Written by Technology

Killing Google Reader

I suppose that we’ve all known that it was coming. But Google is finally killing off Google Reader completely. Their reasoning, buried away in a brief note about “Spring Cleaning” (i.e. things they’ve started and decided to finish with) is that usage had fallen. Not visiting the Google Blog on a daily basis, on the off chance they’ve posted something new, I saw this news in Google Reader itself. Of course!
While I appreciate that the broader population never entirely understood how RSS feeds and readers worked, that’s not really good enough. I’d hazard that other reasons for Reader’s declining use include the fact that Google did its level best to hide it, burying from a position of prominence in its navigation bar, to a drop down, and removing a lot of the social features from it that made it easy to see what others were sharing. This was around the time that Google was trying to build Google+, so the sharing was replaced with Google+ sharing, which might seem to be the same but was entirely different.
I suppose the biggest reason that people fell away from Reader was because Google fell out of love with it itself. If you don’t continue to develop a product, then it’s clear that you’re not interested. Added to that, there was never an obvious revenue model for Google attached to it. The ads you saw were served by the sites you subscribed to, not Google.
Ironically, Google Reader developed the vast market share having come along and killed the previous bigboy on the block – Bloglines. Well at least it seemed to me that this was the most popular reader around. But once Google trained its guns on the lawn, everyone else fell away to a large extent.
And that of course means that as everyone looks around now for a replacement, nobody really had the scale to keep developing.
Just to put in perspective how much I’m going to miss Google Reader, I’d estimate that it’s my third most used Google product after search and Gmail.
I permanently have a tab open in my browser and it’s become an essential part of both my work and my personal interests.
And I suspect that lots of journalists and quite influential people who want to stay ahead of the curve online, are also Google Reader users. So while the numbers might not be enormous, I suspect their influence is greater than perhaps Google realises.
This move is also going to cause problems for lots of third party developers who’ve put their own wrappers around Google Reader – often in an attempt just to make it look prettier. Press on Android springs to mind immediately.
And I wonder if certain sites didn’t see a disproportionate amount of traffic generated from their RSS feeds? It’s probably a drop in the ocean on somewhere like the BBC News site or The Guardian. But I suspect that technical or interest specific sites have a different story.
One thing that comes up from time to time is that social networks like Twitter are the way we share feeds. But they are incredibly inefficient. Twitter is a stream. If you happen to be looking at the right time and see the right link from the right person pass by, then you may find something worthwhile to click through to. But you have to hope you’re following the right people. That’s a lot harder than just subscribing to a site that you know provides you with things you’re interested in.
That’s not to say that Twitter links aren’t useful. They can be. But they tend to work better in reaction to live events like breaking news stories, or the utterly trivial.
And while apps like Flipboard and Google’s own Currents can theoretically replace some of what Reader offered, they can only deal with a handful of sites realistically. That’s not much use if you want to stay on top of lots of things.
Assuming Google doesn’t do a 180 degree turn – and I suspect they won’t as they’ve clearly fallen out of love – then where does that leave us?
There are other RSS feed readers out there, but I don’t know which are the good ones. I imagine sites like Lifehacker (a site I go to solely via RSS) are already compiling a list. And of course this could be an opportunity for someone. Well it would be if they didn’t only have three months from a standing start to develop an all round product.
Let’s be clear though. I would happily pay for a fast RSS reader that’s available on the web, and via a mobile client like Press. An annual subscription. From my own pocket. And that’s a rare thing in this world where we expect everything to be free.
And let that be a lesson to all of us who find free services we’re using essential…