I have been baffled by Google’s decision in March to euthanize the Google Reader instead of trying to reinvent it for the mobile/tablet age and use its strong (if small) community of users to build a new news reading experience. It is ironic because everyone seems to be getting into the reader business. Digg. Feedly. AOL. Even Facebook thinks it can be a player in the news reader game. The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that this rumored reader is:
- A year old and centered on mobile reading experience.
- An attempt by Facebook to go after Flipboard experience.
- The work of Michael Matas, a well known designer who previously worked for Apple and Nest Labs and is project lead.
I wonder if this is yet another proof of Facebook’s Twitter envy! Jokes aside, as far as I am concerned, unless Facebook can figure out a way to work with Twitter and generally embrace RSS, any Facebook reader experience is going to be fairly limited. More importantly, Facebook has yet to show that it can actually build a new type of social behavior inside its walled garden. Facebook is following in the footsteps of LinkedIn, which recently acquired Pulse, a news reader app that allows them to keep a closer engagement with their social network.
Reading news is still one of the daily essential activities — just ask Yahoo, which has benefited from Yahoo News and Sports, allowing the company to make money from advertising and at the same time, push other Yahoo services to their customers. If LinkedIn and Facebook can keep the people reading inside their apps, they can boost their engagement with their community.
Social (and web) platforms become more useful if people keep coming back to them, again and again. After you have poked, liked and LOL-ed about people’s dogs, photos of their kids and responded to dinner party invitations, you quickly run out of things to do. So, you leave and try new things on the web. On the mobile, you leave faster, as something new is just merely an app away. Reading news is something that can bring people back into an application multiple times a day.
In order to understand the importance of a reader, one doesn’t have to look further than Bradford Cross’ Prismatic, which uses social signals from networks such as Twitter and creates a constantly changing newspaper. And while it isn’t the prettiest, it is a much more intelligent “reader” application than even Flipboard.
Here is what he told my colleague Mathew Ingram last year:
It’s not just about personalization… it’s about how media is consumed now. In the old days, you could just go to the New York Times and get all your news, or whatever. But that’s not the case any more, and it will likely never be the case again. The news is all distributed now, to a thousand different places. We want to be like the daily newspaper for our generation, and so we wanted to see people visiting multiple times a day and hopefully about six days a week at least — and we are definitely seeing that, which really shows our concept is working.
“Google won’t get this right, Twitter won’t get this right, Facebook won’t get this quite right, Amazon won’t even get this right — the company that gets it right needs to have it in its DNA. We think this is a Trojan horse into a much bigger thing… in five years time or 10 years time, AI will be all over our daily lives, everything we interact with will be intelligent, and the interfaces to it will be completely different. Backtracking from that very distant kind of vision led us to start in this place.”
Google executives, obviously, missed that part about engagement and I don’t blame them. Google’s DNA as a company is to send people somewhere else from Google’s search bar. In order to be an engagement-centric company, it needs to think like Facebook and keep people constantly locked into its ecosystem.
If Google was thinking along those lines, it could see that with Google Reader, Google News and Google+, it could have built a truly interesting and highly social reader experience that could be addictive, and yes, a good place for selling advertising. Of course, we shouldn’t be surprised — creator Chris Wetherell told us that Google Reader was living on borrowed time even before it was launched to the world.
Here is the GigaOM Guide to best options to Google Reader and some good suggestions in the comments section of the post. I am personally leaning towards Newsblur for now.