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.