, inspected it, then turned around and shat all over it and tried to make a facebook clone that was a failure. Because why would you try to out facebook... facebook by trying to do everything it already did or adding features no normal human would understand or want.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Jul 2018 @ 12:58pm

    Oh God... the _last_ thing I need for my RSS feeds is "social integration". What I'm reading is absolutely nobody's concern and what other people read is definitely of no interest to me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Jul 2018 @ 1:08pm

      Re:

      And yet here you are, giving us your opinion about what you just read.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 5 Jul 2018 @ 1:12pm

        Re: Re:

        Really? You can tell he is doing this from his RSS reader?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 5 Jul 2018 @ 1:33pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Huh? It's obviously a response to "What I'm reading is absolutely nobody's concern and what other people read is definitely of no interest". Why would the level of concern/interest depend on the viewing technology?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 5 Jul 2018 @ 1:56pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            The first sentance "Oh God... the last thing I need for my RSS feeds is "social integration"." which you obviously skipped over.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 5 Jul 2018 @ 2:28pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              I saw it. The second sentence was a standalone statement not dependent on the first.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 6 Jul 2018 @ 6:19am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                I saw it. The second sentence was a standalone statement not dependent on the first.

                The first sentence established context, dumb ass.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • identicon
                  Anonymous Coward, 6 Jul 2018 @ 9:25am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  Indeed. More accurately in context the first sentence depends on the second. To paraphrase; "I don't want my RSS feeds to have social integration because I have no interest in other's reading habits or making my own public no matter what source I am using."

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ray Trygstad (profile), 5 Jul 2018 @ 1:16pm

    Google Reader was my constant homepage until they killed it. It did exactly what I wanted it to do. I’m with Andy in mourning it’s passing.
    Google+ also killed off my favorite blog, John Walkenbach’s J-Walk Blog, (which had one of the most amazing online communities going) by luring John to Google+. Most of the wonderful community he’d built just drifted away; it was too hard to follow Google+ as a platform at the time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 5 Jul 2018 @ 1:17pm

    Since I am on Linux, I use Liferea as my RSS reader, and did not miss Google Reader. Still, RSS has some limits (one of which is NOT social media connections), not all sites provide feeds, so while I currently have 22 sites on RSS, I still go to 18 other websites daily (they are in a folder in my bookmarks and open them all at once), because they don't have RSS.

    Oh, and I have no social media accounts, not even Google+ (which they push on me all the time).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Comboman, 5 Jul 2018 @ 1:34pm

    The quote you're looking for

    I believe this is the quote you were looking for, but it's from Steven Levy, not Larry or Sergey.

    [Google] was too good. If Excite were to host a search engine that instantly gave people information they sought, [Excite's CEO] explained, the users would leave the site instantly. Since his ad revenue came from people staying on the site—"stickiness" was the most desired metric in websites at the time—using Google's technology would be counterproductive. "He told us he wanted Excite's search engine to be 80 percent as good as the other search engines," … and we were like, "Wow, these guys don't know what they're talking about."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Jul 2018 @ 2:16pm

    And started the death of RSS

    And since then a number of sites stopped using RSS feeds or put the links behind a paywall. Even the so-called news aggregaters are selective about what they show unless I have my locater turned on (which I don't).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    SirWired, 5 Jul 2018 @ 3:00pm

    I can hardly blame Google for this

    Google had a product, a fine one, that nevertheless wasn't making money. They tried something different, it didn't work, so they pulled the plug.

    Google isn't a charity, and they have/had no obligation to keep money-losing products going indefinitely, no mater how beloved. (I'm wondering when Google Voice is going to get killed; other than charging great rates for international calls, I don't see where any revenue comes from there.)

    Google, as a company does a lot of good stuff, but at their core they are still a company that likes to turn a profit. It's foolish for anybody to rely on the parts of their enterprise that don't make money.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Jul 2018 @ 7:21am

      Re: I can hardly blame Google for this

      I'm wondering when Google Voice is going to get killed;

      It has already begun with the death of a thousand cuts.

      I began using it when it was Grand Central (before Google bought it) with the promise of "one number for life", for free. Period. And I had it linked to a free SIP provider (before Google bought it, too) using my own SIP hardware. This gave me free phone service with no monthly phone bill. Needless to say, the telco industry (AT&T, et al) didn't much like that, but there wasn't much they could do about it either. At least directly.

      So, they approached Google. And Google, being the opportunistic exploiter it is, saw an opportunity to buddy up with other gigantic brethren exploiters in the telco industry. Google bought both Grand Central and the free SIP provider. Google promised users that things would continue as before with "great new features on the way!" And then one of the first things they did kill off SIP access and collect a big wet kiss from the telcos. No more standard SIP access. Now you had to use the "Google Voice" portal. And many people, such as myself, were also forced to give up their "one number for life" number in exchange for a new Google assigned number.

      But at least it could still be accessed without have to pay a telco for the privilege. However, this still wasn't quite what the telcos wanted. And if Google had ambitions to more more fully partner with them, it was going to have to make amends. So, about a year or so ago, it cut off service to those users, like myself, who were avoiding paying a monthly homage to one telco or another. It instituted a new rule that users must have their accounts linked to telco provided phone number. And not just any number either. It had to be a mobile phone number. And it had to be provided by one of Google's "approved" mobile providers. None of that Vonage stuff or anything like that.

      Having now made amends, Google was allowed to join the telco club and the Google Project Fi phone service was the result. A phone service with which Google gets to tell you which phones you can use with it (mostly Google's own). Remember when long, long ago the government decided phone companies couldn't dictate which phone hardware you used with your phone service? Yeah, well those days are long gone.

      Yay Google!

      Not.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 5 Jul 2018 @ 3:07pm

    Ruining services is what Google does best. Many years ago, they bought Deja News, a Usenet newsgroup archiving service. Rather than keep DN's straight-forward UI, which was very flexible and their streamlined listing of results, Google slapped their web search UI on it, started sorting the results by popularity rather than any sort of sensible order, restricted it to about 3 results per screen, broke up threads into multiple pages, weirdly formatted into trees, obscured all email addresses, even though the people who posted real email addresses wanted them to be seen and hid "similar" results (often the very message you were searching for).

    Basically they destroyed it in an attempt to commercialize it and package it for people who don't have the faintest clue what newsgroups are. I haven't used it in years because the last time I tried, I couldn't find anything I was searching for, even though I KNEW it was in the database previously.

    Their support forum for YouTube is the most ass-backward, confusing site I've ever had the displeasure of using.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Jul 2018 @ 6:46pm

    @ " a few giant silos" -- You don't even know what a "silo" is,

    **just an inapt but "folksy" phrase that happened to get in front of your eyes.**

    Now, since this has already and will in future be cited as an "anti-Google" piece to claim that you're not a shill despite 20 years of blatantly pro-Google pieces: Where do you show least worry over "Google's big data machine"? And it being too big? Where the least suggestion that Google be constrained? -- Nowhere, of course.

    Take the "Copia" link, anyone wondering why Masnick thinks that wistlful regard of a small branch of Google defunct for 5 years is in any degree "anti-Google". It is only when compared to his constant cheerleading.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 5 Jul 2018 @ 7:05pm

      Re:

      You don't even know what a "silo" is

      Per the Oxford English Dictionary’s third definition of “silo“, which is the most relevant in this context: A system, process, department, etc. that operates in isolation from others.

      Where do you show least worry over "Google's big data machine"? And it being too big? Where the least suggestion that Google be constrained? -- Nowhere, of course.

      Every article on Google need not contain calls for the guillotine, metaphorical or physical. More pointed criticism of Google would be nice, but it is not required in every Google-related article.

      Take the "Copia" link, anyone wondering why Masnick thinks that wistlful regard of a small branch of Google defunct for 5 years is in any degree "anti-Google".

      Your constant whining does not make him “pro-Google”, either. Speaking of which: Someone can both write articles that praise Google for doing good things and write articles that criticise Google for doing bad things. The existence of one does not cancel out the other—no matter how much you want that to be the truth.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 6 Jul 2018 @ 2:45am

        Re: Re:

        "Someone can both write articles that praise Google for doing good things and write articles that criticise Google for doing bad things"

        In actual fact, those are exactly the sources that should be most trustworthy. If a source constantly praises even the least savoury things they do, or criticises even the most benevolent things they do, that source is clearly biased and unreliable. A source that supports the good but criticises the bad will tend be a better barometer within any grey areas (of which there are many).

        Unlike some people, I prefer sources that aren't afraid to address the grey head on, rather than pretend everything has to be black and white.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Jul 2018 @ 8:00pm

      Re: @ " a few giant silos" -- You don't even know what a "silo" is,

      Literally nothing satisfies you. Hell, Masnick could saw his arm off and you'd still wouldn't be satisfied.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 6 Jul 2018 @ 12:10am

      Re: @ " a few giant silos" -- You don't even know what a "silo" is,

      Google Derangement Syndrome. Some people hate Google so much they will insist, without proof, that everyone is a Google shill -- even those that actively point out the many problems with Google.

      Google does many things that I think are good, and also does many things I have problems with, and I've never been shy about either one.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 6 Jul 2018 @ 2:29am

      Re: @ "

      "Take the "Copia" link"

      We have. We're still waiting for you to explain what power Yelp, Namecheap and Automattic have over this blog, though.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Jul 2018 @ 2:04pm

      Re: @ " a few giant silos" -- You don't even know what a "silo" is,

      Where's a good swatting when you need one? "Take the "Copia" link, anyone wondering why Masnick thinks that wistlful regard of a small branch of Google defunct for 5 years is in any degree "anti-Google". It is only when compared to his constant cheerleading."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Cvnk (profile), 5 Jul 2018 @ 6:50pm

    I used Reader for many years yet I had no idea there was any sort of community surrounding it. Are you sure that was an important aspect of it? Personally I just wanted a convenient way to keep up with a lot of disparate content which it provided (and Feedly provides equally well now).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    nabru01 (profile), 6 Jul 2018 @ 5:40am

    As much as I loved Google Reader and never cared for its community, its death helped me kick a news-reading addiction I had.

    I reduced my daily reading to a few websites and have been happier.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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