Reader's End and Google Today

Google Reader is shutting down on July 1st. By chance I actually switched to Fever a few months back, so this doesn’t really effect me as a reader.1

The biggest issue doesn’t seem to be the loss of Reader itself, but the recognition that Google’s priorities have shifted.

I imagine most people, especially daily users of Reader, still like to think of Google as the company described by Chris Anderson in his 2009 book, Free: The Future of a Radical Price2 (emphasis mine):

For Google, almost anything that happens online can be seen as a complement to its main business. Every blog post put up is more information for Google’s Web crawler to index, to help Google give better search results. Every click in Google Maps is more information about consumer behavior, and every email in Gmail is a clue to our human network of connections, all of which Google can use to help invent new products or just sell ads better.

The interesting thing about the consumption of complementary products is that they tend to rise in tandem. The more people use the Internet, the better it is for Google’s core business.

That’s not Google in 2013. The Web is a very different place than it was back then. Users used to demand openness across the Web. That’s why we have RSS and XML-RPC and APIs and all the goodies that make it easy to use data from one site on another, or to make it simple to just plain leave one product for another. Anil Dash put it best in a blog post titled “The Web We Lost.”3

But walls have sprouted up. Google can’t access the massive amounts of data people pour into Facebook and Twitter, so they built Google+ as their own social walled garden. Twitter is exerting control over how users experience their product, which shuts out competitors like Instagram (which is owned by Facebook), which can no longer display images inline in tweets. The Web is getting smaller, not bigger, with each company working to become the umbrella under which you experience the Internet. So Google has taken steps to make sure that the Web as users know it exists under their company banner, and Reader doesn’t fit in with that plan anymore.

I was once a Google cheerleader. Like many I believed their goal was to make a better Web for everyone, with the one major tradeoff being that they would sell ads instead of charging users. That may once have been true but the Google of 2013 doesn’t want to build a better Web, it wants to build a better Google. I don’t think that goal is aligned with any of my own.

And now Reader is gone. What’s next? I’d rather not play that guessing game, so I’m making efforts to remove as much of my data as I can tolerate from Google products. Now might be a good time for you to start to do so as well.

  1. As a publisher it does, but you don’t need to hear about that right now. ↩︎

  2. Affiliate link. I thank you in advance. ↩︎

  3. If I were to try to quote it I’d end up pasting the whole thing over here. Just go read it. ↩︎