14 March 2013

The terrifying death of Google Reader

Yesterday, I learned about Google’s decision to do away with Google Reader. My first reaction was: How am I going to work now?

I use Google Reader practically every day in my research. I cannot begin to tell you how big a difference Google Reader has made to my work flow. Almost every scientific journal has an RSS feed, and I have a great heaping bucket of them in Reader. Being able to go to one place instead of many enabled me to scan so many more articles in so much less time.*

Plus, Reader allowed me to search back in old posts. I can’t count the number of times I thought, “I remember reading that in a blog, but not which one” and find it by searching Reader.

I’ve seen some people argue that we don’t need Reader in the age of social media. Why get an RSS feed when the hivemind recommends the good stuff? Where do you think the hivemind finds the stuff to recommend? From people who are monitoring their RSS feeds. I am often aware of stuff in my feed days before I start seeing recommendations on Twitter, say.

Since I’m apparently going to have to get used to life without Reader, I’ve been looking at alternatives. So far, I’ve only come aware disappointed and more impressed by Reader’s good design. Reader’s split screen, with list of feeds, then updated individual posts, and the spacebar to mark a post and move to the next one, allowed you to get through a lot of stuff fast.

I tried Feedly. I got sick of how little I could see on the screen and constant clicking to get around. Newsblur and The Old Reader are choking on importing my old feeds, and I have so many feeds that entering them all in again by hand is not an attractive option.

But putting aside all this inconvenience, my bigger worry is now about the other Google services that have made their way to the center of my life as a scientist.

Blogger and Google Scholar. I have a decade’s worth of writing here on Blogger, with three active blogs. I’ve written about Scholar before, and it has just gotten more and more useful over time, with features like analytics for articles, author, and journals, and new article alerts. I use it extensively.

If those services shut? What then? I’d be screwed.

Google seems to have a lot of forward looking group of people. It seems to be one of the few companies that believes in conducting, and supporting, original research. It is a company that has promoted itself as having a forward-looking vision.

But there is something perverse about creating tools that genuinely work and improve other people’s ability to do work (including research), then take them away without an alternative. It would be like Henry Ford introducing the automobile, than discontinuing it and telling everyone they should go back to their horses and buggies. 

* Before you say “Just use PubMed,” PubMed’s not as great for us outside of biomedicine.

Update: Slate draws attention to Google Scholar, too, and makes a similar point to me.

Or how about Google Scholar, the academic papers search engine? Sure, this extremely useful service is in keeping with Google’s larger mission to make the world’s knowledge universally accessible. But Google does not display any ads in Scholar, and I can’t think of any other way it’s padding Google’s bottom line. So might it, too, disappear some day?

External links

Why Did Google Reader Die?


Bill said...

If those services shut? What then? I’d be screwed.

Then you're screwed. There will never be a way to make money from those services, and they cannot be used to give Google AOL-like gateway control over how people access the web, so they *are* going away in the forseeable future.

My policy is to look for replacements where the business model makes sense, i.e. you pay us money, we provide you a service. Fastmail is good email, lots of people like Evernote, etc etc (and these services usually have free tryouts).

traumador said...

Bill- Well that's great and all...

Why did Google offer this service for so long for free if that is their business model?

There are reasons to offer free useful services that help people without direct profitability.

It improves the value and image of the brand name when people are happy with a service. Sure that won't make you money immediately, but it can't hurt later when you bring out the products that do.

That and Google's business is information. I can't possible see how there was no side benefit to being the key provider/vendor of people's sources of information. I'm sure they could (and or did) keep records on the amount of use some venues were getting, and from which demographics... That is extremely profitable information to have in the business OF information.

There is also this thing called the betterment of mankind... Which incidentally I think should trump profit. There is putting food on the table and then there is just greed.

Unless Google released solid numbers showing they were bleeding huge amounts of money, I can't see how they are rationalizing this other than pure greed. It couldn't have been that hard to maintain. Sure it might have gotten out dated coasting on just on pure maintenance (as opposed to being continually developed) , but I'm sure that would have taken years.

Bill said...

Craig -- no argument from me on any of the above. I think this has hurt Google, and I can't see how the RSS reader was NOT part of their core business.

I simply can't understand their decision on any basis but, as you put it, pure greed.