Death of a Reader

14/03/2013 //

It probably should’t come as a huge surprise, but the mighty Google is shutting down Reader, its RSS service, on July 1st. Much wailing ensued from the (apparently too-few) diehard users, and within hours, several “Save Google Reader” plea sites were up and running.

I’ve used Reader for 6 or 7 years, so this move admittedly stings a bit, but I guess it makes sense. Google already stripped a ton of functionality from Reader, killing most of its sharing features and adding them to Google+. If you think Google needs more justification beyond “screw you, freeloader,” here are a few reasons I can think of:

  1. Cost/gain: Though the cost of running Reader probably isn’t prohibitive, a lot of Reader’s functionality has been moved to Google+. “But I have paid, by giving them my personal information for their targeted ads for years.” Newsflash: Google doesn’t actually care about you, and Google Plus is far better for data mining.
  1. Focus: In addition to a RSS feed reader, Google has self-driving cars, non-emasculating self-surveillance devices sci-fi glasses and a Brazilian social network to contend with. Clearly, Reader needs to go for the sake of focus.
  1. The Twitter threat: Like many others, I use Twitter primarily for news items these days. Twitter is also moving their business model in this direction, having realized that giving people a platform to speak doesn’t necessarily mean they have anything interesting to say, even at a mere 140 characters. Anyway, Twitter is popular, and sees far more usage than…
  1. Google+: Certainly the biggest reason Reader is dead. Google+ isn’t growing fast enough for Larry and Sergei’s liking, despite all the helpful shills users who endlessly point out you’re an idiot for not using it over Lamebook (it’s so last year), and a bigger idiot for not seeing the value of hanging with condescending elitists the far more interesting people on G+ (because your friends and family suck). Killing Reader allows Google to strongarm re-align users with the glorious walled garden not-out-of-beta-as-of-yet Plus, competing with Twitter even further.

It’s a simple business decision, and no matter what the evangelists claim, Google isn’t making products out of philanthropic idealism. Thankfully, there are many alternatives out there, like NetNewsWire and Vienna for Mac, or Newsgator for Windows (provided its still around), RSS Bandit et al. – not to mention Opera browser. I’ve long wished Opera would add RSS feeds to Opera Link – like they do bookmarks and notes – that sync with their browsers and My Opera; if they do, they can probably grab quite a few users.
So while the shuttering of Reader sucks, it’s hardly a disaster. RSS was created to be open, and as such, there’s (probably literally) thousands of ways of using it. What will cause the most problem, as far as I can see, is synchronizing feeds between devices, the sort of thing an Internet powerhouse like Google can do with ease. (Another potential opportunity for the “new” Yahoo!, perhaps?) On the other hand, you can bet your ass people are already working on it.

It was a pleasant ride, but now it’s over. Just make sure you export those subscriptions, or be even more daring and start over fresh when the suns finally sets on Reader this summer. Google’s apparently removing the RSS extension from Chrome as well, so they’re clearly washing their hands off the whole RSS phenomenon.