Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Demise of Google Reader

It was in on 7 October 2005 that Google launched Google Reader, an RSS aggregator  that was meant to make it easier for users to keep track of blogs and news sites. Yesterday, on The Official Google Blog, Google announced that Google Reader will be retired on 1 July 2013. The reason given was that "...over the years usage has declined." To say that Google Reader's users were outraged might be putting it mildly. In post after post on Google+ and Facebook and tweet after tweet on Twitter people expressed their dismay at Google discontinuing Reader. "Google Reader" zoomed to the top of the trending topics on both Google+ and Twitter. Every place from Mashable to Forbes to The Atlantic published editorials condemning Google's decision. While usage may have declined over the years, it would seem that Google Reader still has a large and fanatically loyal following.

I can perfectly understand the reaction of many Google Reader users. While there are many RSS aggregators out there, in my humble opinion there is only one that is as good as Google Reader (more on that later). What makes Google Reader such a good web feed aggregator is that it is simple and without any frills. In one's subscriptions one only sees headlines and the first few lines of each blog post or news story. This makes it easy for someone to swiftly scroll through Reader and pick out what he or she wants to read. What is more Google Reader can be accessed directly through the web without having to install any applications, plug ins, or extensions. The simple fact is the vast majority of aggregators do not have these advantages.

Indeed, while Bloglines, Netvibes, and Newsblur are all accessible through the web, they also tend to be heavy on graphics, making them less desirable to someone who simply wants to read headlines and the first few lines of blog posts or news stories. Feedly has the simplicity of Google Reader, but one must install the Feedly application to one's browser to use it. While there may be others, the one RSS reader that is both simple and easily accessible through the web would  seem to be The Old Reader, which is in some ways even simpler than The Google Reader. Unfortunately there is not a phone or tablet computer app for The Old Reader as of yet. It would then seem that very few of Google Reader's rivals possess its elegant simplicity or its ease of access. It is little wonder, then, that its users are upset.

Regardless, it would seem that Google Reader is by far the most popular RSS aggregator out there. In posts to social media sites, blog posts, and articles in various publications journalists and writers complained that they use Google Reader in their work. Even various third party apps depend on Google Reader for syncing and subscriptions, including Pulp, NetNewsWire, Reeder, and others. These apps will be forced to find alternatives. As to somewhat more casual blog and news readers, they were not happy at the prospect of finding another RSS aggregator. It would seem that the retirement of Google Reader will have a huge impact across the internet.

While it probably would not be a good idea to get one's hopes up, I do think it is possible given the outcry that Google could reconsider its decision. Unlike some other web based companies (I won't name names, but if you follow this blog you can probably guess whom I am talking about), Google actually does listen to its users. I see this regularly at Google+ where they have made changes to the site based on our suggestions. It is possible, then, that Google might listen to its users and keep Google Reader in some form. That having been said, I have no idea how likely that is.

If Google does indeed retire Google Reader, and I think we should probably just assume they will until we get word otherwise, I suspect that another simple, web based web feed aggregator will take its place. Right now my bet is that it will probably be the Old Reader. While phone and tablet users might choose Feedly, I think desktop and laptop computer users will prefer something that does not require them to install an application or plug in to their browser. Regardless, it seems obvious to me from the outrage expressed over the retirement of Google Reader that there is a big demand for RSS aggregators so that something will rise up to take its place.

In the end, however, I think it would be wise for Google to reconsider its decision. Over the years various web sites have done away with various features with nary a peep from their users. Google itself has discontinued many products (everything from Google Buzz to Google Wave) with virtually no complaints from users. That the announcement of the closure of Google Reader provoked such widespread outrage demonstrates that it is still popular and used by many, many people. Any company that has a product with that kind of popularity and loyalty would be well advised to keep it.


Cliff Aliperti said...

Thanks for pointing to "The Old Reader" as an alternative, first I've heard of that--and why would I need to have heard of it when I've been so happily using Google Reader all these years!

The different between Reader and other services Google has killed, Wave, Buzz, Sidewiki, etc., is that this one has been around awhile and had some success, whereas the others were new services that never caught on in the first place.

I hope you're right about them reconsidering. Here I am all along expecting them to kill Feedburner and they throw us this curveball!

varun said...

One of the biggest reasons I bought an android phone was google reader :(

Earlier, I had bought my nokia e72 knowing that google syncs contacts and calendar entries with it.

Even before it was cool to sync your contacts only using syncML with google, I had taken a sony phone knowing that it does.

Google has killed all three features in that order. They killed notebook, which I relied so heavily on. Google docs is NOT the same thing. Corporate intranets block DOCS. Not notebooks.

Why, google, why are you losing the things I like about you best. I like google because it is useful. Suddenly not so much and declining.

Focus? on what? Google+? Everyone knows that no one is using that.

For the sake of argument, Google+ would not have more active users then Google Reader does. Certainly not more loyal. :(

Unknown said...

Google Reader IS NOT DEAD! is the alternative. The only one!

Terence Towles Canote said...

Varun, I agree with you on everything EXCEPT your statement on Google+. A lot of people are are using Google+. Don't belive the news articles claiming it is a grave yard! You might want to read this blog post I wrote last year (it's even more active now):

Anonymous said...

I do not know how many folks use Google Reader, but I doubt it is more than Google+. According to Forbes, in Dec. 2012 Google+ had 343 million active users. As for loyalty, the folks I have in my circles on Goggle+ are pretty loyal. I have no doubt were they to announce they were shutting it down tomorrow there would be as much outcry if not more as there was for Google Reader. Google+ is not a ghost town. If anything else it is more active than Facebook. I cannot keep up with my stream on Google+ whereas Facebook I only need check three times a day as it is so slow.

KC said...

Thanks for the tip on The Old Reader. This is the first place I've read about it. I'm still in denial, and hoping Google will listen to its users. I'm just waiting for them to get rid of Blogger next. I suppose I should prepare myself for that! As painful as it is, it's not such a bad thing to be reminded that all these online tools we use can be changed at any time. We get to thinking they belong to us, so it's always rough to realize that isn't the case. Great post.