After it was announced that Google would be retiring its much used Google Reader RSS service, speculation ran rampant as to the reasons for this seemingly sudden decision. In the official Google Reader Blog, the Mountain View company said the following of the closing:
“There are two simple reasons for this: usage of Google Reader has declined, and as a company we’re pouring all of our energy into fewer products. We think that kind of focus will make for a better user experience.”
The second point makes sense if you think about how Google has treated other products like Wave, Jaiku, and Google Buzz (thanks, Google Graveyard). The first point, however, does not. While there may have actually be a decline in usage for Reader over the past several years, the backlash that followed Google’s decision to shutter the Reader service demonstrated that there are at least 500,000 users who used the service. The fledgling news aggregator service Feedly announced that half a million former Google Reader users flocked to their system in just two days following Google’s announcement. That seems like a lot of lost users to me.
So if one of Google’s reasons for closing Reader seems to be PR fluff, then what’s the real reason? I’d assumed that the reason for the closing was due in no small part to Google’s refusal to give up on their Google+ service. As a competitor to Facebook, it’s terrible — the simple fact of the matter is that no one I really care about uses the thing. Google’s wishes for the service to be the central hub for all of the users’ connections just isn’t gaining any traction, and Google Reader was just another hurdle standing in the way.
Many news junkies ditched RSS in favor of using Twitter as their “river of news.” The Twitter platform lends itself well to customization through the use of hashtags or search terms and real-time updating, things Google Reader simply lacked an answer for. This is the kind of thing Google likely hopes to integrate into Google Plus.
It was reported that Google, for the past year or so, literally had no one assigned to the Google Reader project. If ever there was a situation where something broke, talent was pulled from other projects to fix the issues and then went back to their assigned tasks. This is the part that makes sense given the new reports that have come out recently.
See, speculation about such things is fine and dandy, and often interesting, but it seems like the tech press may have been off base about Google’s motivations, or at least a tad bit premature. While we’re thinking of Google Plus and competition, Google seems to have been thinking about compliance with privacy laws and concerns about manpower.
In a report by All Things D, sources are cited as saying that Google has begun to focus on user privacy concerns after repeated public failures that have painted the search giant’s record on privacy in a bad light.
“That means every team needs to have people dedicated to dealing with these compliance and privacy issues — lawyers, policy experts, etc. Google didn’t even have a product manager or full-time engineer responsible for Reader when it was killed, so the company didn’t want to add in the additional infrastructure and staff, the sources said.”
— Liz Gannes, writing for All Things D
In a recent conversation with All Things D, one of the original project managers of Google Reader, Nick Baum said, “My sense is, if it’s a consumer product at Google that’s not making money, unless it’s going to get to 100 million users it’s not worth doing.” This seems to line up with the notion that it was more of an internal resources thing spurred on by a lack of potential return on investment for the company.
Still, when one service falls, ten more are ready to pop up in its place. Several companies have already announced plans to release Reader alternatives. As July 1st edges ever closer, we’ll take another look to see just how these new services are faring.