Thursday, March 14, 2013


The imminent demise of Google Reader truly indicates that the News Feed is a four letter word.

Yesterday, Google announced that it was pulling the plug on Google Reader, the news organizer and reader that it had left on life support for several months now. This shocked nobody, to be honest - the writing was on the wall. But it has angered nearly everyone.

I’m not going to talk about why Reader should be kept alive, or really go into why it is a great product or service. I never used it. But I am going to talk about why this is one of the most foolish decisions ever to come from Google.

What Reader Could Have Been

Early on, a lot of people pointed to Reader’s social features as good models for Google+. There are some similarities between the two:
  • They both deliver content to people interested in specific topics
  • They make it as easy as possible to quickly skim the stories and find the articles you’re most interested in reading more about
  • Both have rich features to share that content with others

It seemed obvious, to me, that both had something to learn from each other. I could easily see Reader’s technology being integrated with Google+ and Pages becoming a new way to deliver the same content. I could easily see Reader being another way to view and share your Google+ content, just like GMail and the Stream are.

Not going this route is a signal to me that Google doesn’t really understand what they have with Google+ (or Reader, for that matter), and doesn’t know where they’re going.

What People And Publishers Will Do Instead

I’m sure Google management hopes that people will move to Google+ to get their news instead.

I think that guess is totally wrong. Most are going to switch to a different reader. Most of those readers won’t share to Google+, but will allow sharing to Twitter and Facebook.

But why won’t people switch to Google+ to read their content? Because the content isn’t there! Publishers use RSS to send out their stories, and Reader could capture this. Bloggers published their stuff via RSS because it brought people in. With ways to automatically post to Facebook and Twitter, people added those to the mix.

But Google+ doesn’t have an equivalent.

Who loses in this? Google.

Why This Is Bad For Google+

My stream is filled this morning with people, not all of them techies, pointing out that most of the content they share on Google+ came from Reader. That without reader, they will be sharing less on Google+. That without sharing on Google+... they have little reason to be on Google+.

Publishers and bloggers have gotten no incentive at all to publish on their Google+ pages. Publishing from Blogger to RSS is still better and easier than publishing from Blogger to Google+. For that matter, publishing from Blogger to Twitter and Facebook is easier than publishing from Blogger to Google+!

So less stuff will show up on Google+.

I have seen several people hope that this means that the people working on Reader will bring their talents to improving Google+. But if this were true - why haven’t we seen those results yet? Where is our starring or bookmarks for Google+ stories? Why are Communities so difficult to use? Why are Circles so difficult to use and manage? Why are Pages to lacking in features that publishers want? Why is Blogger integration so horrible?

Why This Is Bad for Google

Google+ exists, among other reasons, to help enhance Google’s understanding of who you are and what you’re interested in. These signals get factored into things such as “Search Plus Your World” and Google Now. Reader could have been used as additional input into that signaling, if it wasn’t already. By taking that source out of the mix, Google now knows less about you.

People were understanding when Google was axing services that were unpopular, unused, and ill-fitting to Google’s long-term goals. But Reader was none of those. This action has people looking over their shoulder at what services Google might nuke next. Is Blogger next on the chopping block? It has all the signs that it will be. What about Google Drive? Will they cut Android loose? What happens when (not if, when) they give up on Google+? If Google wants its products to be taken seriously, people have to assume that Google will back them - either by actively supporting the product, or actively supporting a reasonable replacement. Dropping products like hot potatoes makes people believe that Google just flirts with stuff and can’t be relied upon for anything.

More significantly, this has generated enormous negative publicity for Google. I’ve seen people on Google+ saying they’ve been “scroogled”, quoting Microsoft’s smear campaign against Google. More of my friends on Facebook are talking about Reader being axed than they talk about Glass. This action looks like another sign that Google is desperate to get people on Google+, which gives the perception that Google+ is failing... again. Over and over I’m hearing people point to this as an example of how Google can’t be trusted.


Google won’t go back on this decision.

With luck, they’ll go forward. But if they had planned to, they would have done this already and offered a clear migration path from Reader to Google+.

Since they haven’t, this is a pretty clear sign that they don’t really care about their users. Neither the ones who they have just kicked off Reader... nor the ones who remain on Google+ for now.

1 comment:

  1. I think the outcome is not going to be nearly as negative as you predict. There is a core contingency of powerusers and news junkies using Reader who will be pissed but there are a number of good replacements they can easily move to.

    Reader has had, probably, not more than a couple million active users for the recent year or two while pretty much every other major product is in the double digits at least. Blogger for example is the 12th most popular site on the planet according to Alexa and it makes money.

    For the next couple months it will be rough but honestly Reader has had next to zero product enhancements in years and all the competitors that are now getting a bunch of new users will have lots of room to offer a much greater experience.