Google announced some terrible, terrible news a few days ago, its Reader product is to end in June of this year. Somewhat surprisingly this has caused an uproar - a bit more than the folks at Google expected with the various online petitions circulating. There is one even on the White House - We The People page. Tech and social news sites were instantly in an uproar decrying the news in breathless posts followed by the flood of giddy articles on what services could replace reader and which had the best importing tools and interfaces.
What’s all the fuss?, you might ask.
If you are unfamiliar with Google Reader (GR from here on out) or RSS feeds here is the skinny. RSS or Really Simple Syndication, which GR is mostly based on, provides a method of subscribing to a blog or webpage. These subscriptions allow for the news stories, posts and updates to come to you rather than having to go each individual site to see them. GR provides a place to aggregate these subscriptions into a single managed feed. Folks like me who have over 500 news subscriptions in their feed laud the management tools which allow the ability to quickly find stories, keep them for later reference or to share. It also provides a quick take on what news is ‘trending’ in the tech publications - if you saw a story come up repeatedly from various sources one could fairly well know something big was breaking. An NPR commentator, I forget which, stated that Google Reader went from a news hounds friend to a pro tool in relatively short order, a statement that I find disturbing and depressing -(more on this a bit later). I use GR to find stories for the AV Nation shows but I was sucking up info on it long before.
I feel like I have just watched Goolge get JC Penny’d. The store, if you have not been listening to business news radio of late, made some big changes in last few months with hipper styles, must have exclusives and, in a radical departure from standard retail, offered everyday low prices. The company was only marking up the items by 20% rather than the 50 -60% standard, eschewing the cycle of sales. The reality, and the argument JC Penny has been making, is that most sales are preceded by prices increases so that the (x) off percentages will appear larger and still make the store more money than if you had bought an item “at full price”. Seems pretty logical no? Instead of having to wait for a sale or coupons or other price cut incentives JCP was offering a known entity - the price will always be low. It’s a win win right? Well no, actually, as the companies stock has been nose diving and sales are downright dismal. Why?
JCP ran smack dab right into the “but I like it that way” contingent of shoppers whoose attraction to the process was not in the buying of goods they needed or wanted but the whole framework of rituals. The aforementioned business news shows all had some variation of the interview with ‘former’ or ‘confused’ JCP shoppers who were dismayed at the loss of their preoccupation of trying to game a system. Forget that just like a Vegas gambling house that the price game was already won by the retailer. Whether these folks knew it or not they were facing the loss of the false sense of power the game gave them.
This same sense of gaming the system is the explanation many are giving for the demise of GR.
A common refrain from a good number of folks, including some of my friends, is that they now use their social graphs to get the news. I use twitter, and to a lesser extent Facebook and G+, to get industry and world news as well but it is not the reliable source(s). Is twitter useful? yes- but having it as your main news feed is akin to kids learning from other kids on the playground just what sex is - never the full story and nearly always full of incorrect and sometimes dangerous presumptions.
The Social experience was lauded as opening a new stream of information, one unbounded by the restrictions of traditional media. We were to get the news often ignored (or if conspiracy minded - censored by the Left/Right/Gov’t controlled media) to fill in the gaps. Instead many have chosen to narrow cast by limiting the news they get by relying on their friends who most probably are interested in just the same things and have similar opinions. This is getting the news you want and it makes folks happy or rather it lulls them to a false sense of knowing.
This is more than a loss of product,it signals a change that may very well alter many users view and trust. Yes, yes, I realize that many Google products have gone to grave before but when a base of 10 million users means nothing to a company (and offering them no alternative) - one does have to wonder. I wonder where all of those Reader addicts will get their feeds - this is a grand opportunity for a biblical slingshot. Google Reader was praised as being the largest single source driver of traffic to sites, even larger than Fark.com. How panic’d are people? Feedly reportedly gained over 500,000 new users in less than a few days, including me. Think of it this way, if feedly gets only 2% more of the reader refugees this is a substantial number to base some serious growth on. What other productivity tools will Feedly offer me? I am eager to find out