With out much fanfare, and in spite of the fact that Google has various other vestigial services and products that haven’t gained any mainstream adoption or traction (Google+ is being crushed by Tumblr for coolness, and on that note, why isn’t Orkut jammed into Google+ yet?) the company has decided to kill one of my favorite Google services, Reader. In fact, since I started using Reader in 2007, I have read nearly 175,000 items. That’s in spite of occasional sabbaticals from using the service because, well, I could pretty much do nothing but read news for hours on end.
Now, to be fair, there are various Google projects that had a narrow, but devoted fan base (App Inventor, Wave, Buzz.) However, while Google’s internal metrics may say it’s not worth keeping the lights on at Reader, the fact that Google Reader’s closure globally out trended news of a new pope suggests the service was very widely loved and used. Huge read counts like my own came up in blog and forum discussions about this news all over the web. For many people, Reader was how they took in the internet. Even forum posts were pushed through RSS for the most extreme Reader users, and even more social platforms like tumblr blogs were often fodder for Reader rather than the social service itself. Beyond that, the fact that Google had all that information means of all their ways of data-mining people for better ad information, Reader had to be painting some very detailed pictures, so the idea they couldn’t monetize the service seems just plain wrong. They have 175 thousand data points on just me from what I’ve read. Twitter only has a couple thousand tweets, and a lot of that isn’t links to full articles from sites that themselves have very clear profiles.
To be fair, Google has similar projects that provide similar functionality. Notably, there is Google Currents, which has RSS feed reading and synchronization functionalities as well. However, it’s a replacement for Reader as it has no desktop app or site available to access it. It’s only useful via Android and iOS – there is no web client, so even ChromeOS users (talk about buying into the Google ecosystem!) are out of luck. Worse still, given Google’s blatant intransigence regarding 3rd party access to Google+ APIs, their recent redaction of Exchange and now even CardDAV support for Google Calendar, and a general move in the web away from allowing 3rd party companies to interface your service beyond sharing information on to it, the idea that anything internal to Google can be a replacement to more open alternatives is gradually becoming a very questionable idea.
Changes like this spur talk that Google could at any moment decide that Gmail is now a subset of Google+ and must be used via their site and their apps only unless you’re a business customer, or that they could even at some future date decide email isn’t in heavy enough use anymore, and kill the service entirely. Obviously these are very unlikely scenarios, but every time Google nixes something people have relied on for years, especially when they don’t make any announcements of open sourcing the code and APIs that backed it so at least fans of the service can carry it forward, they damage the degree to which people want to trust them with their data. Given that Google is pushing ChromeOS and Google Drive – services entirely dependent on the idea that Google is reliable and can be trusted to manage your entire computing life and your data – they can’t afford to lose any trust on this front. I’m not going to stop using my Android phone, or my Chromebox, or switch from Gmail to another service. However, the harder they make it for me to just access the stuff I’ve trusted them with, well, the less I’ll trust them.
I’m not saying they should reconsider, but they should at least take a lesson from Wave and App Inventor, and open source Reader. Also, don’t just export my feeds as XML. I want all of my starred articles in a easy to download XML file too.