Google Shutters Reader – Now What?

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It was almost a week ago that Google announced more “Spring Cleaning” this time focusing on a few products that will no longer be supported by Google.  Some of the more prominent cancellations include the CalDAV API, which provided users with connectivity to online calendars, Google Cloud Connect, which allowed Microsoft Office users the ability to store documents on Google Drive easily, and Google Reader – an RSS/Atom feed aggregation service.

While the termination of the CalDAV API and Cloud Connect (as well as many other) products did generate some buzz, it was the decision to drop reader which seems to have gotten the most news coverage.

Personally I do use Reader on a daily basis and have done so since the tools inception in 2005.  So switching is going to be difficult for me.  And maybe that’s why I perceived this as the biggest bit of news – because it personally affects me?

I’ve already checked out some of the alternatives and have in fact been using Feedly on my iPad for some time so switching won’t be as difficult for me as others, but the fact that I have to switch is kind of a pain.

The reason I used Google Reader is because it was a simple, no frills interface that allowed me to scan dozens of news feeds in a fraction of the time it used to take me to go through my morning news reading ritual.

Up until Reader I found most RSS tools cumbersome and time-wasting.  I would have to do things like scroll all the way through a feed to mark it as read, I couldn’t easily share items in the feeds and there was no simple way to organize the feeds the way I wanted to see them.

Then Google Reader came along and solved all these problems for me and more.  And I’ve been a loyal, daily user of Google Reader since then.

So when I heard that it was being retired, I was a little surprised.  Shocked even.

Off and on throughout this week I’ve been thinking about the “why”.  Why did Google drop reader?  It’s obvious from the fallout online that it was a popular program.  And while Google cites declining usage as the main reason for dropping Reader I have to think there’s more to it and a few thoughts popped into my mind.

First, even if there is declining usage – there still appears to have been around ½ million active users.  That is because that’s how many new users Feedly got shortly after the announcement.  If there were only a few thousand (or even tens of thousands) users I could see scrapping a service.  But dropping at least 500,000 users without an alternative seems funny to me.

This led me to the thought that perhaps there is an alternative in the works and Google needed to do this purge so the “Google Fanbois” would switch back to the alternative when it becomes available.

But normally, Google would announce the alternative at the same time as they abolish the old tool.  That wasn’t the case here.

So perhaps there’s not a clear cut “alternative” but more of a changing in thinking.

After all, Google is all about making money right?  And with Reader not displaying ads Google wasn’t making money on it.  But Google+ doesn’t have ads in it (yet) so perhaps it wasn’t about money?

In fact, I think it was about Google+.  Google wants to get more into the “Social News” field that Twitter (and to a lesser extent Facebook) have tapped into.

You see, to me RSS (and Reader because of it) lacks 3 important things.  First is a duplication of content – It has always been a pet peeve of mine to see the same pieces of “news” rehashed on a ½ dozen different sites.  It would clutter my feed and really make me less productive because I’d have to wade through this duplication to get to the truly unique items.  I even tried some services which proclaimed they could learn your preferences and filter out these duplicate sources but none really worked right for me.

The second issue is timeliness.  I have found Twitter much better as a “right now” news service.  When I want to know what’s going on right now, I hit up Twitter.  When something big is happening, Twitter is the source.  Granted you have to be careful and not rely 100% on what Twitter is reporting, or you end up like CNN and the Weather Channel, falsely reporting that the NYSE had flooded because some guy tweeted that.

The third issue is interaction.  While I can read the articles in RSS, and click on them I can’t really interact in real-time.

Sure I can comment on the article in many cases but most of the time the comments are moderated and don’t appear quickly.  Sometimes its many hours before the comment is approved and appears on the site.  With services like Twitter and Facebook I can comment on what interests me instantly and I can quickly share it with others.

There are other issues that RSS and ultimately Reader can’t overcome.  For example, I’ve organized my social networks into groups.  Whether it’s Google+, Facebook or Twitter, I can “filter” what I look at by viewing the groups I want to view. If I only want local news, I switch to my local group.  If I want industry news I switch to me Industry group.

With RSS you can’t filter what’s in the feed – you get the whole feed or, if you unsubscribe, you get nothing.

It was early on when I pruned my feed list because of this – I used to read hundreds of feeds per day.  But in 90% of the cases there was so much filler in many of the feeds that it wasn’t worth my time to wade through the fluff to get to that 1 gem of an article.

So when you think of it in those terms, it makes sense for Google to cut Reader.  While I do find RSS a useful tool, and I will continue to read feeds in the morning with my coffee, perhaps I too have to look at how I consume information – perhaps it is time to move to more real-time sources.

But then by doing so I risk a ton of misinformation which makes me now wish for a happy medium – a way to get truthful verified information in a timely manner that I can instantly interact with.  Information that allows me to get the news without knowing what you had for breakfast or what someone else is watching on TV right now.

Maybe that’s the Google Reader alternative Google is working on?  Time will tell.

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