Though Google Reader addicts are in mourning, they should have seen it coming. It’s not the kind of product that makes sense for Google in the longer run.

It’s not a huge surprise that Google is dropping Google Reader, the blog reader it operated since 2005. After all, they’d let it go for some time now (not that I’m complaining – it was after all, a free service, a fine product, and a boon for the overall ecosystem of blogging, podcasts and RSS).

The reality, though, is that Google operates at vast scale, and a niche consumer product like Reader just doesn’t move the needle. As crazy as it may sound, today even a billion-dollar business is simply a distraction to Google (unless, of course, it’s well on the way to becoming a five-billion-dollar business).

So all those who are signing petitions to Google  (and even one to The White House!) are missing the bigger point: that this is a victim of the company’s DNA, one that’s accelerated under Larry Page’s management. Some companies specialize in keeping the status quo, others specialize in moving forward. Google is the latter. If the company maintained every niche product with N thousand fans, even paying ones, it’d become the very bungling bureaucracy we love to hate. For a company with Google’s ethos and standing, any such dead-end, non-revenue-producing product that’s retained is holding others back, and prevents the company from moving forward and making true innovations instead of incremental improvements.

Open standards just a means to an end

While Google is giving up on Reader, I believe the company will still embrace subscriptions in a big way, just without RSS (by which I mean RSS, Atom, PubSubHubbub, etc.) Sure, they may continue to lean on RSS as part of their technical infrastructure – e.g. Googlebot will still be crawling external RSS feeds to identify fresh content – but users won’t see those three letters or the shiny feed icon that accompanies them.

To understand why Google’s walking away from RSS, look at Google’s relationship with open standards over the past decade. Google has experimented with various open technologies and found it difficult to win over Google-scale audiences and developers. The list of casualties would include OpenSocial (present in Orkut but not Plus), Activity Streams (present in Buzz, but not Plus, though certainly an inspiration), Social Graph API (no longer available) and RSS (not just Reader, but Feedburner is fading out and podcast app Listen was killed months ago).

Furthermore, Android has been a stonking success for the company, and while it may be open source, with a relatively open store policy, it’s not particularly based on open standards in the way that ChromeOS, WebOS, and now Firefox OS are.

So overall, Google’s lesson has been to lead with a compelling user experience first and then build an API from there, an API which may be based on open standards, but only if it’s a means to an end. Developers are much more attracted to a big market than a glorious proclamation of Open. It’s this philosophy that explains why Google has been so cautious with the Google Plus API.

Doubling down on media

Google isn’t giving up on blogs and media. Far from it. They already have Google News, Google Currents, and Google Now. And on Plus, they have vibrant product pages and communities. The Economist, Time, and ESPN all have over 2 million followers, for example.

This comes at a time when Facebook has been facing a backlash from journalists, with people saying that unless you’re paying for sponsored posts, it doesn’t show up in streams. Facebook’s recent design aims to fix this with a separate Subscriptions area, but as discussed on this week’s TWIT, it’s looking more like they experimented with subscriptions, that it wasn’t core to their business of connecting individuals, and now it’s off to the side.

So Google has an opportunity to win over media brands right now, and I believe they’ll be placing an emphasis on this in their own apps like Currents, as well as on Google Plus proper. In many respects, Currents is exactly what you’d expect from Google in 2013. It’s pretty, mobile-native, and “just works” without anyone having to learn the details of RSS.

Looking further ahead, Google has a vision heavily influenced by machine learning. The company has long known that the best search is the one you didn’t have to make, and this always-on attitude is now coming to fruition with Google Now. Google Now anticipates what users might be interested in at any time, and that includes the kind of articles people might presently be discovering on Google Plus.

Reader’s demise is understandably a sad moment for many, but I believe in time, it will be a positive for the overall ecosystem. Google simply wasn’t innovating on Reader, and as people shift over to services like Feedly or Newsblur (and new ones are popping up as I write), those companies will have extra incentive to innovate and extra resources to do so. Meanwhile, Google will continue to work on what it does best: boiling oceans and shooting for the moon.

Michael Mahemoff previously worked at Google and is founder of cloud podcasting service player.fm. Follow him on Twitter @mahemoff.

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  1. google+ will go, no users .. google chrome too, it has become worthless, too many crashes, links don’t open, bloated .. so, keep moving forward, ok .. saves from having to actually perfect something

    1. Huh? U r kidding about Chrome, right?

    2. your comments are completely out of touch with reality. there’s a reason why every technical person i know uses chrome – if it was buggy or slow we’d abandon it instantly. that’s why we all quit using firefox, actually.

      1. i switched from chrome to safari a few weeks ago due to constant unexpected shutdowns

      2. BarbaraBlogsIt John Sunday, March 17, 2013

        I switch from IE to firefox to google chrome for the same reason. Been using chrome for a while now. on my ipad safari is best, google chrome is also good on the ipad

        1. but i notice the i[ad has a lot of shutdown these days. about everything shuts down daily or freezes up

    3. Sorry, but you’re delusional. Chrome is phenomenal as a browser and very good as an OS. Google+ is at 400 million users and growing at the same pace Facebook was during a comparable phase of their history.

      It would be nice if we could use Google profiles to comment here.

    4. You’re delusional. Google+ has 400 million users and is growing at the same pace as Facebook at a comparable time in their history. Chrome is a phenomenal browser and a good OS.

      It would be nice if we could comment with a Google profile here.

    5. Nothing wrong with Chrome. Are you drunk?

    6. Chrome? I don’t think so. I don’t use Chrome much but it works just fine.

    7. I got so fed up with all of Chrome’s problems that I switched back to Firefox weeks ago. My computer speed has improved by a factor of 2 or 3 with no more browser crashes.

      With Reader disappearing, I’m pretty well fed up with Google. What next? Google search grinding to a halt? Google Maps unable to perform properly?

      Given Google’s recent attitude, I’m setting up Bing as my default search engine and would suggest others consider doing the same with it as well as other Google products until Google gets the message. Google’s mantra used to be “the user comes first” wasn’t it? No more.

  2. You’re completely missing the point. Reader kept users eyes on google. Letting them defect to other services like feedly and newsblur is less ads served… which is less money made. To insinuate people will switch to a mobile only app (currents), or google+ (because people using reader clearly only subscribed to major news outlets) shows you have put even less thought into the situation than google appears to have done.

    If “moving forward” means alienating existing users, I guess you can say that’s a strategy. I’d say it’s a good way to encourage users to move wholesale to other services because they can’t trust you to continue providing services for any length of time.

    Let me guess – twitter is the answer?

    1. 10 million Reader users, and dwindling, isn’t alienating enough people to matter.

    2. I agree to you, my day was starting with igoogle in which reader/gmail/tasks/calendar were widgets. It was my homepage.
      And now what, igoogle and reader will be gone?
      And from there I usually went to reader to check latest news in few sections, and I have hundreds of subscriptions there, to twitter users, to blogs, to sites, to torrent feeds etc etc etc.

      Now it seems I will end up making my own igoogle alternative and so far am trying to get used to using feedly, which means my day will not be starting with google anymore.

      For me it seems its a loss for both google and me… So I am sad but I will move on without google as google moves on leaving me behind, whatever.

      True problem I see behind all this is that I fear that I will loose trust in google, they are killing their products a lot. So why bother using proprietary services that do not have transition plans in case of closing down, I’d rather find some federated version which I can host myself in case original service dies…

  3. toocleverisdumb Saturday, March 16, 2013

    Why do so many people not understand RSS, including those that should. Differentiate between information and content and users and consumers…

  4. By jettisoning Reader, Google undermines the trust I had in all of its projects. Which of the following will go away? Gmail, Maps, Voice, Sites, Groups, Talk, Apps, googleapi, App Engine, Docs, Analytics, Webmaster, Drive, Code, Plus, Hangout? Etc, etc, etc.

    I have come to depend heavily on Reader, but that pales in comparison to Groups or Docs/Drive, not to mention Gmail. The silver lining is that this is a fairly cheap lesson. Do not ignore or explain away red flags. This is one.

    1. I agree. My love affair with Google is OVER. The occasional updates to Gmail and Reader used to irritate me; features excised and mandatory changes to look and feel. I waited years for Google to add filters to Reader so I could hide or reorder to the end of the list, uninteresting topics like Paris Hilton, iPhone, Palin and cannabis appliance reviews in tech blogs. Now, I look to them as signs that Google is still supporting them. Come to think of it, it’s been a while since they screwed with my Gmail… uh oh. $10 says they’re about to launch “Gmail+ which lets all your friends read your email!”.

      I can’t buy an Android phone, robot car, or electric glasses without worrying that Google will suddenly drop support for it; and all indications are that they will. Bloggers will wonder if it’s worth it to write about some new tweak added to a Google product when it’ll get yanked someday when it’s not one of the top 4 traffic attractors.

      I think it’s time I just hosted my own webmail and RSS servers. There are some powerful free and open-source products that do all the same things and are just as pretty. It wouldn’t be any trouble at all to hang this onto my existing email and web server at home.

    2. Google does not care what you do. They deal, as the article states, in BIG numbers. If some molecule somewhere is not happy, what of it?

      1. Well, some molecules are more active than the others. And tend to lead other molecules, creating trends and such. Keeping Reader would benefit Google in keeping tech-minded crowd of fans. Instead they chose to alienate them. Try to guess if geeks will advice their less tech-minded friends to use google products now? If they can’t be sure if this product will last. I started thinking of dropping GMail and GTalk because of Google Reader’s demise at the hand of Google.

  5. Mark ‘Rizzn’ Hopkins Saturday, March 16, 2013

    Self defense? That’s the explanation? Please.

    This is Google proving that it doesn’t get social, and will refuse to listen to the wizened social elders within the company.

    You lose the influencers, you are welcoming the end. TCSAC is right – this is google willingly reducing the size of their reef. The less time I spend on the Google ecosystem, the easier it is for me to navigate to another home cloud.

  6. Reblogged this on WordPress Fun and commented:
    I’ve been a fan and user of Google Reader since its start. And while I’ve tried a dozen or more other RSS readers, I wound up returning to Google’s. This is sad.

  7. i only use google reader and search … :/ now that make me to move on duckduckgo ..

  8. the World will go on without the Google reader. What people fail to see in this, as you pointed out, is that it wasn’t good for Google. It wasn’t gaining any ground and it wasn’t getting Google any closer to their goals.

    We’re seeing the end of emotion and hunch as the means for making decisions:

  9. Not only do they not seem to get social, they don’t even seem to get how people use the web.

    With 1000+ RSS subscriptions, Reader is how I interface with the web 90% of the time. Google is losing 90% of my viewing time by killing one single product. That time will be spent on some other reader, but certainly not G+ or Currents or any of their existing products.

    Google, once the ultimate geek company, is trying to go AOL on us.

    1. If they went AOL , well that well has been well and truly watered down. Google don’t get social? I think their social went G+++

    2. You’re not the norm on the web. Reader had a dwindling user base. The vast majority of web users don’t use RSS aggregators.

  10. Chris Parsons Saturday, March 16, 2013

    I agree with the other comments (except Minnie) – for me personally Google Reader is a perfect way of keeping in touch with the blogs and feeds of a neatly refined personal selection of sites – without any of the chaff and noise of Twitter, and without the need to be distracted by ‘socialising’. Yes, there are other RSS compilers – but the fact that there was a big ‘Google’ at the top of Reader, made everything seem so parsimonious and straightforward, and conversely increased my respect, fondness and loyalty for the ecosystem.

    Yes – it is relatively niche by Google’s standards, but as the petition shows, it is surprisingly highly valued. Can you honestly tell me that keeping it ticking over would be such a ‘weight’ around Google’s ankles that it would in any way be impeded in moving forward? Just keep it simple – most of us quite like that! At this point, I think the good PR in deciding to keep it going after all, would be worth far more than whatever way it thinks it would be better off without it.

    1. I can’t tell you that it would be a huge weight. Google are the ones with the stats and so the best equipped to make those judgments. I can only say that you’re correct that Reader alone won’t hold back self-driving cars, but the sum total of Jaiku and SketchUp and many others *were* holding Google back from focusing on the long term.

      1. Jaiku and Sketchup were prolonging the focus on the core directive. “Long term needs are short term deeds” – Paige

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