Google Unplugs Reader, Sending Its Loyal Users Elsewhere

Photograph by Erin Patrice O'Brien/Getty Images

On Wednesday evening, Google announced the imminent passing of Google Reader, age 7. Scheduled demise: July 1. According to its 2005 birth announcement, Reader was “a service we hope helps you spend more time reading what’s important to you.” It was an RSS reader, basically a geeky way to get lots of news articles and blog posts from all manner of sources (remember: no Twitter back then), and organize it all conveniently. Although the service was never wildly popular, for a smattering of dedicated users it was essential.

Now those users are progressing through the Seven Stages of Internet Grief: denial, tweeting, anger, tweeting, bargaining, tweeting, and acceptance, or more precisely, figuring out a new way to get a satisfying news fix. Feedly, a popular news reader app for iOS, Android, and other platforms, has already said it will clone Google Reader and offer its users a new home.

I use Google Reader for two or three hours a day—it’s the official Google Web app on my Mac when I’m at work or at home. During commutes I use Reeder, a third-party Google Reader app, on the iPhone. Mobile users could certainly shift to aggregators such as Pulse or Flipboard, and indeed, they are pretty and get the job done.

But serious RSS users aren’t into it for the luscious jpegged beauty. RSS feeds, taken straight, are a wall of text. That’s useful when you want to let news wash over you, to scan screenfuls of headlines without waiting for extraneous pictures to load. When I want to absorb a lot of information fast—which is to say, always—I don’t have time for Flipboard. I want exactly what Google will be taking away from me this summer.

Most people, if they’ve ever even heard of RSS, probably don’t use it as much as they used to, given the proliferation of such social news sources as Facebook and Twitter. In this context, the end of Reader isn’t much of a surprise. (Feedly says as much on its announcement page.) Plus, Google’s been thinning its product portfolio for a while, as the company moves from a scattershot, invest-in-everything philosophy to a much more disciplined approach. Larry Page calls this putting “more wood behind fewer arrows.”

So, yes. Fine. This may make a certain kind of business sense for Google. But consider: Right now the company is in the enviable position of having a suite of products that many users find indispensable—but not irreplaceable. There are other RSS readers, as well as other search engines, e-mail programs, and productivity tools. Reminding your most loyal users that, in fact, you’re not the only game in town—oh, and it’s quite possible to switch—doesn’t seem quite as savvy.

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