Will You Miss Google Reader? Clearly, Many Will.

I was out on leave when the news came out: Google is killing Google Reader. No! Why? No!

Should Google kill Google Reader? Will you miss it? Let us know what you think or if you care in the comments.

So here I am back to work. Immediately, I've already been using Google Reader like all day. The truth is, I was already using it every day while I wasn't working as well. That's because it's one of the things on the Internet that I use the most. So, you can imagine, I'm not incredibly happy about the news. I mean, I don't agree with Hitler on many things, but I think he has this one spot on. 

A little over a month ago, Google Reader users were experiencing some usability issues with the product, and Google didn't seem to care much about fixing it quickly. Little did we know at the time that this was a foreshadowing of what was to come. 

On Wednesday, Google broke the news to the world. They did so in one of their regular "spring cleaning" announcements. By now, I'm used to these announcements. Usually, they're about products that I've used little or not at all. Occasionally, they included something I used but could live without (like Picnik). Never before have the announcements involved something that I relied upon on a day to day basis. 

This is all Google had to say about it in the announcement:
We launched Google Reader in 2005 in an effort to make it easy for people to discover and keep tabs on their favorite websites. While the product has a loyal following, over the years usage has declined. So, on July 1, 2013, we will retire Google Reader. Users and developers interested in RSS alternatives can export their data, including their subscriptions, with Google Takeout over the course of the next four months.
Was it only 2005? I can hardly remember living without Google Reader. 
There was a separate post on the Google Reader blog. This was the first post to the blog since October 2011, which announced some Google+ integration. Perhaps that should have been taken as another clue. On the blog, Google software engineer Alan Green wrote: 

We have just announced on the Official Google Blog that we will soon retire Google Reader (the actual date is July 1, 2013). We know Reader has a devoted following who will be very sad to see it go. We're sad too. 

There are two simple reasons for this: usage of Google Reader has declined, and as a company we're pouring all of our energy into fewer products. We think that kind of focus will make for a better user experience.
Usage is declining. I guess that's not entirely unexpected, given the rise of social media. For the average person, I can see where it wouldn't be incredibly hard to get by without Google Reader, even if they are accustomed to using it on a regular basis. For people who write for the web, however (which is still a pretty large number of people), there really isn't another tool out there that does the job as well as Google Reader. At least not yet. Others see the situation as it is, and are working on alternatives, and or promoting their existing alternatives. 

There are petitions pushing for the saving of Reader. This one at Change.org has over 100,000 supporters. There are others at Change.org and elsewhere. This one at KeepGoogleReader.com has over 31,000 itself. 

The Twitterverse (one of many possible places Google will be pushing users with the killing of Reader) is full of complaints. Twitter, by the way, probably has a lot more to gain from this move than Google+, and many believe that Google's move is really about Google+. It's no secret that Google has been pushing to get people using its social network to consume and share content, and clearly, this is where Google's efforts on this front are focused. 
This week, former Google Reader product manager Brian Shih spoke about Google's move on Quora. Here's a snippet of what he had to say about it:
It turns out they decided to kill it anyway in 2010, even though most of the engineers opted against joining G+. Ironically, I think the reason Google always wanted to pull the Reader team off to build these other social products was that the Reader team actually understood social (and tried a lot of experiments over the years that informed the larger social features at the company)[1]. Reader's social features also evolved very organically in response to users, instead of being designed top-down like some of Google's other efforts[2].

I suspect that it survived for some time after being put into maintenance because they believed it could still be a useful source of content into G+. Reader users were always voracious consumers of content, and many of them filtered and shared a great deal of it.

But after switching the sharing features over to G+ (the so called "share-pocalypse") along with the redesigned UI, my guess is that usage just started to fall - particularly around sharing. I know that my sharing basically stopped completely once the redesign happened [3]. Though Google did ultimately fix a lot of the UI issues, the sharing (and therefore content going into G+) would never recover.

So with dwindling usefulness to G+, (likely) dwindling or flattening usage due to being in maintenance, and Google's big drive to focus in the last couple of years, what choice was there but to kill the product?

So, if you want to get your data out of Reader from Google Takeout, you can do so here. You have until July 1. In the meantime, us Google Reader die hards will have to hope Google takes note of these petitions and reconsiders (which is probably unlikely, if we're being honest), and/or start exploring the alternatives. Lots of people have already compiled lists, including tools like: Feedly, Netvibes, The Old Reader, Bloglovin', NewsBlur, FlipBoard, Pulse(which LinkedIn is apparently buying), Zite. Oh yeah, and then there's Google Currents (at least for now), and of course, there's not even a web version. 

Nothing I've used so far has been able to match Google Reader in functionality entirely, for my personal purposes. Some are better than others, and I won't promote any one tool here, mostly because I've not settled on one myself. You can be sure that we'll see more players enter the market in the time leading up to July 1, so the best alternative might not even exist yet. One intriguing possibility is an offering for Digg, who has already come out and said it's working on one that will mimic Google Reader. That sounds promising. I'd love to see an identical clone, even if it has Digg's logo instead of Google. This could be Digg's ticket back to Internet relevance. 

Some services, which relied heavily upon Google Reader are just shutting down - namely FeedDemon. Founder Nick Bradbury wrote about the end of the service in a blog post, which he says was hard for him to write. He says: 

FeedDemon relies on Google Reader for synchronization, and there's no decent alternative (and even if there were, it's doubtful I'd have time to integrate with it, at least not without trading time away from my family - which I won't do).

That was the nail in the coffin for me. I hate to say goodbye to FeedDemon after a decade of working on it, but it's time to say goodbye. When Google Reader shuts down on July 1, FeedDemon will also disappear.
Some see the whole thing as a good opportunity for Google rivals like Microsoft and Yahoo to step up to the plate, and fill a void that Google is leaving behind. 

Some (including Hitler) have wondered what has happened to Google's old stance about the open web - something that Google Reader and RSS both cater to. Google has historically been all about this, but doing away with Reader and pushing toward Google+ doesn't seem to be a move in the same direction. That may or may not make sense from a corporate standpoint, but it's certainly worth noting. As TechEye points out, Google's move should make Internet censorship-heavy Iran happy, as many Iranians apparently use reader to get around some of the censorship. 

What About Your Web Traffic?

Okay, I think the point has been made about how much this whole thing sucks for users. But there is another side of the coin, for which the outlook isn't all that rosy either. As RSS feeds are still the primary way a lot of people get their news, that means Google's move away from Reader has the potential to impact traffic to the sites to which users are subscribed. 
 Hard core Google Reader users have racked up numerous feeds over the years. You have to wonder how many of the users, regardless of what alternative they transition to, will take all of their feed subscriptions with them. How many sites will lose subscribers over the whole thing. Some users will no doubt elect to just use social media instead of RSS. Will these people bother to subscribe to the Twitter, Facebook or Google+ feeds for all of the sites they were subscribed to? And even if they do, will these sites be pushing out every article to these channels the way they do through RSS? 

That brings up another interesting point. Will this move clutter up social media feeds, and lead to a lot more content being pushed from publications through social media channels? A site that only pushed a few articles per day to its Facebook followers may find itself posting every article. Then, of course, there's another layer to that issue: how many Facebook users are looking at all of the posts from the pages they follow? 

Luckily, Facebook is in the process of rolling out changes that at least let users see all of the posts from the pages they follow if they choose to do so. Before, they were filtering that, so there was no guarantee all of a page's followers even had the opportunity to see a post. Even still, the Facebook functionality is hardly an RSS clone. 

According to BuzzFeed, Google Reader is a much larger source of web traffic than Google+ to the network of sites it tracked. Here's what their chart looks like. 

Death Of RSS?

The question of whether or not RSS is dead or dying has been around for years. Naturally, it has resurfaced in light of Google's news. Is it dead? Clearly not, given the amount of outcry we're seeing over the death of Google Reader, and the rush for alternatives from other companies. There is demand. It may not be a huge percentage of Internet users, but those that demand it are serious about it and loyal to the format. It's become as fundamental to the web experience as search and email for some of us. It's not dead. 

Is it dying? That's not as easy of a question to answer. I want to say no, but Google turning its back on it is not a good sign. Part of me wonders, as I'm exploring alternative means for consuming RSS feeds, if it's just a lost cause, and I should really be exploring different strategies for news consumption altogether (and don't get me wrong, RSS is not my only news consumption habit). I don't think I'm willing to accept the demise of RSS just yet though. If we all do that, then we truly are killing it. To my knowledge, there really isn't a means of consuming news that is as comprehensive as RSS anyway - at least not one that meets my needs.

Obviously I've made no attempt to hide how I feel about Google Reader's demise, but there are some out there who think it might actually be a good thing. Some journalists have already abandoned RSS. Tech blogger Robert Scoble, once a faithful user, wrote about why he stopped using Google Reader all the way back in 2009. He had some valid points about flaws with Reader back then that still hold true today, but I don't think many of us would say that Reader is flawless. Sure, there are things that Google could have improved upon, and you can't rely solely on Reader if you don't want to miss anything. For many of us, however, it's just a major piece of the puzzle. 

All of this aside, by shutting down Reader, Google is driving people out of its universe, by driving them to alternatives. I find this move baffling, as in many cases, it will no doubt drive users to Google's competitors. Considering all of the moves Google has made to keep users on Google properties, keeping Google Reader around seems like a no-brainer. Some of us spend a whole lot of time onthat Google property. Possibly even more than any other Google property. 

While Google Reader may live to July 1, the app is already gone from the Google Play store. 

Is Google wise to kill off Reader? Will you miss it? What will you use instead? Is this the beginning of the end of RSS? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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