Some thoughts on the impending death of Google Reader.
Google Reader, the company’s free RSS feed aggregator will be shuttered on July 1. Many voices across the Internet have been vocal in their disapproval of this move - while not the most popular Google tool, it has a small, intense following, primarily bloggers.
Others, like my friend Andy (who makes web things for a living) are more approving of Reader’s demise:
We discussed several important points while we talked about this on Twitter last night:
2. As a customer instead of a user you have a clearer relationship between yourself and the service provider. If you don’t like what they’re doing you can stop using it or stop paying for it.
3. Running web services is expensive and problematic. Relying on a handful of companies to provide storage instead of on individual computers can also be risky.
4. With these things in mind, subscription services may be the most viable arrangement for both users and independent web service creators/providers.
But, as Bill points out, this issue is even more complex:
I have a lingering Web 1.0 nostalgia for (or more likely utopian dream of) an online experience where everyone owns their own websites, the best services are open-source and these online interactions happen in shared and easily-integrated spaces but just this isn’t how things work.
Instead, we see growing app-ification of the online experience - where users are increasingly restrained within walled gardens (like Google and Facebook) within which use is limited to patterns dictated by the architecture of the sites themselves.
But Internet pessimism is often overstated. A nostalgic and utopian view of the Web fails to recognize the extreme digital divide which has actually been shrinking. These free online services offer lower barriers of entry for new online users. Their “freeness” is contingent upon your information being sold back to you in the form of advertising dollars. Here’s a graph of Internet users as percentage of population:
More people are online and this is particularly increasing globally. These services offer these users a free way to participate online. Not everyone can pay subscriptions to boutique online service providers, even if that relationship would be better for all parties involved. Not everyone can host their own blog, email and photos - services that Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, Tumblr, etc. are happy to do as long as they’re profitable.
Speculation on Quora from a former Googleplex insider points to Google shuttering the service primarily because it doesn’t play well with Google+ and it doesn’t help generate advertising information/money.
This Google Reader kerfuffle is just that because it reveals to Google users what we already know - its not running a charity and its services are not directly aimed at creating a better, more open and idealistic Internet experience, but serving the company’s strategic goals.
This should not be surprising and outside of user backlash there are few repercussions for the elimination of these services.