Opinion

Jack Shafer

Hey! You! Get off of Google’s cloud!

Jack Shafer
Mar 21, 2013 22:11 UTC

I’ve yet to meet anybody who used Google’s RSS Reader more, or pushed it harder than I have over the  last eight years. I consult its aggregations on my desktop the first thing in the morning, even before retrieving my four daily newspapers from the curb. Later, like a donkey following a carrot on a stick, I nibble  on my iPhone feed as I walk to the subway. At work, I keep Reader open to follow blogs and news and , to the neglect of my children, it has  been my steady bedtime companion for some time.

So when Google announced last week that it was sending Reader to the software slaughterhouse on July 1, I took to Twitter to object. Knowing that Google was unlikely to give the service a reprieve, the next thing I did was export my Reader settings and shop the alternatives.

One thing I didn’t do was to write a column accusing Google of betraying my trust, as Om Malik, James Fallows, Ezra Klein, Alex Hern of the New Statesman, The Week, and others did. Nor did I vow not to use Google’s new product, an Evernote substitute called Google Keep, ‘lest the company yank the rug out from under me again. I never trusted Google in the first place. I never thought it would support its products forever. As Slate’s Google graveyard attests, the company has routinely created and abruptly killed off software services, often tossing out the minimum viable product and watching to see if it caught on before putting any further effort into developing it.

The old software maxim —  if you’re not paying for it, you’re the product — is true of almost every Google service. Google sells your Gmail activity — as well as your searches of the Web, images, maps, and use of its other services — to advertisers. We, the Google Reader product, weren’t producing much, if anything, in revenue for Google, so the company fired us.

The death sentence Google has dealt Google Reader doesn’t mark the end of RSS aggregation, of course. As long as you’ve exported your Reader settings and imported them to another RSS reader, you’ll still be able to consume your usual feeds. What is lost in the Reader kerfuffle is the easy synchronization of feeds across devices, which is dominated by Google, and which is what made Google Reader so splendid: Your iPhone RSS reader always knew what your desktop RSS reader had added or subtracted from your feed or what you’d already read. But all is not lost. As long as Feedly makes good on its promise to clone the Google Reader API  (and we switch our RSS readers), we should be able to maintain the synchronization miracle. I’m crossing my fingers.

Unoccupy Google Reader

Jack Shafer
Nov 3, 2011 20:43 UTC

As a man of habit, I resist all change, especially the change that’s forced on me. So this week I got steamed when one of the tools I rely on to do my work and nourish my brain, Google Reader, got a complete makeover and was pushed onto me whether I wanted it or not.

Which I don’t.

We users had been warned for weeks that a redesign of the popular (and free) RSS reader was in the making, so the appearance of a new version didn’t come as a shock. The only shock was how terrible the new version is. It subverts users’ needs in favor of Google’s. The company wants to fight Facebook with a uniform interface for its free suite of services—which also includes Gmail, Calendar, and Docs—that will encourage sharing of content on its newish social-networking product, Google+. But in making the whole Google product line visually consistent, the company has crippled one of its best offerings.

Seeing as Google doesn’t charge for its RSS reader I can’t complain much more than if a bar serving free beer suddenly switched from Sierra Nevada Pale Ale to Old Milwaukee. But to extend the metaphor, I don’t have to drink Google’s swill unless I want to.

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