Google recently announced it will no longer offer their Google Reader which will end in July of this year. The popular product allows users to organize and read their favorite blogs from one central interface after subscribing to RSS feeds. Periodically Google does a little “spring cleaning” just to keep things fresh, and are doing just that again, due to overall interest and usage. According to the company, “While the product has a loyal following, over the years usage has declined. So, on July 1, 2013, we will retire Google Reader.” Pulling the plug on this service narrows down the number of their product offerings by 70 since spring of 2011; a drastic reduction or “rate of change,” also noted on the Google blog.
The consensus and scuttlebutt elsewhere and everywhere seems to be that it’s possible the decision was made to focus on the Google Plus social networking platform. We know the shaping and innovation that is always a constant at the heart of the search giant’s mission, but that fact still does not lessen the sting of bidding farewell to a still viable and beloved convenience. Since Google is such an influence on our lives, after all, is this move reactive or proactive in what the future holds? Google certainly wasn’t the first kid on the block but when they make major changes people take notice. We already know social networking is a stronghold in our lives, to say the least, and only growing and innovating more and more.
Social networking has transcended “social” and become an ubiquitous part of communication, business, and media and is here to stay for a while. Since they are focusing on the Google Plus platform could this mean that Social will be the new RSS? Then there’s the whole Mobile vs Desktop outlook that may also contribute to decision. Granted RSS feeds and ‘readers’ are not necessarily mainstream fare, however, to avid online users and entities they are. The Google post also notes it will be possible to export data and subscriptions using Google Takeout.
The end of ‘Reader‘ also sparks the debate on whether the free business model works well or not. It was Google’s choice not to specifically monetize or charge for this feature, they definitely don’t need to, especially with their AdWords text ads visible in so many other places. Some services work as a free usage model and some don’t; but it is certain many of the ones that do; including Google’s cache of offerings, other top email services, wildly popular social networks, and a myriad of other open-source platforms and sites. It remains to be seen how long we can look forward to these many free amenities. Probably for the long haul, considering the reciprocal nature of consumers and advertisers and users fueling the cycle for the ad based services.
My real question, though, is what does this shift mean for RSS and does Google foresee something or want to adapt their social platform into an all-purpose one stop aggregation center for social networking and the organization of the content we intake? Who knows? But RSS feeds will most likely remain relevant and serve to distribute content throughout the web, including within Google Plus. It is a matter of how much and to what extent RSS will play in the significance of our quest for information gathering. I’m sure some delineations or lines in the sand will be drawn by how people sort through all the information.
Web surfing styles are very specific and personal to each user in the first place. However, those styles and preferences do become habits and the actions of the masses dictate what can endure the longest. I think the RSS still serves a significant function of organizing large amounts of content, especially in regard to the blogosphere. The preferred function of real-time news a la Twitter and Facebook obviously reflect the times. Speed it seems will win out every time. In the mean time, what many people will be looking for now is a new reader. In my next post I’ll touch on a few of these options and explore alternatives to Google Reader.