Thursday, March 21, 2013

Google Reader cancellation braindump


I use RSS feeds to follow websites, newspaper columnists, webcomics, blogs, comment threads, livejournals, tumblrs, fanfiction, and YouTube channels all in one convenient place.  Before I joined Twitter, I also used it for Twitter feeds.  This saves me the trouble of having to go to each website separately to check for updates. By nudging the internet away from RSS feeds, Google is encouraging the siloing of the internet.  Each of these things has its own mechanism for following within the website.  We use RSS to follow them all in one convenient place.  But weakening RSS and creating the perception that it's obsolete might drive websites to neglect it and move towards a more siloed approach, trying to force you to follow each website only from within that website.  (I've actually noticed that with YouTube lately - if I use youtube while logged into a google account, it has suddenly started acting as though that's a youtube account and encouraging me to make a channel, even though my youtube use is entirely passive and I have no interest in having an actual account. The few youtube channels I do follow, I follow with RSS.)

Social media

Some of the commentary I've read suggests that RSS is less necessary now that we have social media.  I don't understand this line of thinking.  The people I'm connected to on social media do often provide interesting links, but they're a supplement to, not a replacement for, my own Google Reader.  My Google Reader contains the things I want to read - specific bloggers and websites and columnists and communities and comics and fic authors that I've decided I want to read to completion, and be informed as soon as they update. I'm not just looking for something to read, I have specific things I want to read.  So how does it happen that someone thinks having self-curated reading material is inferior to just reading whatever their friends happen to link to? Do they not have their own preferences?  Are they really bad at determining what will be interesting to them?


Google's decision to kill both Google Reader and iGoogle seems to be because newer things exist.  I blogged about this before regarding their decision to kill iGoogle, where they seem to think people are going to stop using the Web because apps exist, and stop using regular computers because tablets exist.  I dislike this because the newer things don't meet the same needs. (Even if I had a tablet, I wouldn't use it to translate or blog or play Sims.)  I've also noticed this reflected in search results themselves.  Google searches seem to prioritize newer information over older information, even when you're not searching by date, which can be irritating if you're trying to determine the origin of something. They don't even have the option of reverse sort by date, so you can quickly and easily find the origin or the first recorded occurrence of something.

Permanence oblige

Google is 15 years old, which is massive in internet time.  (I myself have been using the internet regularly for under 20 years.) It has been the best search engine for all this time. Gmail is 9 years old, which is also a significant period in internet time, and it has been the best webmail provider for all this time.  Even for people who are supposed to be techy and of the moment, a gmail address is perfectly respectable in a way that a hotmail address never quite was.  Because Google has been the very best for so long, it is the closest thing the internet has to permanence, stability, longevity.  And, because of it's permanence, stability and longevity, it has a greater duty of reliability and dependability than some random startup.  If you want to be an essential part of people's internet experience, you have to create enough stability that people can feel safe taking the risk of making their internet experience dependent on you.  Google is losing some of this credibility.


Google Reader and iGoogle are my primary gateways to the internet, and now Google has cancelled both of them.  This makes me fear for the future of Gmail and Blogger.  (Or search, for that matter).

There is a petition to save Google Reader here.


M@ said...

It's a reasonable fear. I remember that when gmail debuted, there was no delete button; Google decided that we wouldn't want to delete e-mails because why? There's plenty of room! They completely misunderstood the many reasons it made sense to delete e-mails.

Of course, they eventually added the delete button; until they did, I had a third-party script on my browser that added one for me. And it's true that I delete far, far fewer e-mails now than I used to when I used Outlook (I have a little under 36,000 e-mails in Gmail now, in my main account).

I think the problem is with the thinking that there should be only one way of doing things. The best software tools have multiple ways to do things, all equally effective. (This is one of the reasons I love MS Word.) To take away something because there is a supposedly better way to do things is not an effective software strategy.

It might be less costly than other strategies, and that's probably the reason they want to do it. But I don't tend to spend much time with tyrannical software companies. (I no longer use Apple products, for example.)

On the plus side, Google made Feedly a very, very successful company overnight.

laura k said...

So so so true. I agree with your whole braindump. I decry the siloing of the internet. It saddens me.

The emphasis on social media as a substitute for (eg) blogging or RSS feeds is so strange. Do people only want to connect with their own network? Do they not understand that there are things to read that their network might not show them, or do they not want to write for people other than people they already know? Argh. I hate it.

laura k said...

Re many different ways to do things...

I love that, too - love it in Word, and used to love it in WordPerfect before Word eclipsed WP. I use Gmail through the web interface and Gmail through Outlook, and I love and need them both.

I notice, though, that many people are afraid of and stressed by multiple ways to do the same thing. I am currently learning the library's circulation system, and many people around me hate that there is more than one way to accomplish the same task.

Now to go sign and share that petition.

laura k said...

There's a list of alternatives here.

impudent strumpet said...

Good point about multiple pathways - killing Google Reader because social media exists is like eliminating keyboard shortcuts because mice exist.