“We launched Google Reader in 2005 with the aim of making it easier for users to find and retain their favourite websites. Although the product enjoyed a loyal audience, over the years its use has declined. That is why, on July 1st, 2013, we will be withdrawing Google Reader”- Google, March 2013.
There are two schools of thought about Google’s decision to abandon the old RSS aggregator, which has never been as successful as anticipated: The first is that this is the absolute worst thing that has ever happened on the Internet. And the second is: Who cares?
Although I tend towards the first group, it is difficult to challenge Google’s take on the matter. Monitoring sites in RSS format is simply not the behaviour of “normal” people. So an RSS reader, such as that of Google, remains the territory of the technical elite, the domain of the IT people, programmers, researchers, and journalists.
The rest of the world limits its activity to Web browsing and the occasional Tweet.
But Google Reader was special, because it was one of the last remaining places on the Internet that you really seemed to own, personally. In other words, the nature of the Web content you read now, and the services that catch your attention, is that it is skilfully created to control what you read and when. Whether you’re browsing a news channel, consulting a Twitter page or reading a Facebook news update, the links displayed to you are those which other people have selected as important.
So, Google Reader was more than just a list of things to read. It was not simply a collection of RSS feeds.
It was your personal Google. A search engine developed from the sites that had particularly interested you. A Google News channel tailored to the stories you wanted to read. A classification where you determined the headings and preferences. Google Reader was your personal Web, your own Internet segment.
Now, there are the social media .
This is an important sign, of course – conveying a sense of what is in vogue, enabling sensational discoveries. However, it also constitutes a yielding of control. Of course, you can choose who to follow, but it is not the same as selecting your own source, motivation and frequency of reading news.
In Google Reader, I would happily categorise websites into general types, such as “List B”, “List C”, “must keep” and “panic”, rather than with specific names, such as “Top Technology Sites” or “Apple Bloggers”. It was my decision to choose which news group to skim over and of which writers, by contrast, to devour every single word.
On the other hand, on Twitter, every message is given the same weight as the one before it. A photo of your cat. News of a war. A beautiful sunset on Instagram. A government overthrown.
It’s a cauldron of real-time news, in which you immerse yourself as you can. No opinion is left unread. Simply update, update, and update some more.
However, the writing was already on the wall of the project when, in October 2011, Google trimmed the social features of the Reader to pave the way for massive integration with the new Google social network, Google+.
The change, essentially an insult to the small but very committed group of Google Reader users, may have taken some by surprise, but from the internal perspective of Google, it was amazing that its Reader had a development team.
Today, Google is too preoccupied with trying to change the world with driverless cars, computers with search engines that think for you, and hot air balloons for Web access, to care about Google Reader.
They are thinking about ways to dominate mobile phones and to connect to the next 5 billion users to the Web – huge projects that leave no room for a small and frivolous product of the early days of the 2.0 era.
At very least, with the closure of Reader, Google has admitted its administration’s failure in this area.
Not even Google can – nor does it want to – do it all.
We have already seen evidence of this with the systematic closure of other dated and redundant services by Google “Spring Cleaning”.
Google Reader is not the first and will not be the last to yield to these cuts. Google Alerts and Feedburner are now the next major candidates.
The demise of the Reader’s is not just the end of a product, it is the end of an era.
Google Reader, thank you for those eight wonderful years.