Blog Post

Why does everyone except Google want to build a reader?

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

I have been baffled by Google’s (s goog) 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 (s fb) 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.

Mark Zuckerberg checks out one of the new phones with the Facebook Home at Menlo Park headquarters.
Mark Zuckerberg checks out one of the new phones with the Facebook Home at Menlo Park headquarters.

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.

Bradford CrossIn 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.

31 Responses to “Why does everyone except Google want to build a reader?”

  1. It is how i started using Google Plus. Their decision was a success.

    I created a dedicated circle with all my sources and it is now my most visited place. A totally new awesome experience…

    GooglePlus is like a rich media “feed reader” now and it is brought to you right within your daily activities.

    If you want a reader – as it was meant until recently, use feedly or digg reader. Both nice!

  2. Alan Ralph

    I’m very leary of using Facebook as my source of news and updates. Yes, a lot of my friends are on there, and I do get a lot of news from them that I might not have found otherwise – but I don’t like the idea of Facebook somehow inserting itself into those conversations. The social reader apps that wanted to broadcast all of your reading were bad enough, and I avoid those like the plague – I’ll share the stuff I WANT to share, thank you. At least Twitter’s advertising with promoted tweets is relatively unobtrusive – Facebook now has big honking ads on its iPad app, and no way to tell it which ones I’m not interested in.

    I worry that we’re just going to end up with a slightly prettier and marginally smarter version of the old AOL and CompuServe experience.

    • Alan Ralph

      Unfortunately, I don’t thing Google do a terribly good job of marketing Currents – you would think they’d have pointed Google Reader users towards it when they made closure announcement a few months back. I vaguely remember trying it on my iPad a long while ago, and not being overly impressed – I’ll give it another try and see if it has improved. Trouble is, I’m already stretched between several sites and clients for news and social, so I’m not sure if I can fit in another one.

  3. dcardozo

    There are thousands of people like me that use Google Currents as their news aggregator. I have also used Flipboard, but I liked more Google Currents.
    However, I have never used Google Reader, what am I missing?

  4. The various newsreaders seem well designed but in trying to mimic the magazine experience seem overly structured in a way that misses the full value of the internet – all the world’s information at your fingertips in real time. For news/thought pieces, twitter most efficiently captures and feeds consumers the broadest array of sources. It’s self-curated headlines with links the primary or secondary (re-tweets) material with a built-in communication aspect. Readers might have some value for access to a much narrower set of publications. For the limited set of publications (5-10 for me), that I would want to feed to a reader, I just go to straight to their websites.

  5. RSS is dying, Twitter took over from RSS. It makes sense for Google to kill off the reader and rather deploy their resources elsewhere, reader will not be a competitor to Twitter.

    Google have some key requirements for products:
    1. It must make money
    2. It must be a lot better than the competition
    3. It must have a long term future

    Reader did not meet any of those three demands, and although a lot of companies now want to build news readers, they might make money in the short term, but they will also switch them off over time.

    • Alan Ralph

      The irony is that RSS is not dead at all, it has just become so ubiquitous that most people don’t see it any more. Sites may not publish a feed of their site, but the syndication mechanism is very much alive and well, albeit now being pushed to social media.

  6. Arun Natarajan

    Was originally expecting Google killing Google Reader to be an April Fool joke. (Maybe it still is one?!). Have meanwhile switched to Feedly – which has a lovely mobile app.

  7. I tried Feedly and a few others for my ipad. I didnt like any of them. I had one on my galaxy nexus that i liked but reading on the fone was just too much of pain.

  8. shiftynick

    I think the push comes from the people who are long-time Google Reader users (addicts) like myself that don’t want or need personalization, smart aggregation and social aspects as a part of their blog reading experience. We have the blogs we follow, and we want the cleanest, quickest way to consume those blogs. That’s it. Google Reader provided one of the best solutions for this and we all scrambled in response. I built a replica this week ( just because I wanted the exact same experience I’ve been used to for so long.

  9. Google should have layered Google Reader into Google+. Google is where you go for content and Facebook is where you go for friends. Google News and Google Reader (both) layered somehow into Google+ I think would make people actually have to visit Google+.

    They shut down Google+ Sparks in late 2012 and it seemed they didn’t even give that a chance… which would be the step in the direction of getting your news via Google+. When they shut down Sparks people were actually asking for Google News to merge somehow with Google+. And… what ever happened to Google News badges? Did they dump that too? It seems Google knows something we don’t know about not wanting to “be the next Flipboard.”

    This article is right, news is news and social is social. But… I do feel that a true “social” news aggregator is a happy medium. I have been working for 2 years to figure this out. At Comunitee ( our goal is to become be pure “social news network” a social network focused on news only. Our regular users love the idea of reading with others without the typical social media posts of your friends dinner, cats and other memes.

    • Alan Ralph

      I remember thinking that Sparks had some potential when I first joined Google+, but it suffered from being too unfocused, trawling in literally everything matching your search terms. Ironically, they were doing curation of links based on what your friends on Google+ liked, but that was over in Google Search.

      Things like this make me wonder if Google actually know what they’re doing with social.

  10. Nikolaos Nanas

    Everyone wants to build a reader, because no one is going to be reading dead trees in a few years and traditional publishers will become producers of branded content, which they are going to distribute via third party channels. At we built a reader that combines both the looks and the brains and takes content personalization to new levels. It also allow users to create their own intelligent magazine that adapts to the interests of each individual user.

  11. It maybe be more of a question of what google knows the others don’t? That or maybe Google doesn’t see enough money in it to bother with.

  12. My work (and personal inclination) is highly dependent on monitoring news. Twitter has become my main aggregator. Is there something else that is as efficient and comprehensive at the publication/individual writer/reporter/thinker/actor level?

  13. i dont get..why would google not want engagement, but others would? and you say google’s dna is about getting people somewhere else, rss is the same right? and google news must be popular, publishers want to kill google over it…the topic was intriguing, but i got no answers.