RIP Google Reader – I’d have paid for you

Thursday, March 14th, 2013 at 1:42 am

Google just announced that on 1st of July 2013 they will shut down Google Reader as a service. Just like that. The reasons are meager:

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.

This is a big disappointment for me. I have a few thousand RSS subscriptions I get my information from (and send it out on Twitter and Google+ which a lot of people appreciate). I can not see how any other resource than feeds give you the speed, quality and control over the content you consume on the web.

Yes, RSS has been declared dead many times and people keep banging on about the social web and that Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and others have replaced the old style of blogging and having an own feed. But I don’t buy it, sorry. Every social network is full of senseless chatter and organised advertising. Social media experts and PR folk make sure that information about certain products and celebrities get read and retweeted. I don’t care about that. I don’t want it. The same way I don’t watch public access channels or randomly surf channels but instead plan what I want to see on TV. Random exploration and finding things by chance is fun, but it is not helping you to keep up to date – it is the ADHD of information consumption. I myself use Twitter, Facebook and Gogole+ much more frivolous than my blog. The reason is that they are terrible as an archive of my thoughts or to put out structured data. Search is terrible in Twitter, which is why I use pinboard to bookmark links I tweet automatically. Google+ has the same problem. Finding quality information is damn hard as all the social networks are there to have lots and lots of interaction and not make people write good articles or posts.

Of course the real issue is that this is not about users or the web or making it easy to find information – this is about numbers, quick updates and showing more ads to people. Google+ is where people should go in the Google world. There was never an offer to pay for Reader. I’d have loved to pay for it – much like I paid for pinboard.in when delicious got the “oh we innovate and make it prettier” treatment. There is also no way to pay or call the shots in Google+ – as the consumer you are just there to bear with changes and use them or not. What’s the difference between a circle and a group? How many competing ways to organise our contacts can we use before we spend more time shifting sources around rather than reading what comes from them? Can you rely that anything you put in will be available for you later on? Can it be indexed and searched outside? Maybe, but will that be the same in the future? RSS was open – it was decentralised and used the web to link to each other and give you a mechanism to get information about news without having to go to a site and surf it. This is not good for advertising – you need to own the interface to own the user’s attention. Twitter is also feeling this heavily which is why it is killing all third party clients one by one.

My favourite answers on Twitter when I said that I am sorry about Reader going to the farm where old services go was that people told me that there surely must be an app doing the same thing. Maybe, but how the hell is an app that I need to download and install on all my devices a replacement for a very simple web service with great searchability and archive-search and very quick keyboard controls? Any app needs a sharing button where I need to go to yet another service and the first app needs to log-in on my behalf. On Reader sharing was copy+paste. Simple, works, and it also means when App B gets hacked my personal social stream on the web is not full of spam.

It seems to me that we’ve been thoroughly brainwashed into seeing a nicely packaged – and hard to upgrade – app as the better option for anything. To me, it isn’t. Reader was a simple App tab in my Firefox, lighting up whenever there was something new. Easy to go to, press J a few times and go back to my other tabs where I create things, write or read. Of course this is not how everybody uses the web, but this is how content producers use it. I don’t write long descriptions of my links on my mobile – I re-send them, I simply distribute instead of filtering, commenting and distributing with context.

No, I don’t want to switch to an app for that. And neither should you. The power of the web is connected content – via links and open text-based formats that are easy to index and search. Content permeates through your environment – whatever it is. You shouldn’t have to have a certain app to consume it or comment on it or change it. More walled environments with a “live stream” and no access to the archive or linkabilty are not the answer to keeping the web a knowledge resource. They are the answer to the need of showing us more ads and making us click pointless “like” buttons. The interactions are what is monitored and counted. Not the content – content is just there for a fleeting moment until the next information fix scrolls into view.

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