from the leaves-open-an-opportunity dept
Every few months, Google has been “shutting down” various offerings they feel are under-used, in an effort to regain some focus. Many of these are uncontroversial, though a few have been surprising and freaked some users out. Many, for example, were surprised and upset when Google announced it was phasing out iGoogle. But today’s news that it is shutting down Google Reader took many, many people by surprise. My Twitter feed blew up with people freaking out about it. For those who use it, many really rely on it for their daily information gathering process. I know the feeling, because I used to do that — though a few years ago I shifted to mostly using Twitter via a well-organized Tweetdeck, and found that to be just as (if not more) effective, though a somewhat different overall experience that took some getting used to.
Still, a very large number of folks I know feel like they practically live inside Google Reader — and I know (for example) that Google Reader is a huge driver of traffic to this site, so I get the feeling many of you use Google Reader as well. The thing that seems to have so many folks upset is the fact that there really aren’t any comparable alternatives if you want that same basic experience. In fact, you could argue that Google effectively killed off many of those alternatives. Back in the day there were things like Newsgator and Bloglines, but both were effectively marginalized or pushed into other markets because Google Reader really did become the de facto standard RSS reader that so many used and relied on.
Anyway, I have a few separate thoughts on all of this and might as well go through them bullet point style:
- This highlights the problem of relying too much on a single provider when there are few alternatives. As such, I wonder if Google may not realize the wider impact of this move. For example, it has me directly rethinking how much I rely on Google Calendar, Google Drive and Gmail. Now, I don’t think any of those are going away any time soon, but not too long ago (um, yesterday, according to some…) you could have said the same exact thing about Reader. I’m now planning to do a more serious personal audit of services I use and how reliant I am on a single provider, and start making sure I have working alternatives in place and ready to go. In the end, this will certainly make me a lot less tied to Google’s services, which is probably a good thing, but probably not the sort of thing Google is hoping its users will be doing.
- As mentioned, personally, I moved away from RSS readers to a purely Twitter/Tweetdeck approach to consuming news. It took a few months of doing both, but when I shut down the RSS reader, I never looked back. It’s a different experience, but has some benefits. But, what that suggests is that if people are looking for a culprit for what brought us to this moment, Twitter is the prime suspect. Yes, Twitter and RSS are different in many significant ways. But, in terms of the basic user benefit that people get out of both (“my stream of news & info”), they clearly compete.
- The lack of serious alternatives represents a serious opportunity for someone enterprising. Believe it or not, before Google Reader even launched we at Techdirt had built our own RSS reader, called the Techdirt InfoAdvisor, that functioned quite a lot like Google Reader, but which had some other really useful features for us internally and for some of our business clients (we would use it to curate accounts for clients, with added commentary from us). Eventually, we shut it down, because (as Google has discovered), it’s actually a lot of work to maintain something like that for a variety of reasons, and soaks up tremendous resources. Still, my first reaction was to joke that maybe we should dust off our old code, put it up and see if anyone wanted to use it. We’re not likely to do that (unless all of you start throwing money our way), but someone else likely is going to jump into this space quickly. They may not build a huge business out of it, but I’d bet if they weren’t looking for VC-style hockey stick returns, that someone could build a decent business out of it.
- It is always interesting to look at product lifecycles, but most of the time when online products die off, the writing was on the wall long before it happened. This one struck me as a surprise since so many people relied so heavily on it, and it seems really abrupt and likely to upset the basic workflow of so many — especially in the journalism and academic fields. I can respect the reasons for killing off a “non-essential” product, but it feels like Google seriously underestimated the level to which people had built Google reader into their daily lives.
It wouldn’t surprise me, given how loud the backlash is, if Google extends the deadline for shutting down Reader, or if it eventually tries to work out some sort of alternative resolution. We saw the same thing, to a lesser extent, back when AskJeeves tried to shut down Bloglines (the Google Reader of its day before Google Reader existed). And, eventually, Ask sold it off to another company who apparently has kept it running (though, who knows how many users it has today). I think that experience actually pushed a bunch of Bloglines users to jump to Google on the assumption that Google Reader was safe. You would think that someone within Google would remember how that whole thing played out. It’s surprising that they don’t appear to have learned anything from it.