Google shutting down Reader is great news

I’m a big fan of Google Reader. I don’t just access it every day, I access it, probably on average, every couple of hours or so (and still do, despite my switch to Microsoft). I have hundreds of feeds in there, and thousands of stories starred. So really I should be gutted that Google has decided to kill it off. But I’m not.

I was at first though. I even signed the petition to get Google to change its mind, even though I knew it was futile. But then I took a step back and realized that what initially seemed like devastating news for a Reader fan such as myself, was actually a blessing in disguise.

Google has slowly been killing off Reader for a while. The service had a minor interface refresh in 2011, but only so Google could turn off friending, following, sharing items, and commenting in favor of adding Google+ integration, which reduced the service’s usefulness for a lot of people. While Google Reader has continued to serve its core purpose, it hasn’t grown, or evolved. In fact it’s been left to stagnate, unloved and all but forgotten. Its end for a long time has been nigh.

Google says a dwindling user base is the reason it plans to end Reader’s life on 1 July, but it’s a dwindling user base that Google itself engineered. If it had pushed the service, sold the benefits of it, updated it, added features and re-introduced sharing, Reader use would likely have grown and flourished, not withered and died. But Google doesn’t want Reader any more. It wants us to forget about feeds and embrace social sharing instead. It wants us to embrace Google+.

RSS Isn’t Dead

With Reader as the dominant service, but left to stagnate, RSS as a technology has largely fallen out of favor (arguably it never reached its true potential anyway). But now that Google is closing Reader -- the search giant removed the service’s entry from the black menu bar that runs along the top of Google pages yesterday -- suddenly feed readers are back in the news. Services like Feedly are getting a huge amount of new users as the Reader exodus begins in earnest. And alternatives many of us have never heard of, such as The Old Reader, NewsBlur, Goodnoows, and Rolio, are all picking up thousands of new users too. Services that previously would have struggled to get anyone to choose them over Reader are now enjoying massive growth. There’s competition once more in the world of feed readers, and competition is always good. It’s what drives success and innovation.

While I’ve yet to settle on a Google Reader replacement I really like, I’m not too worried. Digg says it is working on a new RSS tool which should be ready by the time Reader goes under, and I’m sure Digg won’t be the only company building a service for all those many Reader refugees who’ll be left without a home when Google does pull the plug.

After all there are hundreds of thousands of users who still believe in and rely on RSS, even if Google no longer cares about them. And a lot of those people looking for a good service are influential journalists, bloggers and people who like to ensure they have their finger on the news pulse at all times. They’re good people for any media savvy firm to cater for.

Yahoo would be a great fit for a Reader alternative, as would Microsoft (although I can’t see the latter building an online RSS service when it offers feeds directly through Internet Explorer, and RSS lacks the cool the company craves anyway).

Google abandoning Reader actually reminds me of when Microsoft stopped development on Internet Explorer at IE6. MS believed the browser couldn’t be improved and so left it alone, left it to stagnate. And that was exactly what was required for Mozilla to steal a massive chunk of users with a modern browser that was being actively developed and introduced hot new features, like tabs.

In closing Reader, Google hasn’t killed off RSS, it’s simply released its choke hold on the technology, and with luck -- if the right savior surfaces at the right time -- maybe we’ll finally get the product Reader could have become, with the sharing and commenting features that Google took away restored once more.

Or is that all just wishful thinking on my behalf?

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